Even though thunderstorms tend to form during the warmer months of summer, fall, and spring, they are still possible at any time of the year. Moisture, an unstable atmosphere, and a mechanism that can get the atmosphere moving are the three essential components that are required for the genesis of thunderstorms. Moisture, unstable air, and lift are the three essential components that are required for the formation of any thunderstorm.
Moisture is required for thunderstorm clouds and precipitation to form. In the summer, most locations contain a level of moisture in the air that is capable, given the right conditions, of spawning thunderstorms, provided that certain other conditions are met. Storms are more likely to form in parts of the country that have an abundance of moisture during the winter months. Oceans are the most common source of moisture in the atmosphere. When warm, wet air is located close to the ground and cold, dry air is located higher up, an unstable air mass is created.
The stability of the atmosphere, or more specifically, the instability of the atmosphere, plays a crucial part in the genesis of thunderstorms. Clouds cannot form without the presence of rising air, and thunderstorms cannot form without the presence of fast-rising air. The air must become buoyant in comparison to the air that is around it for it to quickly rise. Lift is generated by changes in the densities of the surrounding air. By doing so, it forces unstable air upward, resulting in the formation of a tall cloud that can contain thunderstorms.
When there is instability in the atmosphere, the air close to the ground has the potential to become buoyant and quickly rise through the atmosphere. In general, the atmosphere is more prone to instability when the air close to the surface of the earth is warmer and the air higher up in the atmosphere is cooler. Temperature is not the only factor that can contribute to the instability of the atmosphere; moisture close to the ground can also play a role.
Something that will initiate motion in the atmosphere is the third and final ingredient that must be present for a storm to occur. This could be a front, a warming effect from the sun, or a cooling effect atop the clouds. A thunderstorm can establish boundaries that can lead to other storms after it has formed.
During the summer months, thunderstorms are most likely to form in the afternoon when the sun’s rays warm the air near the ground. Clouds, rain, and even lightning can form as heated air bubbles rise to an unstable level in the atmosphere.