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The Science of Thunderstorms and How to Keep Children and Pets from being Afraid of Them

Updated on August 28, 2011

The Science of Thunderstorms

This is about those familiar storms that we experience every Spring. If you are fascinated with, or even scared of, the lightning, rain, and thunder, you may appreciate the information and images of this page.

I also provide helpful information and resources for children or pets that are afraid of thunderstorms.

About Thunderstorms

Life cycle of a Storm

Warm air is less dense than cool air, so warm air rises. Clouds form as warm air carrying moisture rises within cooler air. As the warm air rises, it cools. The moist water vapor begins to condense, like you would notice on the side of a can of soda on a hot day.

When the moisture condenses, this releases energy that keeps the air warmer than its surroundings, so that it continues to rise.

If enough instability is present in the atmosphere, this process will continue long enough for cumulonimbus clouds to form, which support lightning and thunder.

All thunderstorms, regardless of type, go through three stages: the cumulus stage, the mature stage, and the dissipation stage.

Cumulus stage

The first stage of a thunderstorm is the cumulus stage, or developing stage. In this stage, masses of moisture are lifted upwards into the atmosphere. The trigger for this lift can be insolation heating the ground producing thermals, areas where two winds converge forcing air upwards, or where winds blow over terrain of increasing elevation. The moisture rapidly cools into liquid drops of water, which appears as cumulus clouds.

Mature stage

In the mature stage of a thunderstorm, the warmed air continues to rise until it reaches existing air which is warmer. At this point the air can rise no further. Instead, the air is forced to spread out, giving the storm a characteristic anvil shape. The resulting cloud is called cumulonimbus.

The water droplets grow into heavy droplets and freeze to become ice particles. As these fall they melt to become rain.

If the updraft is strong enough, the droplets are held aloft long enough to be so large that they do not melt completely and fall as hail.

While updrafts are still present, the falling rain creates downdrafts as well. The simultaneous presence of both an updraft and downdrafts marks the mature stage of the storm.

During this stage considerable internal turbulence can occur in the storm system, which sometimes manifests as strong winds, severe lightning, and even tornadoes.

Dissipating stage

In the dissipation stage, the thunderstorm is dominated by the downdraft. If atmospheric conditions do not support super cellular development, this stage occurs rather quickly, some 20-30 minutes into the life of the thunderstorm.

The downdraft will push down out of the thunderstorm, hit the ground and spread out. The cool air carried to the ground by the downdraft cuts off the inflow of the thunderstorm, the updraft disappears and the thunderstorm will dissipate.

- Referenced from Wikipedia

Supercel Thunderstorm

Supercel Thunderstorm
Supercel Thunderstorm

Kids and Storms

How to help them if they're scared

What to Tell Children about Thunderstorms and Lightning

The sound of thunder can be especially frightening for young children.

You can take the "scariness" away by teaching them what to expect during a thunderstorm and how to be safe.

Also, by teaching them about a thunderstorm, they may not be as afraid, if they have an understanding of them.

Things You can do to Help:

· Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are likely. Many people take shelter from the rain, but most people struck by lightning are not in the rain! Postponing activities is your best way to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.

· If you see or hear a thunderstorm coming, go inside a sturdy building or car.

Sturdy buildings are the safest place to be. If no building is nearby, a hard-topped vehicle will offer some protection. Keep car windows closed and avoid convertibles.

Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide no protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.

· If you can't get inside, or if you feel your hair stand on end, which means lightning is about to strike, hurry to a low, open space immediately. Crouch down on the balls of your feet, place your hands on your knees and lower your head.

Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize contact with the ground.

· Practice the "crouch down" position. Show children how to practice squatting low to the ground to be the smallest target possible for lightning in case they get caught outside in a thunderstorm. Show them how to place their hands on their

knees and lower their head, crouching on the balls of their feet.

· Stay away from tall things outside like trees, towers, fences, telephone lines, and power lines. They attract lightning. Never stand underneath a single large tree out in the open, because lightning usually strikes the highest point in an area.

