Thundersnow made an appearance on Sunday - WNEM TV 5

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Thundersnow made an appearance on Sunday

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There's no question, yesterday was a perfect illustration of Michigan weather. A true "wait five minutes and it'll change" day. We experienced periods of rain, snow, wind, and even sunshine. At times, the snow, wind, and sun all occurred in a matter of minutes. 

But in between all of those things, we got a rare weather treat: thundersnow!

That thundersnow was found in snow squalls that moved through the area around 5 PM yesterday evening, heading quickly to the southeast. These cells put on quite a show as they passed with intense snow bursts, rapid increases in the winds, and led to rapidly changing driving conditions. 

Thundersnow Development

So what is thundersnow? To put it simply, a thunderstorm with snow falling instead of rain. While we know the temperature profiles of our atmosphere are different in rain and snow, the development process can be similar. 

Thunderstorms develop when warm air quickly rises through cooler air above. In the summer time, this occurs on warm and humid days. In the winter, we can see an example of this process close to home in the form of lake-effect snow as cold air passes above warm water. 

Even though the temperatures in the winter are significantly colder than the summer, it's all relative. As long as that air near the surface is sufficiently warmer than the air above. 

In lake-effect snow events where the difference in temperature between the water and air above is large, we can develop high amounts of instability which causes the air to rise quickly, leading to thundersnow. 

Outside of lake-effect events, we can see development in another way. 

In the summer, we usually see towering thunderstorms that can reach very high into our atmosphere, around 35,000-45,000 feet. In the winter, the tops of those clouds are usually much lower. 

When these lower clouds interact with a lifting mechanism, such as a frontal boundary or trough, air is lifted in an upward direction. As that air rises upward, it cools and can lead to a layer of unstable air, which can lead to an elevated thunderstorm, or a storm that has a base well above the surface.

Assuming temperatures are cold enough, thundersnow will be possible and like summer time thunderstorms produce heavy rain, these storms can produce intense snowfall rates. 

But unlike summertime thunderstorms, where you can hear thunder from many miles away, thundersnow may only be heard close by. That's because snow muffles the sound of thunder. 

Don't let the snow part fool you, either. These storms are still dangerous and you should take the same precautions you take with summer thunderstorms as they still have lightning. And speaking of that lightning, it will likely look brighter as the light will reflect on the falling snowflakes! 

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