Analysis of thundersnow storms over Northern Colorado

Matthew R. Kumjian, Wiebke Deierling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Lightning flashes during snowstorms occur infrequently compared to warm-season convection. The rarity of such thundersnow events poses an additional hazard because the lightning is unexpected. Because cloud electrification in thundersnow storms leads to relatively few lightning discharges, studying thundersnow events may offer insights into mechanisms for charging and possible thresholds required for lightning discharges. Observations of four northern Colorado thundersnow events that occurred during the 2012/13 winter are presented. Four thundersnow events in one season strongly disagrees with previous climatologies that used surface reports, implying thundersnow may be more common than previously thought. Total lightning information from the Colorado Lightning Mapping Array and data from conterminous United States lightning detection networks are examined to investigate the snowstorms' electrical properties and to compare them to typical warm-season thunderstorms. Data from polarimetric WSR-88Ds near Denver, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, are used to reveal the storms' microphysical structure and determine operationally relevant signatures related to storm electrification.Most lightning occurred within convective cells containing graupel and pristine ice. However, one flash occurred in a stratiform snowband, apparently triggered by a tower. Depolarization streaks were observed in the radar data prior to the flash, indicating electric fields strong enough to orient pristine ice crystals. Direct comparisons of similar lightning- and nonlightningproducing convective cells reveal that though both cells likely produced graupel, the lightning-producing cell had larger values of specific differential phase KDP and polarimetric radar-derived ice mass. Compared to warm-season thunderstorms, the analyzed thundersnow storms had similar electrical properties but lower flash rates and smaller vertical depths, suggesting they are weaker, ordinary thunderstorms lacking any warm (>0°C) cloud depth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1469-1490
Number of pages22
JournalWeather and Forecasting
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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