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How to Assess a Storm as it Develops

A developing storm doesn’t have to end your outdoor adventures. Know how to assess a storm as it develops with these steps.

When a storm is developing there are three stages to look out for: the cumulus stage, the mature stage and the dissipating stage. Whether you’re out camping, hitting the woods or fishing, knowing the stages to look out for in a developing storm can make a huge difference as to whether you get caught out or are able to retreat to safety.


Keep an eye on the developing appearance of the fluffy, cottonball-shape cumulus clouds as it is during this baby stage that strong updrafts act to create the storm. Look out for the cumulus clouds that are taller than those that are broad, which are the result of strong updrafts that elongate the clouds over time. If the head of the cumulus begins to look slightly darker compared to the bright cloud underneath, a thunderstorm is imminent – and it could strike in a matter of minutes.

During the mature stage of a thunderstorm the cumulus becomes large as the water in it becomes heavy. Rain will begin to fall through the cloud at this stage as the rising air stops holding the water up. At the same time cool air will enter the cloud and as cool air is heavier than warm air, the cloud will start its downdraft. This downdraft pulls the water down making rain.

This cloud is now known as a cumulonimbus cloud as it has three things to it: an updraft, a downdraft and rain. Thunder and lightning occur with a cumulonimbus cloud, which is a good time to take heed of lightning as soon as you start to see rain falling from the cloud.

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Determine how close the storm is by counting the seconds that separate a lightning bolt from a thunderclap. Five seconds, for example, indicates that the lightning struck one mile away while a ten second gap indicates that the lightning struck two miles away. If the intervals between a lightning flash and a thunderclap are shortening then the storm is getting closer. It is during this stage of a storm that you want to remove yourself from heights that may make you a likely lightning-prone subject.

The dissipating stage of a storm is when it is at its weakest and after about 30 minutes it begins to dissipate; however, as the cloud collapses in on itself and evaporates from bottom to top, light precipitation will follow signaling the end of the storm.


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How to Assess a Storm as it Develops