You may have heard a meteorologist refer to these as "popcorn" or "pop-up" storms. Single cell thunderstormSingle cell thunderstorm stagesstages The meteorologically-assignedcloud type associated with the thunderstorm is cumulonimbus Most common; last for less than an hour; built-in self-destruct mechanism; occur all year long, but mostly in summer; can produce strong winds, lightning, hail, and microbursts; three stages of growth Once this happens, the storm goes into its last stage (Figure D). Earth Science: EEn.2.5.3 : Explain how cyclonic storms form based on the interaction of air masses. This marks the beginning of the second stage (mature). With the tropopause acting like a "lid" in this sense, air parcels spread out horizontally along it to form the glaciated anvil (the flat, spreading top of a cumulonimbus cloud). But, these initial cumulus or cumulus congestus clouds typically don't become thunderstorms. The unstable air should be somewhat warm and able to rise rapidly. The storm's demise is rather quick. This whole process usually goes by rather quickly and lasts about 30 minutes to an hour. Essentially, single-cell thunderstorms go through three distinct stages during their lives, but the process gets started when positively buoyant air parcels rise to the point of net condensation, forming cumulus and perhaps cumulus congestus clouds (like the one in the image on the right) typically in the late morning or early afternoon hours. Indeed, the rain-induced downdraft that splashes down and spreads out laterally inevitably cuts off the inflow of warm, humid air into the storm's updraft. The cu… A multi-cell storm is a common, garden-variety thunderstorm in which new updrafts form along the leading edge of rain-cooled air (the gust front). The bottom line here is that the mature stage of a single-cell thunderstorm is exactly what its name suggests--a period when the storm is the most vigorous. The birth, life, and death of a single-cell storm typically takes less than 45 minutes. This can last between 30 minutes to an hour. Figure B. The reason they often appear random is because we don't have the capability of predicting exactly where and when local conditions are just right for storm initiation. Single Cell Storms Typically last 20-30 minutes. Why do I care? At that level the raindrops collide and join into larger droplets due to the churning turbulence in the cloud. When downdrafts "splashdown" at the ground and spread out, they can produce gusty winds. The life of a typical non-severe thunderstorm goes through three stages: Cumulus, Mature, and Dissipating. At which point, drag of air from the falling drops begins to diminish the updra… When the moisture condenses, it releases energy known as latent heatof condensation, which allows the rising packet of air to cool less than the cooler surrounding air contin… You may think of a gust front as a miniature cold front. In the first stage (cumulus), we see the cloud that will become the thunderstorm starting to form and grow due to the rising thermal (or updraft). A basic thunderstorm (single cell) goes through three phases during its lifetime: cumulus, mature, and dissipating. Also called a "pulse" thunderstorm, the ordinary cell consists of a one-time updraft and one-time downdraft. In reality, positively buoyant air parcels that comprise the updraft of a growing cumulus cloud actually do mix with surrounding cooler, drier air in a process called entrainment, which is bad news for aspiring cumulus clouds. A basic thunderstorm (single cell) goes through three phases during its lifetime: cumulus, mature, and dissipating. The splashdown and subsequent spreading out of the downdraft at the ground is akin to water from a kitchen faucet hitting the sink below. (The gust front often triggers the growth of new thunderstorms by acting as a source of lift for neighboring moist, unstable air.) An air-mass thunderstorm, also called an "ordinary", "single cell", or "garden variety" thunderstorm, is a thunderstorm that is generally weak and usually not severe. Check it out below: One of the reasons for the fleeting nature of single-cell thunderstorms has to do with the fact that they form in environments with "weak vertical wind shear," meaning that wind speeds and directions change very little with increasing height (here's an example of what a wind profile with weak shear might look like). Rather, precipitation moves a bit horizontally with upper-level winds before falling air with lower relative humidity, paving the way for evaporational cooling and downward acceleration. These disorganized, individual thunderstorm cells that are sometimes referred to as "random pop-up" thunderstorms are single-cell thunderstorms. It's this weak vertical wind shear that allows the storm's downdraft to fall very near the updraft, and allows the storm's gust front to race outward far from the storm, because weak low-level winds blowing relative to the moving storm cannot restrain the movement of the dense cold pool. Often called popcorn convection, single-cell thunderstorms are small, brief, weak storms that grow and die within an hour or so. What happens when thunderstorms form in environments where vertical wind shear is stronger? The John A. Dutton e-Education Institute is the learning design unit of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University. Figure D. The dissipating stage of a dying thunderstorm. We'll explore further beginning in the next section. Figure A. Single-Cell Thunderstorms: A textbook, run of the mill single storm that develops, grows, and dies like described above would be classified as a single-cell thunderstorm. Why is that? The die has been cast and a majestic cumulonimbus cloud is born. When the downdraft hits the ground, it begins to spread out in all directions. However, the downdraft will usually end up killing  off the thunderstorm as it will cut off the updraft's supply of warm, humid air. To recap the stages in the life of a single-cell thunderstorm, I created a short video (3:22) highlighting the key characteristics of each stage and their corresponding presentations on idealized radar imagery. When air parcels rise to the top of the troposphere, they quickly become cooler than their surroundings above the tropopause (the stratosphere is stable), which means they become negatively buoyant and slow to a halt. The writing is now on the wall. Lightning is most frequent. Some severe thunderstorms have been known to last for hours and travel at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. This wee…, Last week's rain event associated with Eta isn't the first time a tropical storm fed moisture to a frontal system a…, Vegetation: Its Role in Weather and Climate, Effects of Climate Change on the Southeast, The cumulus stage of a growing thunderstorm, The dissipating stage of a dying thunderstorm.