Creating a thunderstorm requires three specific ingredients. The three ingredients work together to form a very large cumulonimbus cloud. Cumulonimbus clouds are generalized as thunderstorm clouds and are typically shaped like an anvil. Creating a very large cumulonimbus cloud requires enough moisture, a lifting mechanism, and an unstable atmosphere.
- Enough Moisture
The first ingredient to create a cumulonimbus cloud, or any cloud for that matter, is enough moisture. Clouds are made from tiny water droplets suspended in the atmosphere. Therefore, the air must be saturated to create a cloud. For the air to become saturated it needs to be cooled to the dew point. The dew point is the temperature at which the air becomes saturated.
- Lifting Mechanism
The second ingredient to create a cumulonimbus cloud is a lifting, or trigger, mechanism. As the air rises it is cooled to equal the temperature of the dew point. There are many triggers that can force the air to rise such as convection, convergence, topography, and fronts.
- Convection – warm air near the surface rises on a hot and humid afternoon
- Convergence – in the presence of a low pressure system, the air will rise when piled up at the surface
- Topography – air cannot go through mountains, therefore it will rise with the mountains
- Fronts – warm air masses will rise above cold air masses
- Unstable Atmosphere
Now that the air is becoming saturated as it rises, a cumulonimbus cloud is forming. However, creating the biggest clouds requires the air to continue rising once triggered. The third and final ingredient to creating a giant cumulonimbus cloud is an unstable atmosphere. The atmosphere is unstable if the temperature of the rising air is warmer than the temperature of the environment. The unstable atmosphere will allow the air to continue to rise, creating a giant cumulonimbus cloud capable of administering a thunderstorm. Depending on how unstable the atmosphere is will determine the severity of the storm.
In conclusion, the clash of warm and cold air is just one of many lifting mechanisms that could potentially create a very large thunderstorm. To create a thunderstorm you need a very large cumulonimbus cloud. Very large cumulonimbus clouds will only form with enough moisture, a lifting mechanism, and an unstable atmosphere.