The Anatomy of a Thunderstorm

The dark clouds roll in, lighting lights up the sky and thunder rumbles in the distance a thunderstorm is coming, or as some people call then a lighting storm or electrical storm.

A thunderstorm can develop from one of four systems.


* Single Cell

The anatomy of a single cell thunderstorm has one updraft and forms as a result of unstable air conditions. Such as a “heat” thunderstorm which is experienced mainly in the summer months after a hot day when the warm air mixes with the cooler air in higher attitudes of the atmosphere. A single cell storm doesn’t usually produce rain just lighting.

* Supercell

The supercell thunderstorm is the most severe type of thunderstorm with a complex anatomy. It contains both an updraft and a downdraft accompanied by wind speeds of 20 miles an hour and gusts that sustain a minimum of 25 miles an hour for a least 60 seconds at a time. These thunderstorms produce heavy rain, hail, dangerous lightening and tornados.

* Multicell Clusters

The anatomy of a Multicell cluster is the result of a low pressure system that meets with a cold front. They form organized storms and strong updrafts which can produce moderate rain and lightening.

* Multicell Lines

These thunderstorms are also known as squall lines and are most commonly found as an after effect of a tropical storm system. There anatomy is made up of rain bands and a strong updraft with a connected downdraft producing
strong winds and often spawning tornados.


There are seven types of lighting associated with the anatomy of a thunderstorm.

~ Dry Lighting – Is not accompanied by rain and is most often found in a single cell storm such as a “heat” lighting or thunderstorm.

~ Clouds to Ground – Just as the name suggest the lighting comes from the cloud and hit’s the ground. This is the most common and dangerous form of lighting in a thunderstorm.

~ Cloud to Cloud – This type of lighting in a thunderstorm is not very common. The lighting actually jumps from one cloud to another cloud and may be present in supercell thunderstorms.

~ Ground to Cloud – The lighting is generated in the earth and shoots upward to the cloud as a result of the electrical energy being drawn to the cloud.

~ Air to Cloud – This type of lightening is seen in multicell thunderstorms and the lightening strikes in the air.

~ In Cloud Lightening – Is the most common form of lightening associated with thunderstorms. The lightening is “striking” in the clouds it is charged in.

~ Ball Lighting – Very rare form of lighting and is seem as a large round ball of electricity in the sky.

Lightening is a very important part of the anatomy of the thunderstorm because without the lightening you would simply have a rain storm.