Essentially, single-cell thunderstorms go through three distinct stages during their lives, but the process gets started when positively buoyant air parcels rise to the point of net condensation, forming cumulus and perhaps cumulus congestus clouds (like the one in the image on the right) typically in the late morning or early afternoon hours. Single-Cell Thunderstorms: A textbook, run of the mill single storm that develops, grows, and dies like described above would be classified as a single-cell thunderstorm. Some portions adapted from original course materials by David Babb and Lee M. Grenci. Clouds form as relatively warmer air, carrying moisture, rises within cooler air. Although somewhat arbitrary, the mature stage begins once precipitation reaches the ground. Individual cells usually last 30 to 60 minutes, while the system as a whole may last for many hours. Single Cell Storms Typically last 20-30 minutes. You should also be able to define the following terms -- updraft, entrainment, downdraft, gust front / outflow boundary, and anvil. 7th grade science: 7.E.1.3 : Explain the relationship between the movement of air masses, high and low pressure systems, and frontal boundaries to storms (including thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes) and other weather conditions that may result. Updrafts attain their fastest speeds. Radar reflectivity is greatest. Eventually, a single rising column of positively buoyant air emerges, which is called the updraft, as the warming that occurs in the cloud because of net condensation increa… A schematic of the mature stage of a single-cell thunderstorm. To recap the stages in the life of a single-cell thunderstorm, I created a short video (3:22) highlighting the key characteristics of each stage and their corresponding presentations on idealized radar imagery. But, thunderstorms never really erupt randomly, even if it appears that way. The cu… When air parcels rise to the top of the troposphere, they quickly become cooler than their surroundings above the tropopause (the stratosphere is stable), which means they become negatively buoyant and slow to a halt. As you can imagine, the wind behind the gust front can be very strong, sometimes even reaching severe levels. The storm's demise is rather quick. During dissipation, the updraft is very weak or non-existent, and the downdraft is the main dominant force in the thunderstorm. As the name implies, there is only one cell with this type of thunderstorm. Let's explore the process, as we investigate the first stage in a single-cell thunderstorm's life cycle -- the cumulus stage. Take, for example, this image of radar reflectivity from 2055Z on June 14, 2015 and note the widely scattered thunderstorm cells across the Southeast U.S. Looking for a snack to hold you over until Thanksgiving? The life of a typical non-severe thunderstorm goes through three stages: Cumulus, Mature, and Dissipating. In short, thunderstorms don't quite follow the model we studied in this section. Downdrafts can change the temperature rapidly in an area in a short amount of time. The full life cycle process takes about 30 minutes to complete. In the first stage (cumulus), we see the cloud that will become the thunderstorm starting to form and grow due to the rising thermal (or updraft). When downdrafts "splashdown" at the ground and spread out, they can produce gusty winds. But, the hallmark of the mature stage is the simultaneous presence of an updraft and downdraft within each cell. If you see a thunderstorm coming, knowing what stage it is in could help you determine how … Figure D. The dissipating stage of a dying thunderstorm. Single-cell thunderstorms occasionally may also produce small hail in the mature stage (usually not large enough to cause damage), but all of this vigor is fleeting, with a single-cell's mature stage lasting ten minutes or so. Indeed, the anvil may become the sole remnant of the single-cell storm. That’s said, let’s get into the details of how thunderstorms are formed. Once this happens, the storm goes into its last stage (Figure D). Why is that? Eventually, the raindrops will become large and heavy enough to fall from the cloud to the ground. Single-cell storms may produce brief heavy rain and lightning. Also note that precipitation does not usually fall straight down into the core of the updraft. Moisture is necessary for the formation of clouds and rain. The mature stage of a thunderstorm. In the towering cumulus stage, the rising updraft will suspend growing raindrops until the point where the weight of the water is greater than what can be supported. You can think of a downdraft as a blob of cool air in the cloud that is heading toward the earth’s surface (opposite of an updraft). The rising updraft of air will begin to cool and condense as it rises, and in the case of thunderstorms, the thermal can travel tens of thousands of feet up before it finally stops! Rain is heaviest. It's this weak vertical wind shear that allows the storm's downdraft to fall very near the updraft, and allows the storm's gust front to race outward far from the storm, because weak low-level winds blowing relative to the moving storm cannot restrain the movement of the dense cold pool. Single-cell storms may produce brief heavy rain and lightning. This wee…, Last week's rain event associated with Eta isn't the first time a tropical storm fed moisture to a frontal system a…, Vegetation: Its Role in Weather and Climate, Effects of Climate Change on the Southeast, The cumulus stage of a growing thunderstorm, The dissipating stage of a dying thunderstorm. A basic thunderstorm (single cell) goes through three phases during its lifetime: cumulus, mature, and dissipating. This courseware module is part of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' OER Initiative. With that said, let's take a closer look at the development and life of single-cell thunderstorms. An air-mass thunderstorm, also called an "ordinary", "single cell", or "garden variety" thunderstorm, is a thunderstorm that is generally weak and usually not severe.
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