Monday, April 22, 2024

Thunderstorm season is upon us

| April 1, 2024 1:05 AM

April has arrived, and we’ve already had one thunderstorm in the Coeur d’Alene area, which occurred March 27. Although we do get our share of thunder, lightning, hail and even a rare tornado, the severity of these storms does not compare to the ones seen east of the Rockies, especially in the Great Plains and the Midwest’s "Tornado Alley."

Here in North Idaho, the average number of days with thunderstorms, which include thunder, lightning and rain, across the lower elevations is 14 (one in April, two in May, five in June, two in July, two in August and one in September and October). When you include days with thunder with little or no rain, the average number of days goes up to 25. The normal number of severe weather days in the Inland Northwest for an entire year is slightly less than one.

Thanks to the effects of the rapidly weakening warmer El Niño sea-surface temperature event, the number of thunderstorms expected in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding regions is a little lower than average. Cliff and I are projecting a total of 10 days with thunderstorm activity.

Our average of 14 thunderstorms each year doesn’t compare to other parts of the country and the world. In the Midwest and central and parts of the southern Great Plains, there are about 50-60 thunderstorms each year. The Gulf Coast has 70-80 storms with 30-40 thunderstorms across the northern Great Plains and southern Texas. The Far West and Northeast average from as few as five thunderstorms along the coastal areas of the West Coast to 20-30 thunderstorms in the interior locations and Northeast.

Across the globe, there are over 40,000 thunderstorms forming every day. That’s nearly 1,700 per hour. For an entire year, our planet receives approximately 14.6 million thunderstorms.

With thunderstorms, comes lightning, which is still one of the most mysterious meteorological phenomena. In late August of 2016, it was a sad situation as more than 300 wild reindeer were killed by lightning. No one was certain whether it was a single or a multiple-strike event.

This is also the season when the airlines are more subject to lightning strikes in the Northern Hemisphere. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that lightning hits each airliner in the United States about once a year. However, the planes are built to handle these events. When lightning does hit, the current is often sent through the plane’s skin and frame or even to the nose or the tail.

I remember asking a flight attendant when I was a kid — yes, a long time ago — if they ever had an unusual experience from a thunderstorm in the air. One told me that when the aircraft was hit with a bolt of lightning, it generated a blue ball that literally went down the passenger aisle.

 In the U.S., there are approximately 100,000 thunderstorms that form each year, and, according to NOAA, about 10% of them will often reach severe levels, mostly in the southern portions of the country. According to a Reader’s Digest article, lightning will strike more than eight million times per day across the world, which is an amazing 93 times per second.

Also, if the storm is not directly over you, it doesn’t mean that lightning isn’t a threat. There was another story of an 11-year-old girl in Pennsylvania who was struck by a storm that was several miles away. The sun was shining on that afternoon. Luckily, she only had a broken arm from the incident.

It’s not a good idea to venture out during a thunderstorm. The odds of being struck by lightning in any one year is 1 in 700,000. The odds of being struck in your lifetime are 1 in 3,000. If one happens to be outdoors during severe weather, and the hair starts standing straight up, that means conditions are setting up fast to be hit by lightning. The best thing to do is to hit the ground and even roll to break the bond between the positive and negative charge. So, when a thunderstorm is looming, it’s a good idea to use a little extra caution.

In terms of our local weather, precipitation totals for March were close to normal across the region. Our seasonal snowfall total currently stands at 51.0 inches. Cliff’s prediction for the 2023-24 season that was made last October was 51.4 inches. I would say that’s a pretty good call. And, the average snowfall for April in Coeur d’Alene is 0.7 inches. There’s still a chance we could see some additional flakes of snow this month, especially during the overnight hours.

We are also expecting to see some moisture this week, including the possibility of some snow in the lower elevations. The middle and the end of April will also provide the best chance of precipitation across the region. By late in the spring season, the weather pattern is forecast to turn warmer and drier than average.

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