CENTRAL NEW YORK (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) — We all know what thunderstorms are, although their stages and formation are quite complex, so let’s break them down. Most thunderstorms form in three stages: the cumulus stage when storm clouds form, the mature stage when the storm is fully formed, and the dispersing stage when the storm weakens and breaks up.
The Cumulus Stage
Clouds use warm, moist air as fuel to keep them moving and growing. When this warm, moist air travels high into the atmosphere in an updraft, cumulus clouds form. There are several ways this updraft of warm, moist air can form. Sometimes the air is pushed up when it hits the side of a mountain. Other times it is forced up because of a cold front.
The maturity phase
As the cumulus cloud continues to grow, so do the tiny water droplets inside it, because as they fly up there in the cloud, they collide and stick together. This is when the cloud starts to look dark and gray. Raindrops begin to fall through the cloud when the rising air can no longer hold all of those waterdrops. Meanwhile, cool dry air flows down the cloud (the downdraft) and pulls water down as rain. With updrafts, downdrafts, and rain, the cloud is now called a cumulonimbus cloud, and the ups and downs of air is called a thunderstorm cell.
The dissipation stage
Eventually, as the downdrafts get stronger in the cloud, they start cutting off the updraft. This leads to the final stage of a thunderstorm, where it weakens and dissipates. The storm is easing with light rain as the cloud clears from the bottom up. The whole process takes about an hour during an ordinary thunderstorm. Severe thunderstorms, such as supercells and squalls, are much larger, more powerful, and last for several hours.