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Can Thunder And Lightning Happen In Hurricanes And Tropical Storms?

Do hurricanes have thunder and lightning in them? Typically no. However, stronger Category 4 and 5 tropical systems with the presence of hot towers in them are often observed to have thunder and lightning near the eye and center of circulation where heavy thunderstorm activity is located.

Why?

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Lightning occurs in thunderstorms which contain vertical winds as water moves upward colliding with hail and ice in downdrafts. This collision results in electrons being displaced creating a negative charge which produces the lightning.

And, the only way to have thunder is to have the activity above.

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Hurricanes are low pressure tropical systems which have horizontal winds fueled by warm moist air.

In the past decade, a lot of research and satellite imagery of very strong and well formed systems reaching Category 5 and 4 did produce this activity.

And, more and more people are reporting this activity as systems make landfall.

Thunder And Lightning In High Category Level Hurricanes

A hot tower is a cumulonimbus cloud which reaches in to the upper atmosphere near the stratosphere and contains hotter air than the normal tropical environment.

Not all cyclones contain hot towers, but they are clearly present in major well-formed storms.

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Because these towers reach in to the upper atmosphere, there is more chance ice and hail will be present in the clouds, thereby increasing the chances water in swirling winds will collide.

EDUCATION: What Is The Eye?

If you ever do extensive research on hot towers, the best storm to study is Hurricane Michael which struck Mexico Beach, FL in 2018, as this cyclone’s imagery showed the presence of many large cumulonimbus clouds along with lightning as it approached the coast.

Michael was a Category 5 which exploded in growth extremely fast which continued up until landfall. Residents on the coast of FL did report the presence of thunder as this cyclone struck land.

While many factors go in to intensity forecast, observed hot towers are one marker indicating a storm is strengthening.

Very warm sea surface temperatures produce warm air over the surface which hurricanes use as a fuel source.

Increased water temperature is going to increase the temperature of air, thereby giving cyclones more energy and fuel to get stronger. And, scientists and researchers believe the increase in SSTs is one of the main forces driving hot towers in tropical systems.

EDUCATION: Are These Systems Getting More Frequent And Stronger?

As part of our research on this site, we look for the presence of these structures in determining whether a cyclone will continue to develop or maintain it’s current category status.

And, we now watch for systems to have observed lightning and thunder within the core eyewall to give further clues on how a system will impact coastlines when they intersect.

Let’s Talk

Using the form below, give us your insights on lightning and thunder within hurricanes, and let us know if you agree with our findings on increased SSTs and hot towers within Cat 4 and 5 storms being the root cause.

Furthermore, if you’re an avid storm watcher, be sure to use the form below to report the names of systems where you and others noted the presence of this activity near the center of circulation.

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About Clouds

Michael Sharp

Native of Carteret County NC, Father to Makayla and Savannah. You can add me on Facebook. Interest include web development, encryption, and other technologies.

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