Thunderstorms are a staple of West Texas during the spring and summer months…but have you ever noticed that there are very few storms developing during the winter season? You might immediately think that it’s because we don’t have warm temperatures during this time…which isn’t entirely wrong…but then why don’t we have storms when it’s 60 or 70 degrees in the winter? Believe it or not, there is a recipe to the development of thunderstorms and the ingredients don’t just include those stereotypical warm temperatures.
Marissa Pazos a meteorologist at the Lubbock National Weather Service explains. “So for thunderstorms to form we need three ingredients. We need moisture, we need a lifting mechanism, and we need what we call instability, so a change in the atmosphere near the surface. But you know during the summer and during the spring when you go outside and the air feels kind of muggy and heavy? Then in the afternoon you start seeing those clouds to bubble in the sky and it gets dark? That’s the moisture that we really need in order to get those thunderstorms going for the afternoon.”
We tend to be very dry here in West Texas, so how do we get our moisture? We usually get a good amount of moisture being pulled up from the Gulf of Mexico during the spring and summer. Combine that moisture with the warm temperatures during this time and that creates buoyancy, or the lift, to help create the cumulus clouds you see. Under the right conditions, that can also create the thunderstorms.
Spring and summer thunderstorms can be created by something called convection, or by a front. This front is typically the dry line. Convective thunderstorms can give us a good amount of rain, but it’s usually the dry line that gives us the severe thunderstorms.
Non-severe thunderstorms have three stages: The development stage, mature stage, and the dissipating stage. Pazos briefly explains. “All of that is based on how strong the warm air is feeding into the cloud during the mature stage. During the dissipating stage, as the rain is coming out, it actually starts to cut off the warm air that’s rising up into the cloud, and so the cloud and the thunderstorm both start to dissipate.”
Interested in learning more? You can do so here: https://climate.ncsu.edu/edu/Thunderstorm