11 Different Types of Storms

The most prevalent and destructive weather storms in the U.S are tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods. These severe storms are the deadliest and most costly in the U.S and are usually caused by the cooling of air over land or water with an abrupt increase in temperature, which leads to condensation of water vapor into water droplets.

These types of storms are caused by very cold or very warm air with no precipitation, leading to an unstable air mass. Below we go over most of the storm types to help you understand how to protect yourself when you are in these types of weather conditions.

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Derecho Storms

Shelf cloud ahead of a Derecho Storm in South Dakota

Derechos are fast-moving winds that usually appear as a result of accompanying thunderstorms. When the wet and dry air currents in a thunderstorm clash with each other, they cause nearby water to evaporate and sink at rapid speeds due to the temperature change. This phenomenon is known as a downburst, and these powerful winds can turn into Derechos with time.

Taking their name from the Spanish word for “straight,” Derechos are strong winds that move as a straight line from their point of origin. While not as well-known as tornadoes, they are still highly destructive, and some Derechos can reach tornado speeds at 130 mph, making them a risk to both life and property.

Thankfully Derechos are fairly rare events and can be detected and tracked through weather satellites

Dust Storm

Dust storm in the Arizona desert

Dust storms are usually a result of an area where the wind picks up dust and debris from the ground and carries it into the air, causing a heavy but temporary decrease in visibility.

Apart from a decrease in visibility, dust storms can cause problems with transportation by coating roads, cars, and airplanes with fine particles of dust.

The Particles get picked up and float in the air, causing surface erosion where they were. Silt is formed when the wind blows them to another place. Dust storms often hit 40 km/h winds.


Flooded road after a heavy rain storm

A flood is an overflow of water in an area that is commonly dry and traditionally inhabited. Unlike other phenomenons, there isn’t a single explanation for the appearance of a flood, and the causes can be both mechanical and natural.

Spontaneous flooding is most often tied to a combination of heavy rain and strong wind phenomenons like tropical cyclones. Heavy rains can cause rivers or lakes to overflow past their natural limits or even a dam resulting in the excess water flooding into nearby areas.

Thanks to their high speeds, cyclones can push water towards the coast resulting in waves and tsunamis in the most drastic cases.

While low-level floods aren’t as inherently destructive as tornados, the impact of water shouldn’t be underestimated. Water surges are one of the main causes of casualties during tropical cyclone events and can cause heavy damage to nearby infrastructure as well.

The relatively quick rise in water levels can cause problems by flooding homes and shutting down evacuation routes for people.


Hail in the grass after a storm

Hailstorms are events where atmospheric water freezes and falls back down to earth in the form of ice clumps, commonly know as hail. Hail is unique as it’s almost exclusively a result of thunderstorms and, as such, could be seen as an additional category of this atmospheric condition.

Hailstones are formed when the raindrops that get carried upward during a thunderstorm reach sufficiently cold areas of the atmosphere and proceed to freeze.

Predicting what thunderstorms have the potential to turn into hail is complicated as studies suggest that all of them generate hailstones.

Generally speaking, the wind speed of any thunderstorm should be enough to launch raindrops towards a freezing temperature, but more often than not, the hailstones will melt before reaching the ground.

Due to their mass and fall speed, a hailstone can be incredibly dangerous to humans and property. Hail can puncture and penetrate structures and even cars in the most drastic cases, so extra caution should be taken in the case of hail.

Storm damage to roofs can be caused by the hail that falls on the roof. Hitting the roof with a hailstone causes damage to sheet metal and shingles.

Heavy Snow / Blizzards

Heavy Snow in Massachusetts

Blizzard is the name given to the heaviest and fastest winter wind phenomenons. Traditionally a winter storm is the result of moist air ascending towards the atmosphere, which results in low-pressure areas relatively near to ground level.

This water will eventually have to condense and fall back to the earth, but due to the low temperatures of winter, the waterfalls in the form of snow and the change in temperatures cause the accompanying winds.

These winter winds receive the name of Blizzards if the speed of the currents reaches 35 mph for a sustained time, and as such, can cause heavy structural damage in little time.

Blizzards not only cause additional snow to fall but can move and drag the snow already at ground level, making it easy for Blizzards to blanket entire areas, objects, or people in a matter of minutes.


Satellite view of a hurricane from space

A Hurricane or tropical cyclone is a wind phenomenon that forms over tropical or subtropical waters thanks to the unique combination of atmospheric moisture, pressure, and temperature that these waters provide.

