We have entered the micro-season of “Thunder Raises its Voice”. This is the third micro-season of the mini season of Spring Equinox. Each mini season contains three micro-seasons.
The micro-seasons contained within this mini season are:
- The Sparrow Builds Her Nest (Mar 20 -Mar 24)
- The First Cherry Blossoms (Mar 25 – Mar 29)
- Thunder Raises its Voice (Mar 30 – Apr 03)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration into the world around you.
As the earth emerges from its winter slumber, the sun’s warming rays have the potential to cause severe weather patterns, including thunderstorms.
At its most basic level, a thunderstorm is a rainstorm with thunder. Thunder is the sound that accompanies lightning. Thunder can either be a low rumbling noise or more abrupt sound sometimes called a thunderclap.
How are Thunderstorms Created?
Thunderstorms have three basic elements to them: moisture, an unstable air mass, and lift.
Moisture: In order for a thunderstorm to develop there must be moisture in the air. When talking about moisture in the air, we are talking about water vapor. Water vapor gets into the air by way of evaporation.
Unstable air mass: Air can either be stable or unstable.(1) A stable air mass is one where the colder air lies under the warm air. An unstable air mass is one where the warm air is under the cold air.
When the cold air lies underneath the warm air, it is stable because cold air is more dense and prefers to be closer to the ground. Therefore, when disturbances occur in the air masses they don’t cause large scale disruptions. The air mass may shift, but they returns to their relative orientation of cold air below and warm air above.
When warm air is under cold air it is unstable because warmer air is less dense and wants to rise. Likewise, colder air is more dense and wants to fall towards the ground. This creates instability because each air mass has a natural tendency to want to shift atmospheric location. All the warmer air mass needs to try and shift its orientation is a little nudge. This nudge is sometimes referred to as Lift
Lift: When the sun begins to warm the earth’s surface, it warms the air directly above it. As this air continues to warm, it will begin to rise up into the atmosphere. This warmer air will continue to rise as long as it stays warmer than the surrounding air.
Three Stages of a Thunderstorm
Thunderstorms have three basic stages to their life cycle: Developing Stage, Mature Stage, and Dissipating.
Developing Stage: In this stage, the warm air is rising and comes in contact with colder air masses. When the warm moist air meets the colder air, the water vapor in the air begins to condense and creates a cloud. This cloud formation continues to grow upward and is known as a towering cumulus cloud. The cloud’s growth is feed by the continuous rising or warm air, also known as updrafts. These towering cumulus clouds can grow to be 10 miles tall.(4) At this stage there is no rain falling, but there might be some lighting.
Mature Stage: In this stage, the cloud has reached a significant altitude that the updrafts flatten out and the cloud takes an anvil type shape. This cloud formation is called cumulonimbus incus.(3)
The water particles that began to form in the updrafts, now begin to join together into larger droplets. These droplets then freeze at these higher altitudes and fall back to earth. While they fall, they melt again and become rain.
As the rain falls, it creates a downdraft. When the downdraft hits the ground it creates the intense winds that are characteristic of thunderstorms.
The simultaneous presence of both updrafts and downdrafts is an indicator of a mature thunderstorm.
Dissipating: Eventually, the rain and the downdrafts overtakes the updrafts. At this time, the thunderstorm begins to dissipate as the warm air is no longer feeding the growth of the cloud and pushing water vapor into the sky. There is still a possibility of lightning at this time even though there is less rain.
The most basic thunderstorm is called a single-cell storm. This type of storm has one updraft. It is estimated that a single-cell storm will only last about 30 minutes.(3)
There are more complex types of thunderstorms including multi-cell and superstorms. These storms all have the same building blocks, but have more multiple updrafts and complex wind patterns. Some of these storms may last for hours.(3)
Poems about Thunder and Lightning
Thunderstorms are big and bold. They make their presence known with earth shaking sounds, flashes of light, and plenty of rain. So it is no surprise that they would have found their way into our poetic history.
Published in the August 1913 issues of Poetry Magazine, John Hall Wheelock published “The Thunder-Shower”.
“The Thunder-Shower” by John Hall Wheelock
The lightning flashed, and lifted The slides of heaven apart, The fiery thunder rolled you All night long through my heart. From dreams of you at dawn I rose to the window ledge The storm had passed away, The lake lapped on the sedge The lyre of heaven trembled Still with the thought of you, The twilight on the waters; And all my spirit, too.
One of the things that I noticed, and liked, about this poem was how it compares the life stages of the thunderstorm with the emotional turbulence of a missing lover. The beginning is intense with thunder and lightening. But then, as the storm breaks, there is a melancholic calm that covers the land.
Thunder and lighting also found their way into haiku. Jack Kerouac wrote a few haiku about thunderstorms including:
Drunk as a hoot owl writing letters By thunderstorm -Jack Kerouac
Thunder and snow - how We shall go! -Jack Kerouac
This second haiku, with its combination of thunder and snow, makes me think of this haiku by Kobayashi Issa.
from deep in the lightning's flash... spring snow falling -Issa
However, I really appreciate the following haiku from Matsuo Bashō that incorporates both light and sound.
A flash of lightning: The screech of a night heron Flying in the darkness -Basho
There is something that I really enjoy about this imagery. The combination of lightning, darkness, and the flying bird really works for me.
If you have a favorite poem about thunderstorms, please share in the comments below.
- Highs and Lows/High and Low Air Flow: Iowa State University
- “Thunder”; Wikipedia
- “Thunderstorms”: Wikipedia
- What Causes a Thunderstorm? SciJinks NOAA
- Severe Weather 101: Thunderstorms; NOAA
- John Hall Wheelock; “The Thunder-Shower”: Poetry Foundation
- Jack Kerouac’s haiku retrieved from Terebess Asia Online, “Jack Kerouac Collected Haikus”
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