Thunderstorms are a complex natural phenomenon. They can cause structural damage, so it’s best to be prepared in case you find that a thunderstorm is impending. But how long do thunderstorms last?

Usually, thunderstorms last for only about half an hour. However, the larger kinds of thunderstorms, such as multicell and supercell thunderstorms, can last for much longer.  Scattered thunderstorms are also more likely to last longer than single thunderstorms.

Keep reading below for more information.

How Does a Thunderstorm Develop?

Moisture, rising unstable air (air that continues to rise once given a nudge), and a lifting mechanism that gives the “nudge” are the three fundamental components necessary for forming a thunderstorm.

The sun’s rays warm the ground, warming the atmosphere. Forces such as hills, mountain ranges, or regions where hot and cold or wet and dry air nudge together would end up causing this warmer surface air to rise, and it will continue to rise as long as it remains lighter and warmer than the surrounding air.

Rising air carries heat away from the ground and into the upper atmosphere (this is known as convection). The water vapor it contains starts to cool releases some of its heat, and then condenses into a cloud as the process continues. The cloud eventually ascends into the subfreezing air and continues to grow.

It is possible for various types of ice particles to be created from freezing liquid drops as a storm rises into air that is already below freezing. To expand, the ice can either absorb more liquid droplets that haven’t frozen (like frost) or condense more vapor (a state called “supercooled”).

Normally, ice particles will simply bounce off each other upon impact. Still, occasionally, one particle will rip off a small portion of ice from the other and absorb its electrical charge. Many of these impacts culminate in a single lightning bolt, generating the pressure fluctuations that we perceive as thunder.

For more information about thunderstorm formation, watch this video below:

Thunderstorms 101 | National Geographic

Types of Thunderstorms

Single-cell, multi-cell, and supercell thunderstorms are the three broad categories of thunderstorms. Each one is unique in terms of make-up, dynamics, and characteristics.

Single-Cell Thunderstorm

A single-cell thunderstorm develops from a single updraft pulse and dissipates just as quickly. After maturing and producing a torrential downpour, the cloud eventually dies as cooler air sinks and cuts off the initial warm inflow. 

Mid-summer is when you’ll see most of these storms. It’s unusual for them to cause severe weather. In nature, single-cell storms are unusual because even the rarest of single-cell thunderstorms usually exhibit some degree of multicell character (which we will discuss next).

Multicell Thunderstorm

Most thunderstorms are of the multicell variety, which is characterized by separate updraft pulses that occur one after another and help the system retain its overall strength, structure, and appearance. 

The pulses could be closely spaced, leading to a fairly constant thunderstorm over time, or they could be widely spaced, leading to a storm that goes through recurrent phases of strength and weakness. 

It is possible to detect the updraught pulses from a distance by observing the relative position and development rate of cumulus towers along the flanking line. Tornadoes are a relatively rare occurrence, but a lot of other natural phenomena do occur in multicell thunderstorms.

Supercell Thunderstorm

The supercell is a particularly powerful and long-lived type of thunderstorm, with a system that can remain nearly constant for several hours. This fascinating but potentially hazardous cloud complex is characterized by a highly structured cloud-scale circulation with a constantly large updraft and magnified size and impact. 

Most of the destructive storms we experience are caused by supercells.

Duration of Different Kinds of Thunderstorms

Single-cell, multicell, and supercell thunderstorms are the three most common types. The vast majority of thunderstorms are single-cell events. These storms rarely last more than 30 minutes and are usually mild.

When thunderstorms merge, they form what is known as a “multicell.” These storms may become quite drastic and last for a number of hours. In terms of potential damage, supercell thunderstorms are unparalleled. 

Heavy rains, high winds, and enormous hail are all possible during these storms, which can last for hours. It is possible for tornadoes to form within supercell thunderstorms.

How Long Does a Thunderstorm Last?

Thunderstorms always seem to appear out of nowhere during the summer. The entire process usually takes between 45 minutes and an hour.

A typical thunderstorm consists of three phases:

Cumulus clouds (which resemble cotton balls) enter the Cumulus Stage as they are lifted into the sky by an upward column of warm air, also known as an updraft. Lightning and rain are possible but not likely. This phase of the cycle could last up to 10 minutes.

The Mature Stage follows, and during this time, the storm grows even bigger (up to 40,000 or 50,000 feet in the air) thanks to a powerful updraft. Additionally, heavier rain produces a descending air circulation column termed as “downdraft.” If the updraft and downdraft are strong, the storm has reached its highest point and is most likely to produce torrential rain, thunder, heavy winds, and hail.

In the final Dissipation Stage, the updraft that initiated the thunderstorm is overcome by the downdraft, and the storm gradually weakens as it runs out of fuel.

Isolated Vs. Scattered Thunderstorm Duration

Thunderstorms can be either solitary or scattered.

Thunderstorms that are not part of a larger system are considered “isolated.” Short-lived and weaker than widespread downpours, these storms rarely last longer than 30 minutes. 

On the other hand, the duration of scattered thunderstorms can extend over several hours and is typically associated with a larger system. More rain falls from these systems than from individual thunderstorms.

Even though thunderstorms are possible at any time of day, they tend to occur in the late afternoon or early evening. In the United States, thunderstorms are most frequent between March and August.


Thunderstorms are both one of nature’s greatest wonders and a potential threat to humans. So, if you are in the middle of a thunderstorm, stop what you’re doing and contemplate the awe of nature while it lasts.