Hurricanes begin their life in the warm waters of the tropics. Due to low-pressure areas or pre-existing wind currents, the humid air of the tropics starts flowing upwards, which causes water to spread and winds to spin.

As the air rises, the rotation of the earth causes it to start curving towards the right, and as long as there’s warm water and moisture, a complete cycle will be formed.

The unique temperature of the tropics will allow for air to draft upward.

This will allow wind currents to accelerate and for water to take the form of clouds causing a more blunt contrast of temperatures. As a result, the winds will continue to accelerate and curve, eventually culminating in a hurricane.

Hurricanes reach sustained wind speeds of at least 74 mph, which is enough to topple trees and even constructions, making them incredibly dangerous for humans.

Ice Storms

Ice storm damage – falling tree due to the weight of the ice

Ice Storms are a winter phenomenon that occurs when the atmosphere still contains areas with a warm layer of air despite the winter temperatures found on the ground.

In short, this precipitation starts just like snow does, with ice crystals suspended into the atmosphere falling back to the ground.

However, the warm layer between the clouds and the ground is abundant enough.

This will cause the snow to partially melt on its way down, resulting in water that freezes quickly after falling to earth.

This freezing rain can be seen as a middle point between snow and rain and rarely happens outside of the winter seasons. It’s characterized by the “glaze” effect it leaves where it falls, and despite the moniker, they rarely involve dangerous winds.



Lighting is a phenomenon that tends to occur alongside other types of wind phenomenons and, as such, is strongly tied to them even if there are no apparent winds present at the time lightning strikes.

Lightning is an electrical discharge that is easily recognized thanks to the bright flash and accompanying sound that can be heard shortly after the impact.

In technical terms, lightning is an electrical discharge that happens between the accumulated static of clouds and an object on the ground.

Colling particles in a cloud cause an imbalance that results in clouds gaining a negative charge and the ground below obtaining a positive charge.

This imbalance is automatically corrected by nature in the form of an electrical current that passes through both points, what we colloquially call lightning.

Lightning is incredibly hot, to the point of expanding and vibrating the air around its path.

However, lightning seeks tall points by default, and with the use of lightning rods, their effect in cities isn’t as destructive as it could be.


Thunderstorm in New Mexico

Thunderstorms are a severe and usually violent weather condition that is characterized by the heavy presence of lightning, rain, and even hail and heavy winds on certain occasions.

On the flipside, thunderstorms tend to be brief by nature, meaning that the scope of their effects tends to be limited to a small timeframe.

Thunderstorms are the result of various atmospheric phenomena playing to each other strengths and, in practice causing each other. Warm and moist air is quickly dragged upwards to cooler regions of the atmosphere.

This air turns into clouds and soon enough into precipitation.

This process causes cold air to get pushed down to earth, creating strong winds, while the overall process results in an electric imbalance that leads to discharges known as lightning.

These constant reactions help create an updraft that fuels the thunderstorm and, as such, allows it to grow stronger on its own as it rages.

However, as thunderstorms aren’t being powered by oceanic temperatures or other factors on the surface, they tend to collapse on their own.

Thunderstorms can happen almost anywhere in the world since they are largely self-reliant and bring with them the risk of flooding or fires depending on how intense the phenomenon is.

Most buildings and communities are safe from thunderstorms, but one should exercise caution when a thunderstorm starts.


Tornado touching down in Arkansas

Tornadoes are defined as a narrow column of air that rotates on the ground at high speeds.

Their speeds shouldn’t be underestimated, and they are so powerful that the visible phenomenon we identify as tornadoes isn’t its real form.

Rather it’s just an external layer made of water and debris constantly spinning around the real center of the tornado.

To this day, we don’t have a full grasp of what causes a tornado to appear.

They come as the result of rotating thunderstorms known as supercells, but not all supercells develop into a tornado as such tornadoes can be rather unpredictable, which adds to the danger they already represent.

Tropical Storms

Tropical Storm formation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Tropical Storms are a severe weather condition that happens naturally over the tropics, hence their popular moniker. Like Hurricanes, they are formed as a result of the interaction between pre-existing low-pressure areas and the warmth of the ocean.

This unique combination of factors causes winds to speed up and rotate, and if the temperature allows for it, they’ll continue to grow stronger over time.

Tropical Storms can be seen as a step before Hurricanes as the only area categorized as such if their speeds fall below 73 mph.

As a result, their possible consequences and destructive potential are similar, if only downplayed.

A tropical storm can cause serious damage to structures thanks to a combination of high wind speeds and potential floods.