Storms without Lightning & Thunder?

Discussion in 'Introductory weather & chasing' started by MikeD, Nov 6, 2017.

  1. MikeD

    MikeD EF0

    Oct 10, 2017
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    Last night(November 5, 2017), at 1:48 AM CDT, a squall line moved through western TN. There was strong wind and heavy rain, but no lightning and thunder. Is there such a thing?

    I’m thinking of two possibilities:

    1. The squall line was all nimbostratus. (Not likely at all)

    2. Cb clouds produced no lightning or thunder. (Not likely either)

    Can someone explain what happened? I searched through the internet but couldn’t find anything.
  2. John Farley

    Apr 1, 2004
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    Probably 2. There are others here who know a lot more about lightning than I do, but the likely explanation is that, although you did have CB, there was not enough temperature contrast to get lightning. Warm cloud bases combined with frozen cloud tops, usually with graupel present in the clouds, are the type of condition where you get lightning. In this case, although the storm process was convective, I would guess that the cloud bases were not particularly warm (it was night in November, after all) while the cloud height may have been somewhat shallow resulting in less cold cloud tops. So not enough temperature contrast from bottom to top of the clouds to get much in the way of lightning, even though the clouds were convective.
  3. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
    Staff Member

    Jan 14, 2011
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    To add to John's points, low-topped convection can produce all types of severe weather without lightning. It is usually during low-CAPE, high shear days during the cool season (fall through early spring). It is also common for "cold core" tornado days to have little or no lightning.
  4. Jeff Duda

    Jeff Duda Resident meteorological expert
    Staff Member

    Oct 7, 2008
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    First, you need ice phase hydrometeors to get lightning. If cloud tops were short enough so that there was no ice in the cloud, you will not get lightning.

    Second, even if you do get ice phase particles, they need to interact to build up charge separation. If instability and subsequent updrafts are very weak, there may not be enough motion within the cloud to get sufficient levels of charge separation and thus insufficient potential for lightning.

    Third, it's possible there was lightning but you didn't see it nor hear the thunder either because
    -it was too distant
    -the thunder was covered by other sounds
    If you have quantitative evidence in the form of NLDN or GLM data proving otherwise, then I would bet there actually was some amount of lightning, but you just didn't notice it.
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  5. Paul Knightley

    Feb 6, 2006
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    We quite often get squall lines in the UK with little or no lightning. As well as what has been mentioned above, sometimes very shallow convection occurs at the leading edge of a 'surge' of cool/cold air - such 'forced' convection (which is really just almost stable air being rapidly lifted in the lowest 1-2kms of the atmosphere) can lead to very heavy rain and strong winds, but no lightning. E.g.
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