Does Thunder in the Winter Mean Thunder Snow is Coming?

By: Kate Kershner  | 
Lightning strike near snow covered mountain
Thunder in the winter could signal that a cold front is on its way. Mark Newman/Getty Images

It would be nice to know without a doubt when snow was coming. But as schoolchildren can tell you, what they really need is a way to make snow appear. On a school night. Before that stupid report is due. All these old wives' tales about predicting snow are fine and good, but what kids really need is a way to guarantee a snow day.

Instead, we're stuck with tales of when we might get a good blanketing. Consider the old adage that thunder in the winter brings snow within seven days. But is thunder snow even a thing?


It's pretty on the nose for weather lore. Come to think of it, it's a little too pointed for any weather prediction. When was the last time you heard a forecaster guarantee a big weather activity a week out? As they say about these things — you can't really accurately predict them.

A Thunderstorm Can Tell You Something

But that doesn't mean there isn't actually a little grain of truth in the phrase. Wintertime thunder does tell us a bit more about how the weather might behave than, say, a groundhog that sniffs its way out of a burrow once a year. Thunder, on the other hand, does in fact signal a certain type of weather front, which might give us a glimpse of the cold stuff.


Cold Air and Low-Pressure System Signals Cold Weather

The general idea is that thunder develops in atmospheres conducive to — surprise! — thunderstorms. You're not going to get a ton of the rumbly stuff on, say, a clear day with no chance of rain. However, cold air and low-pressure systems from the north, displacing warm air and high pressure in the south, form an unstable atmosphere that can create terrific conditions for thunderstorms. Now, that means if you're hearing thunder in the wintertime, it could signal that a cold front is moving in. A moist weather system making its way through next could conceivably bring snow showers. A safe prediction you could make when you hear thunder in wintertime? Some cold weather is on its way.


Knowing When Winter Storms Are Coming

Naturally, the "seven days" thing is a bit of a stretch. While a cold front could signal some snow, there's certainly no predicting when (or if) another wet weather system could arrive. What we do know (according to one study) is that if you do get "thundersnow," you're likely to get dumped on quite heavily. However, the Royal Meteorological Society noted that thundersnows only account for 0.07 percent of snowstorms in the U.S.


Thunder In Winter FAQ

What does it mean when it thunders in the winter?
There's an old saying that states, "Thunder in the winter brings snow in seven days.” While that’s not entirely accurate, thunder in the wintertime is an indication of a cold weather front. Though there’s no way to tell exactly how soon it’ll come in, the thunder may indicate a dumping of snow is on its way.
Is it normal to have thundersnow lightning in winter?
Winter thunderstorms, called “thundersnow”, are not a common occurrence. Though they do happen occasionally, copious thundersnow occurrences are a rare phenomenon.
How rare is a thundersnow storm?
Thundersnows are rare enough that The Royal Meteorological Society found that they only account for 0.07 percent of snowstorms in the U.S. However, thundersnow occurs more often in the elevated provinces of Jordan and Israel and around the Great Lakes. When lightning strikes there, heavy snowfall could be on the way.
What is ice thunder?
Ice thunder is another name for freezing rain or sleet that falls during a thunderstorm.
Are summer thunderstorms more common?
Thunder and lightning are more common in the summer months. Warm air rising from the Earth's surface cools as the air rises, forming clouds and an unstable atmosphere — favorable conditions for storms with lightning and thunder.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Crowe, Christina; Market, Patrick; Pettegrew, Brian; Melick, Chris; and Podzimek, Josef. "An investigation of thundersnow and deep snow accumulation." Geophysical Research Letters. December 2006. (Dec. 16, 2014)
  • Engelbrecht, Matt. "Matt's World Of Weather: Thunder in Winter, Snow in 7 Days?" Feb. 19, 2014. (Dec. 16, 2014)
  • Lyttle, Steve. "Want snow? Wear pajamas inside out." Weather Guy. Jan. 18, 2011. (Dec. 16, 2014)
  • Majoros, Martie. "The facts behind the folklore." The Old Farmer's Almanac. 2015. (Dec. 16, 2014)
  • Pennsylvania State University. "Winter Thunderstorms." 2004. (Dec. 16, 2014)
  • Rice, Doyle. "Forget thundersnow: There's thunder ice in the central U.S.." USA Today. Feb. 22, 2018. (Oct. 23, 2023).
  • Skybrary. "Thundersnow." (Oct. 23, 2023).
  • StormFax Weather Almanac. "Groundhog Day." 2014. (Dec. 16, 2014)