WW2010
University of Illinois

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Updrafts/Downdrafts
rising and sinking air

All thunderstorms require instability (potential) and lift. The lift is the mechanism that releases the instability. Lift is produced by such things as fronts and low pressure troughs, or by air rising upslope.

We say that the atmosphere is unstable when air rising in a cloud is warmer than its environment, like a hot-air balloon. It is the heat released by condensation within a cloud that permits the rising air to stay warmer than its surroundings, and thus to be buoyant through great depths.

In the same way, air that is cooler than its environment tends to sink as long as it can stay cooler than its surroundings. The upward moving air in a thunderstorm is known as the updraft, while downward moving air is the downdraft.


Terms for using data resources. CD-ROM available.
Credits and Acknowledgments for WW2010.
Department of Atmospheric Sciences (DAS) at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.