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They draw their energy from warm ocean waters.

Weather -- Powerful Storms

Understanding the conditions that give rise to powerful storms is the key to preparing for their devastating effects. At any given moment, there are an estimated 2, thunderstorms in progress over Earth's surface. These storms can vary from relatively mild rainstorms to very damaging storms that feature hail and high wind.

Thunderstorms form when warm air rises from Earth's surface and moves upwards quickly into the colder levels of the atmosphere. If conditions are right, tornadoes can form from this rapid updraft. Normally, however, the result is rain, wind, lightning, and thunder.

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Without lightning, there would be no "thunder" in "thunderstorm. Lightning occurs during all thunderstorms though not every time it rains. During a storm, it strikes Earth times each second. More than just a dazzling light show, lightning causes billions of dollars in damage each year. Lightning forms when updrafts of air carry water droplets, which have a charge, upward to heights where some freeze into ice and snow particles.

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They form a cloud. As these particles begin to fall back to Earth, charges within the cloud become mixed. The differences in charge are released as lightning. You'll normally hear the sound of lightning a few moments after you see the sky light up.

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Light travels faster than sound, so if you are at a distance from the storm, lightning and thunder may seem oddly disconnected. Both tornadoes and hurricanes are spinning columns of air capable of causing great damage. There are important differences between these two powerful storms, however. Tornadoes are more localized and typically found on land, while hurricanes can cover vast areas and draw their power from the warm tropical oceans.

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  4. Tornadoes range from only a few feet to one mile in diameter and are short in duration normally only a few minutes long. Though these storms are localized, they can be extremely violent. The wind speed inside a tornado's funnel can exceed miles per hour, enough to turn everyday objects into deadly projectiles. Tornadoes occur all over the world, at every time of the year, but they are most common in the summertime in the midwestern United States.

    What is a severe thunderstorm?

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    How many thunderstorms are there? Worldwide, there are an estimated 16 million thunderstorms each year, and at any given moment, there are roughly 2, thunderstorms in progress. There are about , thunderstorms each year in the U. When are thunderstorms most likely?

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    Thunderstorms are most likely in the spring and summer months and during the afternoon and evening hours, but they can occur year-round and at all hours. Along the Gulf Coast and across the southeastern and western states, most thunderstorms occur during the afternoon. Thunderstorms frequently occur in the late afternoon and at night in the Plains states.

    What kinds of damage can thunderstorms cause? Many hazardous weather events are associated with thunderstorms. Under the right conditions, rainfall from thunderstorms causes flash flooding, killing more people each year than hurricanes, tornadoes or lightning.

    Lightning is responsible for many fires around the world each year, and causes fatalities. Hail up to the size of softballs damages cars and windows, and kills livestock caught out in the open.

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    Strong up to more than mph straight-line winds associated with thunderstorms knock down trees, power lines and mobile homes. Tornadoes with winds up to about mph can destroy all but the best-built man-made structures. Where are severe thunderstorms most common?

    The greatest severe weather threat in the U. But, no place in the United States is completely safe from the threat of severe weather. A watch can cover parts of a state or several states.

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    Warnings mean there is a serious threat to life and property to those in the path of the storm. ACT now to find safe shelter! A warning can cover parts of counties or several counties in the path of danger.