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FYI: I imagine the physics of thunderstorms involves wind stripping electrons from condensed water cells (raindrops or snowflakes). Like a Van De Graaff generator, sort of; I'm also using Wilson's cloud chamber concept of an ion at the core of a droplet. Not sure if global warming promises higher winds, but I think so.

Acceptable answers: will address the seemingly polynomial temperature dependence of the thunderstorm probability. Extra thanks if the answer says something about other contributions of expected climate changes (eg the faster, more severe changes in the weather, but not the rise in average global temperature).

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What is an "electric storm"? –  Georg Jan 27 '11 at 17:00
I mean in the natural weather. –  gdbf137 Jan 27 '11 at 17:55
I suppose you wanted to write "thunderstorm"; fixed. –  mbq Jan 27 '11 at 19:42
@gdbf Could you ask something more specific to physics? This sounds like a meteorological question as it stands. For example, is your question about the mechanism behind lightning, and how that mechanism is affect by things like temperature and humidity? –  Mark Eichenlaub Jan 27 '11 at 19:58
It was originally "Electric Blizzards", but got "fixed". Tomäto, tomãto. :) –  gdbf137 Jan 28 '11 at 0:07

1 Answer 1

Thunderstorms, are convective storms, driven by convective heat transfer from lower layers of the atmosphere to higher up. During winter in temperate lattitudes the surface radiation balance (solar shortwave absorbed, minus net infrared radiation upwards) is negative or weakly positive, so very little convective activity ocurrs. While in the summer, the surface radiation balance is strongly positive, so the excess heat is carried upwards by convection.

Thunderstorms do not require a cold front, (although it helps). Thunderstorms are nearly a daily occurrence in some parts of the tropics.

I don't know if the frequency of thunderstorms will increase or decrease due to global warming. Convection is driven by temperature constrasts with respect to height, not to absolute temperature. There should be fewer cold fronts, because the poles will warm more than the tropics, this would tend to reduce the numbers. But, there will also be more moisture in the air which would tend to increase the numbers. The high end storms seem to be becoming more frequent, and this is thought to be becuse at higher temperatures the relative amount of latent energy of water vapor is higher, which tends to allow the strongest storms to sustain higher inflows thus drawing moisture in even faster.

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""Thunderstorms do not require a cold front, a.la Georg above "" I described two ways of thunderstoms generation, look for the word "or" ! –  Georg Jan 27 '11 at 22:38

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