· Stay away from metal things that lightning may strike, such as umbrellas, baseball bats, fishing rods, camping equipment, and bicycles. Lightning is attracted to metal and poles or rods.

· You could also teach them about storms, and weather in general, by building your own weather station. This will allow them to understand the storms better and may reduce the fear.

Know The Lingo!

Severe Thunderstorm Watch - A severe thunderstorm (damaging winds of 58 miles per hour or more, or hail three-fourths of an inch in diameter or greater) is likely to develop in your area.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning - A severe thunderstorm (damaging winds of 58 miles per hour or more, or hail three-fourths of an inch in diameter or greater) is taking place in your area.

Pets and Storms

You can help them too!

In addition to people, our pets can also have a fear of storms, especially thunder. There are a variety of things you can do to lessen the fear that they experience, or at least, change the reaction to it.

One small study was completed indicating that certain breeds of dogs are especially prone to noise phobias. These include many of the working or sporting breeds, such as Collies, German Shepherds, Beagles, and Basset Hounds. All of which are known to have an acute sense of hearing and/or smell.

In addition, the attitude of the owner can influence the severity of the fear. For instance, if owners themselves are nervous during storms, noise phobias in their pets may occur more often or become more severe.

Similarly, if the owner attempts to comfort the animal, the animal may interpret it as confirming there really is a reason to be afraid. The petting or comforting is really positive reinforcement of an undesirable behavior.

Instead project a calm attitude: Pets are very aware of the mental state of their owners. Try to stay "upbeat" and "in charge".

Things you can do to help your pet:

Keep a good, calm attitude - be positive, don't punish.

Change environment - Go into the basement or a more noise-proof room.

Increase vigorous exercise - If you know a storm is coming and time allows, try to give them the opportunity for more the normal level of exercise.

Reduce or block the noise level - Turn on a fan or TV to turn the focus away from the loud noise.

Counterconditioning - Basically, teach the pet to associate a positive experience with a storm. After the storm is over, you would reward them with a favorite thing. Such as, a cat receives catnip or a dog goes for a ride in the car.

Thunderstorms: Love em or hate em

Do you like thunderstorms?

The Science of Storms

Your Thoughts?

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    • Angelina Gherna profile image

      Angelina 7 years ago from California

      great photos!

    • profile image

      totalhealth 7 years ago

      very informative and helpful lens.

      just last week we had a thunderstorm accompanied by very strong rain, but 30min after the storm, my 5 yr old nice is still crying hard out of fear.

    • JollyvilleChick profile image

      JollyvilleChick 8 years ago

      I found that keeping the lights on inside the house during a lightning storm helped the dog not be so afraid. When the house is dark and lightning strikes, the flashes can be scary (for them, of course). But when the whole house is bright, the outside flashes are not as bright. Loud thunder and hail is a different story!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Great lens very informative. My mother use to be very frighten of lightening but somehow she got over it. Possibly seeing that it really didn't bother any of us kids made her feel silly reacting as she did.

      I however really enjoy a good Thunderstorm especally in the Autumn. It just seem comforting to me. Thanks for the lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Great photos. I love the thunderstorms as long as my family is accounted for and safe.

      Great lens


    • clouda9 lm profile image

      clouda9 lm 9 years ago

      Gorgeous images and excellent information! I'll always enjoy the storms pics but shake in my boots when it is happening! Love this lens.

    • profile image

      Mazzer 9 years ago

      Some really great images here! Interesting lens.

    • Wendy L Henderson profile image

      Wendy Henderson 9 years ago from PA

      These are amazing pictures. I really enjoyed this lens.

    • GlennaJones profile image

      Glenna Jones 9 years ago from Orlando, Florida

      I love your pictures. Thunderstorms have the prettiest cloud formations. Living in Florida, we have a lot of them. My dogs always liked having their own crates to sleep in when a storm was brewing. Even with the door open, it felt safe to them.

    • Lou165 profile image

      Lou165 9 years ago from Australia

      Great lens, I have featured it on my Miracle of Lightning lens.

