The Science of Thunderstorms and How to Keep Children and Pets from being Afraid of Them
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
Â· 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.
Â· 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.
Â· 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.
Â· 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.
Â· 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.
Â· 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.
Â· 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.
Books for Kids
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?