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Introduction to convective weather – Cauliflower clouds

We will start with the convective weather. The convective processes in the atmosphere involve heating of the air at the surface which results in lifting the air from the Earth’s surface upwards. As the warm air rises, the water vapor condenses into water or ice. This convective process generates the clouds and at the end, also thunderstorms.

Not all clouds produce thunderstorms, in fact, fairly few do so. You can spot clouds that indicate a thunderstorm may develop, is developing, or has developed, just by looking at their general appearance. They look like cauliflower.

Seriously, just like that. Looks familiar?

convective clouds cauliflower


Cauliflower. Image by:


Now let us take a look at how and why convection and thunderstorms form.



Before we go into detail, we need to take a few steps back and look at the big picture. To understand thunderstorms, we first must dip our toes into underlying physical phenomena. These are phenomena you encounter in your everyday life, often probably without even realizing it.

You are certainly familiar with most of them, and in this introduction, we will see how they influence the weather and thunderstorms. So before we talk about thunderstorms, we will talk about the environment they form and live in – our atmosphere.

The following sections are a bit more technical, introducing some physical processes and properties, but we will not delve into equations. Knowing it is very helpful for understanding how clouds and thunderstorms work.

NEXT: The atmosphere – where do thunderstorms live?