Last night around 1:00 I woke up to an incredible thunder and lightning show. I also woke up to a big baby of a Golden Retriever crying about the storm. I’m a deep sleeper. I wake up for virtually nothing but this storm did it because it was really loud.
It certainly wasn’t the most beautiful thunderstorm on radar but the light and sound show was impressive. One of the biggest reasons why was that the thunder was able to travel a far distance from its origin and the thunder was louder than usual.
The thunderstorms last night were “elevated” storms. That means the unstable air that grew into a thunderstorm didn’t come from near the surface (which it does in “surface based storms”) it actually came from aloft. The atmosphere in fact was quite stable near the surface while aloft the atmosphere was fairly unstable.
This is a model sounding for Hartford that shows the stability near the ground. The red line is temperature through the atmosphere. The bottom of the sounding is the surface while the top is 100mb or about 16,500 meters above the ground. The lowest couple thousand feet are quite stable with a strong inversion. An inversion means that as you go up in height the temperature increases as well.
This inversion effectively created a barrier for sound waves making them unable to escape and disperse high into the atmosphere. The sound waves were forced to reverberate through the lowest couple thousand feet of the atmosphere which magnified the thunder to an observer on the ground. This isn’t unusual at night and is something that’s quite common. For whatever reason the frequency of the cloud-to-ground lightning strikes and the strength of the low level inversion made the sound show very impressive for people living around Hartford Wednesday night.