    • Sensitive Fern profile image

      Sensitive Fern 9 years ago

      Awesome lens! Great concept - combining T-storm info with how to keep kids and pets calm. I've lensrolled this to my tornado photos lens. 5*

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

      I love your pictures!

      5* and lensroll to Thunder and Ligntning


    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 9 years ago

      Those are some awesome storm photos. I love storms, not the destruction of course, just the excitement of the storm.

    • cashmultiplier lm profile image

      cashmultiplier lm 9 years ago

      Great lens. Gives alot of insight to the weather system. Where Im from (England) its always wet but not as dramatic as those amazing photos.

    • profile image

      Andy-Po 9 years ago

      Excellent lens and wonderful photos (5*)

    • ArtByLinda profile image

      Linda Hoxie 9 years ago from Idaho

      Tri, love this lens. Especially the photo's they are absolutely incredible! Very well done, but your lenses always are! Keep up the good work,


    • profile image

      ToddDaniels 9 years ago

      Those are some really great photos, especially the wall cloud over the water. I also liked the info and suggestions about how to help your pet with their fear of storms.

      5 stars.

    • nightbear lm profile image

      nightbear lm 9 years ago

      What a great lens! Where did you get those gorgeous pictures? Love them. I don't have kids but plenty of pets. Spot on advice.

    • piedromolinero profile image

      piedromolinero 9 years ago

      A great lens with amazing photos of thunderstorm clouds and all well put together. 5*

    • fotolady49 lm profile image

      fotolady49 lm 9 years ago

      Great Lens! Thanks for the info about pets and storms. My dog doesn't like the thunder and she pants and gets real agitated. I didn't know that collies are extra senstitive to loud noise. She is a collie/husky mix.

    • PattB LM profile image

      PattB LM 9 years ago

      Great lens, thanks for the info and incredible photos! Hope you're wrong about the tires, but it looks like you've done your research...

    • profile image

      Poochfan 9 years ago

      Great info. I am going to put it to use. Love the pics. I will bring the kids to your lense.

    • AlisonMeacham profile image

      AlisonMeacham 9 years ago

      You really do create excellent lenses!

      There was a thunderstorm this morning and it woke the whole house up. My 2 year old was very scared. My mother has a big phobia about them - I will take your tips to heart about helping children not be afraid.

      You have been B

    • profile image

      FilmFanatic 9 years ago

      Those are amazing pictures of the thunderstorm clouds!

      Brilliant Lens. Nicely constructed! :)

      5 stars*****


    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      This is an excellent lens. Your photos are breathtaking.


    • aquariann profile image

      aquariann 9 years ago

      Interesting lens with awesome photographs. My puppy spazzes out during thunderstorms. I'll have to try some of your tips.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 9 years ago

      I have two dalmatians, one is terrified, the other doesn't like them. I will stop comforting him. But I think that putting him in the bathroom helps. It certainly helps us!

      Thanks for the info, some things I hadn't thought of 5*

    • teamlane profile image

      teamlane 9 years ago

      What a gorgeous lens! Love the thunderstorm pics!

      Blessed by a Squid Angel today! :)

      Colleen ~

    • unsinkablewoman profile image

      unsinkablewoman 9 years ago

      Great Photos And Information

    • K Linda profile image

      K Linda 9 years ago

      Awesome photos! I used to live on Biscayne Bay in Miami (lightning capitol of the U.S....or so they say). The views of lightning from my window were amazing. Wish I had gotten photos. 5*'s.

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 9 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      Great topic! Pics are amazing!

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 9 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      Fabulous pictures.

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 9 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      Fabulous pictures.

    • CarolBory profile image

      CarolBory 9 years ago

      Fantastic photos!

    • beempa lm profile image

      beempa lm 9 years ago

      Beautiful lens! :)

    • Rich-H profile image

      Rich 9 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      Great lens with some wonderful images! 5*s

    • ShannonC LM profile image

      Shannon Chiarenza 9 years ago from Vancouver bc

      wow some intense pics like the supercel, looks like it would suck up everything in it's path...great lens, I love thunderstorms. I lived in the prairies as a kid and we would sit on the porch with a drink and watch natures theatre

    • RichLeighHD profile image

      RichLeighHD 9 years ago

      Excellent lens! I have a huge interest in thunderstorms. I'm absolutely obsessed with extreme weather! There was actually a thunderstorm here last night - I was glued to the window watching it all!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 9 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Terrific lens, magnificent photos! I love the layout.

