Lightning in Snowstorms

This question has been bothering me for years, in fact i think i may be very disapointed if in fact someone finally does answer it to my satusfaction. I’ve sent it to Cecil anumber of times and finally figured out how to use this marvel of human engineering.

MY QUESTION IS THIS: If a snowstorm is nothing more than a frozen rainstorm, why no lightning? The causes are the same, too much water in the clouds… so where’s the electricity?

First of all, a snowstorm is not “nothing more than a frozen rainstorm.” Frozen rain is just that, a raindrop that’s frozen from liquid water. A snowflake crystalizes directly from a vapor state into a solid, a process known as sublimation, and/or from very finely atomized water droplets in the air.

Second of all, snow storms/clouds can and do produce lightning. Rare is a winter here in Chicago when we do not experience at least one such episode. Infrequent yes, “no” lightning, no.

The process that generates the enormous release of electrical energy we call lightning is to this day not fully understood. The prevailing opinion is liquid water in the form of raindrops carries electrons from one portion of a cloud to another and results in electrical potential, but there are other forces in action man has not been able to properly describe.

However, lightning is definitely not caused by “too much water” in those clouds. Raindrops and snowflakes are a result of saturation, surely, but as you so thoughfully point out these do not always result in lighning production. (A much better description of the mechanics can be had at NASA’s lightning research website):

That being said, there is sometimes a fair amount of liquid water available in clouds that are generating snow but not liquid (or frozen) rain. The “electricity” is always there, it just needs an efficient mode of transport and snowflakes themselves may be lesser but not incapable carriers of electrons.

As a boy I eyewitnessed lightning in a snowstorm twice-- once in Chicago, once in Waukesha , Wisconsin. It is real, and impressive to see.

I’ve seen lightning in a snowstorm just once, and we get a lot of thunderstorms in summer.

The convection currents that cause the big updrafts necessary for a lightning storm are dependent on a temperature differential. In the winter, even the “warm” air is usually too cool for there to be strong enough updrafts.

We experienced lightning in a snowstorm here in Georgia a few years ago. The weatherman was predicting 1 to 2 inches, we ended up with 8 to 10 (a huge amount for us). He actually apologized on air the next day saying something like “I knew there would be lightning associated with this storm, but did not factor that extra energy into my accumulation estimates.” Apparently, just as a summer thunderstorm is most often accompanied by very heavy rain, a winter thunderstorm can dump significantly more snow.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

I live in upstate NY and like Nick see it/ hear it every year or every other year. I got to thinking though that this tends to happen the most often around the Great Lakes area. Considering the amount of Lake Effect snows and the large variance in temperatures that are sometimes associated with Lake Effect snowstorms maybe thunder-snowstorms are more prevalent in the area because of the Great Lakes.

I’ve seen snow storm lightening here in Wisconsin four or five times.

There was a snowfall with lightning once that I remember, years ago when we lived in Seattle.

The kids were playing outside and my oldest, who was probably about 6 or 7 at the time, told me he fell down in the snow just as a clap of thunder went off! He ran inside, laughing that his butt made a big boom as he landed. Little dickens thought he was responsible for the noise.

I made him stay inside til he was 20.

What’s a snowstorm?

Work like you don’t need the money…
Love like you’ve never been hurt…
Dance like nobody’s watching! …(Paraphrased)

Shaddap, mg.