How Monday’s clouds impacted a storm threat

Meteorologist Nicholas Snider has a look at how clouds can actually impede storms.
Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 5:59 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - This past Monday featured a similar weather pattern to an event that brought a tornado to the area two Mondays ago. The difference in the weather? Moisture and cloud coverage in the sky. Now normally you’d probably think clouds cause storms, so the more clouds you have, the better chances of you seeing a storm, right? Well, that’s actually not the case.

Moisture in the upper levels of the atmosphere actually makes the air a bit more stable - how? You have to remember back to a few weeks ago, when we talked about water changing state. Remember, as water condenses, the heat contained within water vapor has to be released into the atmosphere. This means with condensation and moisture in the air, heat continues to be released into the environment.

What does this have to do with thunderstorm formation, though? Remember, one of the main ingredients required for storms to form: unstable air, or cold air overlaying warm air. This creates a twofold issue.

The first issue is the fact that with cloud coverage, heat is being released to the surrounding environment, limiting the rate at which air will cool as you go up with height. The second issue? Clouds reflect the sunlight above it. This prevents sunlight from reaching the ground and warming it, allowing air higher up to be warmer, and air near the ground cooler than it would otherwise be – in other words, a stable environment.

The result? Stabler air hinders thunderstorm energy. This will weaken the storms’ upward motion, and therefore the potential for hail, wind -- and even tornadoes.