Thunderstorm Categories

There is actually an entire range of thunderstorm types, but 4 broad categories are described below:
  • Single cell storms, usually last 20 to 30 minutes and rarely produce severe weather. True single cell storms are quite rare because the gust front from 1 cell often triggers the growth of another cell. Single cell storms that briefly produce severe weather are referred to as pulse storms.
  • Multi-cell cluster storms are the most common type of thunderstorm. They consist of a group of cells, moving along as 1 unit, with each cell in a different phase of the thunderstorm life cycle.
  • Multi-cell line storms, or "squall lines," as they are commonly called, consist of a long line of storms with a continuous, well-developed gust front at the leading edge of the line. The line can be solid, or there can be gaps and breaks in it.
  • Supercell storms are highly organized thunderstorms. Although rare, they pose an inordinately high threat to life and property. Like the single cell storm, supercell storms consist of 1 main updraft. However, it is extremely strong, reaching estimated speeds of 150-175 miles an hour. The biggest difference between supercells and other thunderstorms is its rotating updraft, called a mesocyclone. This helps the supercell to produce extreme severe weather events, such as giant hail, strong downbursts of 80 miles an hour or more and strong to violent tornadoes.

Schematic of a Supercell Thunderstorm

Schematic of a Supercell Thunderstorm - Source: NOAA