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Question: Someone told me it can thunder during a snowstorm. I think this is a bunch of hooey. Could it be true?
Answer: Yes, quite true and in some areas, such as around the Great Lakes or in mountains, they can be common winter events and are called, appropriately enough thundersnows.
For most people, the combination of thunder and snow in the same sentence, let alone the same word, seems a contradiction. But, thundersnow refers to the co-occurrence of lightning and thunder with falling snow.
For most North American residents, thundersnows are very unusual events, occurring no more than a few times per year when winter storms with large warm, humid air sectors spawn thunderstorms along their fronts.
In late fall and winter, when cold air moves across the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes, intense convective storms usually develop, dropping snow upon reaching the downwind shores. When the waters are significantly warmer than the air, these systems can produce intense cumulonimbus cloud development that induces lightning flashes. Thus, when these snow squalls strike with heavy snows and gusty winds, they are punctuated with flashing lightning and booming thunder.
A recent significant thundersnow event struck Buffalo, New York in late November 2000. The lake-effect storm dropped 31 inches of snow over the region in three days. Reports cited "frequent lightning" flashing during the early storm.
Thundersnows are also common in mountainous regions where the forced upslope flow of moist air produces thunderstorms at higher elevations. They present major hazards to mountaineers who are exposed to the elements. Climbers of Mount Everest and other high peaks have reported thundersnows during their ascents as some of their scariest moments.
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The Weather Doctor's Weather Almanac Thundersnows
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