Thunderstorms: more than lightning - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Thunderstorms: more than lightning


MADISON (WKOW) -- Some love them, others fear them but experts will agree we should all respect their awesome power.

Most people focus on keeping safe from lightning during severe thunderstorms, but overlook two other very dangerous attributes: wind and hail.

Severe thunderstorms can produce straight-line winds in excess of 58 mph, produced by rain-cooled air that rushes out of the clouds to the ground in the direction the storm is moving.

These winds can be as strong as a hurricane. In extreme cases winds can easily reach up over 100 mph.

Rusty Kapela of the National Weather Service says "people don't realize what a 100 mph wind will do and if your house is hit by 100, 120 mph winds you're house is going to suffer damage or any other building for that matter."

Over the last 23 years in Wisconsin, 13 people died as a result of tornadoes, along with 20 from lightning, and 22 because of strong winds.

Hail, meanwhile, hasn't killed anyone in Wisconsin over that same period. It has injured 41 people and caused staggering damage to homes, cars and property.

Hail forms when water droplets in the lower part of a cloud are carried into the colder part by an updraft. They freeze and begin to fall, another layer of water is added in the warmer part of the cloud and the process is repeated until the hail stone is too large for the updraft to carry.

As of April 1, 2009, the criteria for severe hail changed, from 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch.

Kapela explains: "We've increased it to 1 inch which is quarter size and we're found though research and other tests and experiences and that, that hail stones don't really cause much of any damage at all until they start getting up over 1 inch in diameter."

The National Weather Service says that by increasing the hail size the numbers of severe thunderstorm warnings may fall by as much as 33 percent.

"By reducing the number of severe thunderstorm warnings based on the hail stone one inch criteria, hopefully people will pay more attention to severe thunderstorm warnings."

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