What is thundersnow? Weatherman Des is here to explain!

First of all, I bid you a warm welcome to 2021! 

Weather-wise we seem to have started the year the way we left it. 

Now to the news which I’m sure some will say ‘gosh’ and others ‘golly gee’ because as we approach the end of the week we have those four little letters rearing up their alphabet faces to spin around on their axis and arrange themselves to spell the word SNOW

Yes! It’s on its way and parts of the Midlands could see a light sprinkling over the coming days. Elsewhere it seems that those living to the north of Scotland are in for a fair bit of it as a yellow warning has been issued for frequent and heavy snowfall.

Snow has been seen in parts of the Midlands already this year. Credit: PA Images

Come to think of it, that term ‘frequent and heavy’ perplexes me at times. 

Not the frequent part, frequent means that we’ll see snow fall often on and off but the ‘heavy snow’ part. Are we to believe that individual flakes of snow weigh heavier than others? Are we to believe that if I had a bucket full of ordinary snow and a bucket full of heavy snow there would be a discernible difference in weight? Well, the simple answer is no!

Snowflakes do vary in size as they are made up of ice crystals, the more crystals the larger the flake. But seeing the difference in size is much easier for the human eye to assess than evaluating weight difference, which is negligible.

All this talk takes away from the magic of a snowflake, as it dances across the sky finding just the right moment to land in the palm of your hand as if it is a present given by the weather gods. If you do catch one, make a wish quickly before its six-sided crystal form disintegrates with its inevitable transition back to H2O.

The thunder during a thundersnow event will only be heard if you are within 2 to 3 miles of the lightning. Credit: PA Images

Anyway, moving to thundersnow and it’s a real phenomenon created by the same mechanism that allows the development of thunderstorms in the summer, which is instability in the atmosphere and lots of energy. But this time because the air is cold it forces the rain to turn to snow. 

This physically and fundamentally impacts on what we hear and how we perceive it, which gives us that foreboding end of the world image that many speak about. That’s because the snow muffles and dampens the sound of the thunder sounding more like an echoing dull boom and the lightning reflects off the snow giving off that bright eerie yet somehow muted glow.

So thundersnow from thunderstorms may not be as frightening as one thinks but it sure has an awesome name!

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