    • beeobrien lm profile image

      beeobrien lm 9 years ago

      Beautiful lens, and amazing photos. I had never thought about minimizing contact with the ground if you were about to be struck. Makes sense.

      I've heard that you shouldn't "baby" pets too much during a thunderstorm, because they'll just feel like there must be something to fear.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 9 years ago

      I was married to a tornado chaser. These are wonderful photos.

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 9 years ago from USA

      Storms have always fascinated me, and this site is a source of fascination. Well done!

    • JohannDog profile image

      Johann The Dog 9 years ago from Northeast Georgia

      Great lens! Glad you included the pet info. I actually don't mind even the loudest thunderstorms, 'cause my Mum conditioned me, my kittie bros and my BC sis!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 9 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Very nice lens, great photos as others said. We get good storms and great cloud formations here in Florida - must take photos some day... 5*****

    • giacombs-ramirez profile image

      gia combs-ramirez 9 years ago from Montana

      Awesome lens and the photos are incredible. You must make Squidoo proud!

    • RaintreeAnnie profile image

      RaintreeAnnie 9 years ago from UK

      Beautiful photos here! Thunderstorms are amazing to watch.Good explanations and I like that you included teaching kids about them and how to help pets. My dog Goldie was one of the few dogs around here that never worried and still went to get his lead during a thunderstorm! Nothing was putting him off getting his usual walk! It was lovely to walk afterwards when the air was so fresh.Great lens!

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      Ruth Coffee 9 years ago from Zionsville, Indiana

      Very nicely done. I don't necessarily "wish" for thunderstorms, but I have to admit they can be pretty thrilling. We've had more than our share this year.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      I got to be out in an amazing thunder & lightening storm this summer on my balcony, because I was pretty much protected by the building an roof. It was exciting & refreshing and the air smelled so good. There was a beautiful rainbow afterwards.

      I like this lens very much!

      God Bless!


    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 9 years ago from England

      Fantastic pictures. Luckily, the storms we get in the UK are nothing compared to those in Southern Europe or in The States. I remember as a child running home from school in a storm, trying to cover each buckle on my shoes as I ran, just in case the lightning got me!!

    • Winter52 LM profile image

      Winter52 LM 9 years ago

      I'm surprised to say that I REALLY enjoyed this lens... maybe because I'm not hearing the cracks of thunder overhead. Loved the photographs!

    • PleasantValley LM profile image

      PleasantValley LM 9 years ago

      I like the idea for this lens.

      By the way, one of my physics teachers once recommended to jump into the nearest metal garbage can if lighting is about to strike, since a metal container is a Faraday Cage. On the other hand, this doesn't sound like much protection if the person is standing on the bottom or touching the metal sides from the inside.

    • profile image

      WhippetTalk 9 years ago

      Pets that have fear of storms can be de-sensitized by getting a recording of thunderstorms and playing it at a very low level and increasing the level over time. Also the use of D.A.P. Diffusers or sprays can help with some dogs and cats as well. The important thing to remember is to not feel sorry the pet and hold them and pet them and tell them it's okay. You are only re-inforcing the insecurity.

    • AlisonMeacham profile image

      AlisonMeacham 9 years ago

      Amazing pictures. I really enjoyed this lens. My Mum is terrified of thunderstorms so perhaps I will send her this lens to explain a bit more. I think she thinks the house is going to catch on fire!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 9 years ago from USA

      This lens is awesome! We've been having these storms almost every night lately.

    • The Homeopath profile image

      The Homeopath 9 years ago

      Great lens and your photos are just stunning!

    • profile image

      WhippetTalk 9 years ago

      I love this lens. Great timing too. We got some really great storms last night. I adore the smell of the desert and the electricity in the air that comes with the storms. There a beauty in the powerful nature of thunderstorms!