Does thunder in winter mean snow?

ROANOKE, VA. – I was interested to hear or learn some tales about the weather, which are passed down from generation to generation. One of the biggest ones I hear a lot is about thunderstorms in the winter.

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Depending on who I hear it from, it will snow 7, 10 or 14 days after hearing the thunder. I wanted to check it out in our part of Virginia.

In the last decade (from 2012 to 2022), in four cases out of 16 (25%), it snowed 7-10 days after the storm.

1. How did we perform this test?

Iowa State University has a database which collects more weather data than just high and low temperatures and precipitation. I went to this database and researched when we saw thunder between December and March.

From there I wanted to know if it would snow next week. I went to another (more convenient) database research it.

2. What did we find?

Analyzing the winter months from 2012 to 2022, I found that there were 16 thunderstorms in the Roanoke Valley. Seven to ten days after that, there were four occasions where we saw measurably heavy snow (0.1″ or more).

Once in 2012, once in 2013 and once in 2018.

Post-storm snow in the winter months from 2012 to 2022

We also found that February and March have more thunderstorms than December and January. This makes sense as we get more daylight and start to transition into a warmer season.

While we’ve had a snow drought of sorts this winter, it’s important to remember that there’s still a lot of winter ahead.

On average, 45% of annual snowfall occurs after January.

Average monthly snowfall in the Roanoke Valley

3. Why can it snow after a thunderstorm?

It all has to do with jet placement.

The jet stream is not only the dividing line between cold and mild air in winter, but is often referred to as a “storm.” This is the railroad that storm systems travel on.

What the jet stream says about the weather moving forward

If you hear thunder or see lightning in the winter, you’re on the milder side of the jet stream. This often means that the western half of the country has colder air.

So when the jet stream descends in the eastern US, we get colder. If the storm then passes over this rail, we will start to see snow shortly after the mild storm.

4. Will it snow in the next 7-10 days?

Like real estate and a baseball field, it’s all about location, location, and more.

Snow falls on most of our western slopes Friday through Saturday. For the vast majority of the area, we won’t see anything measurable for at least the next week.

After Martin Luther King Day, we are once again on the warm side of the jet stream.

Temperature forecast of the Climate Prediction Center for January 18-22, 2023

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