Thundersnow with Frequent, Close Lightning
Santa Fe, NM, March 19, 2010

by John Farley

On the afternoon of March 19, 2010, I observed thundersnow with frequent, close lightning in Santa Fe. This is the most intense thundersnow I have observed in terms of the amount, frequency, and closeness of the lightning. In the video below, note that many of the thunderclaps occur within a split-second of the lightning - indicating that the lightning was very close. It takes the sound of thunder about 5 seconds to travel a mile, so if the thunder comes a second after the lightning, that means that the lightning is one-fifth of a mile (a little over 1000 yards) away. In this case, the thunder sometimes was well less than a second after the lighting, indicating that the lightning was extremely close.

This was the second of two thunderstorms that came in rapid succession in the afternoon as a strong cold front moved southeastward through the Santa Fe area. The first one produced a mix of rain and snow, but the second one was all snow, dumping about an inch of snow in less than half an hour. The storm began just after 3:00 p.m., and the thunder ended around 3:25, though it continued to snow for a while more after that. The video below, which was edited from about 20 minutes down to five minutes and 30 seconds, documents the entire storm, from the beginning of the precipitation (which started as graupel or snow pellets) to that last flash of lightning, by which time the precipitation was entirely ordinary snow rather than the pellets. So if you want documentation of the entire storm, watch the whole video; if you just want to see the most intense part of the storm move up to about the 2 minute point in the video and watch from there. This is, BTW, my first attempt at posting HD video, so I hope it works and I hope you enjoy it!

You can also visit the Youtube page with this video by going to:

The snow continued for another 20 minutes or so after the last flash of lightning, but nearly all the accumulation occurred by the time of the last flash. After the snow ended there was partial clearing for a while, but eventually more snow moved in, adding another 3 or 4 inches by the next morning.

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With the El Nino pattern this winter, the weather has been unusually active recently. This is the second time in 6 days that I have observed thundersnow, and the third time this winter. And there have been several other days when thundersnow occurred somewhere in New Mexico. So this winter has been quite an opportunity to observe this phenomenon that most of the time is rarely seen.

As this storm moved in, it was quite impressive on radar, and the Albuquerque National Weather Service issued special weather statement mentioning a strong thunderstorm approaching Santa Fe with a chance of hail and high wind. However, I did not see any hail and the wind was not particularly strong, but the snowfall rate was very high for a while, and you can see from the video how intense the lightning was.