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3 Ways Thunderstorms Form In The Mountains


Thunderstorm production requires moisture, an unstable atmosphere, and a lifting force. In the mountains, the lifting force can come in a variety of ways.

1) Terrain Forcing

Terrain plays a vital role in the production of storms year-round. The size, location, and intensity of a storm depend on the direction of the wind, the surrounding terrain, the stability of the air, and the moisture content in the air being lifted.

Orographic lifting is one of the most common methods of thunderstorm production. When orographic lifting happens, wind is forced up a mountain ridge, and as it rises, it cools. Eventually, the air reaches saturation and forms a line of cumulous clouds. If there is enough moisture and instability, this can form a line of thunderstorms along the mountain ridge. This can make navigating the mountains very difficult, especially in the afternoon.

Check out the video below to see how orographic lifting forms clouds and storms...

2) Upslope Flow Convergence

When the sun rises and heats the side of a mountain, the air above the slopes begins to warm. This warm air rises, creating upslope winds that reach the peak of the mountain. At that point, the air detaches from the mountain and begins to rise vertically, converging with similar thermals on the other sides of the peak.

If moisture and atmospheric instability are present, a cumulus cloud will begin to rise and form a cumulonimbus cloud over the terrain. This is known as upslope flow convergence.

Check out the video below...

3) Convergence Displacement

As the sun heats mountain slopes in the morning, rising air from thermals converge above the ridgeline. If there are winds aloft, the rising thermals flow downwind and continue rising downwind of the ridgeline. In this phenomenon, the location of clouds/storms will be downwind of the ridgeline instead of directly over the top of the terrain.

Be more comfortable flying around the mountains this fall.

It's easy to think that mountain weather only happens in places like the Rockies. But the hills of Eastern Ohio can produce the same types of weather year-round. If you've ever flown near the Appalachians, you probably experienced mountain weather, even if you didn't realize it was happening.

Whether you're flying on the East Coast, the Coastal Ranges of California, or any of the rough terrain in between, Boldmethod's Mountain Weather course makes you confident and comfortable flying around the mountains.

You'll learn how to evaluate mountain weather during your planning and while you're in flight. You'll also learn how terrain generates updrafts, downdrafts, turbulence, and storms, and changes the direction of the wind throughout the day.

Plus, for less than the cost of a cross-country flight, you get lifetime access to tools that increase your confidence and make your flights more fun.

Ready to get started? Click here to purchase Mountain Weather now.

Corey Komarec

Corey is an Airbus 320 First Officer for a U.S. Major Carrier. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota, and he's been flying since he was 16. You can reach him at

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