How strong is a thunderstorm? -asked Jessica (8)


Many thanks for your comments team. Yes you are right, to create a thunderstorm you need a lot of warm water. It’s development goes by the following crude set of stages …

  • Lots of warm water evaporates (turns from a liquid state into a gaseous state.). Thunderstorms are therefore more common in the warmer regions of our planet.
  • The gaseous water is forced upwards by the warm sea. The warm sea warms the air close to it. This air expands and is therefore becomes ‘lighter’ and moves upwards carrying the water vapour (water vapour is the term used to describe gaseous water) with it.
  • As the gaseous water rises it gets colder (more distant from the warm sea) so it becomes water again (small drops of liquid water). A cloud begins to form.
  • The heat from the ocean continues to make the water and water vapour(clouds) rise.
  • It gets even colder and more of the water vapour turns back to water.
  • Some of the water droplets in the cloud turn into ice particles.
  • The ice particles separate some move to the top of the cloud others remain in the bottom.
  • This split causes an uneven distribution of electrical charge in the cloud.
  • The result is Lightning and Thunder.
  • Some of the frozen water falls away from the cloud. this causes all sorts of down draughts and strong winds are created.
  • Some of the ice does not melt as it falls through the air – this forms hailstones.

You could look at this question


Any questions, please leave them in the `Reply Box’

Elizabeth (9) asked a question on lightning

Elizabeth, thank you for your question. “How many %C is the air surrounded by lightning?” I am sorry that I had a difficulty in understanding it. Are you asking about the temperature (degrees C) or are you asking about the Carbon (C) in the air ?  As it was a question about lightning I thought I could ask my friends to talk about that. If you want to revise your question you can easily ask it again. lightning-strike

Thanks team, some very interesting observations.

What I find interesting is how does lightning happen. It’s all about clouds. Hot weather produces lots of evaporation of water from our oceans. The hot air and water mixture rises, look at the clouds from a kettle. As it rises, the cloud of water vapour and air gets colder, and colder. The water turns into very small ice crystals which are still lifted by the cloud of air that they are in. As this happens it is thought that the ice particles separate ……. the lighter particles move to the top of the cloud while the heavier particles remain at the bottom.

The water/ice particles have a small electrical charge associated with them. When they separate the charge moves with them. It is likely that this causes an uneven redistribution of the total electrical charge. If you have more lighter water/ice particles at the top of the cloud than heavier ones at the bottom the difference in the total charges could be significant. So ‘flash’ they try to equalise and thus the lightning flash. It’s the process of the ice crystals at the top of the cloud trying to get rid of their excess electrical charge by giving it to the heavier ice crystals at the bottom of the cloud.

Sometimes difference in charge is so great that the ‘flash’ continues to the ground, but if you are in a storm and look at the flashes a lot of them are within the clouds themselves.

Elizabeth, sorry for such a long explanation. It was such an interesting question. If you have any other questions linked to what my friends and i have said please ask them.

Elizabeth. Some additional information ……. Look at this site. The type of electricity that is built up in clouds , before the lightning flash is static electricity. There are some experiments you could try.

(added 20/11/16

Why does your hair stand up when rubbed with a balloon? was Kim’s question

Kim. I think we have something called ‘static electricity’ at work here. I asked my team to try to explain what ‘static electricity’ is.

As my friends have said we have met electrons before. These were moving  electrons. They were moving along a wire carrying their charge with them. Here we have electrons that are not moving, but they still have an electrical charge, so they are static.

Lightning is thought to be caused by static electricity collecting in clouds.

But now for your question Kim. When you rub your hair with a balloon. Some of the electrons are moving from your hair to the balloon. Or it might be the other way around …. some might be moving from the balloon to your hair. At the moment we don’t know which is happening. However whatever way it happens one of the objects (hair or balloon) loses electrons and becomes positively charged and the other object (hair or balloon) gains electrons and becomes negatively charged. Then we apply a famous rule about negative and positive charges … charges repel, unlike charges attract  soooooo  because we have a negative and a positive charge we have attraction. Your hair is attracted to the balloon, the balloon is attracted to your hair.

think you could work out a way to find out which of your two materials (hair or balloon) is the collector and the giver.

Have a think. You can then give your answer in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box or Ask another Question.