Weather 101: What is a severe thunderstorm?

Weather 101

How do meteorologists decide if a severe thunderstorm is severe or not?

We see thunderstorms all the time, but why are some severe while others are not?

Thunderstorms, by definition, produce lightning and thunder. However, the wind gusts, hail sizes, and whether or not it produces a tornado determine if a thunderstorm is severe.

To be classified as a “severe thunderstorm”, you must have at least one of the following three requirements:

  • 58mph wind gusts or greater
  • 1-inch diameter (quarter-size) hail or bigger
  • produces a tornado

One of the most underestimated threats from severe thunderstorms is straight-line winds. As rain falls from the storm, cold air gets pulled down and hits the ground. The air spreads out in all directions and can cause damage equivalent to a weak tornado.

Hail can cause extensive damage as well, especially to roofs and vehicles. In fact, hail is responsible for over $1-billion in damages annually across the U.S.

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