What's thundersnow and how does it happen?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Imagine for a moment that it is freezing cold and snowing heavily. One of the last things you might expect to happen would be a flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder.

But that is exactly what can happen!

This is called thundersnow, and it is quite an exciting phenomenon for meteorologists. 

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A viral video circulated the internet of Meteorologist Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel shouting and jumping with excitement when he experienced thundersnow while covering a winter storm in Chicago in 2011.

Cantore was also excited for more thundersnow covering a storm in Boston in 2015. 

Thundersnow is a fairly rare but incredible event that would likely have a few of your 41 Action News weather team members just as thrilled.

What is thundersnow and how does it happen?

Thundersnow is simply lightning and thunder that occurs during a heavy snow event. Just like a regular thunderstorm, it starts with relatively warmer air closer to the ground that is rapidly rising. As it rises it cools significantly and forms ice crystals, which collide with one another creating lots of static electricity.

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The electrical charge builds up until the energy is ready to be released and then suddenly...bang! A bolt of lightning will flash and thunder will boom.

It is much more rare to see and hear thundersnow because the kind of energy needed to cause the air to rapidly rise is usually not present in a snow event compared to spring and summertime thunderstorms. But if the atmosphere sets itself up just right during a winter storm this year, you might see an amazing event. 

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Gerard Jebaily can be reached at Gerard.Jebaily@KSHB.com.

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