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Thunderstruck: Here's why epic thunderstorms are so rare in Vancouver

Do you wish there were more?
lightning-vancouver-may-2021-thunderstorm
Metro Vancouverites took to social media Monday (May 17) night to share videos and photos of an epic thunderstorm complete with electric flashes of light.

Have you ever wondered why thunderstorms are so rare in Vancouver?

Metro Vancouverites took to social media Monday (May 17) night to share videos and photos of an epic thunderstorm complete with electric flashes of light so intense they made the inky night sky look as bright as mid-afternoon. 

Many people commented that they'd never seen a thunderstorm like it in the area, especially since the tempestuous display lasted for roughly half an hour.

Environment Canada meteorologist Doug Lundquist told Vancouver Is Awesome that this week's storm was a rare weather event for the region, albeit not unheard of for this time of year. 

Thunderstorms typically occur in May, June and July in the Lower Mainland. According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, they form when "warm, moist air rises into cold air."

While they might occur in the winter, they are less common because there's not as much heat to make moist air rise. That said, they generally occur far less often in Vancouver than in many other places across the country. 

"The water is so cold off Vancouver Island," Lundquist explained. "Any cold water prevents the daytime heating from really kicking off and that's what gives us thunderstorms. 

"It's really an inland thing." 

"There were probably hundreds of different storms across B.C."

Depending on where you live in the Lower Mainland, you might have seen an electric display at a different time. But this doesn't mean that you saw a thunderstorm migrating across the region. 

"There were probably hundreds of different storms across B.C.," he notes. "On a good summer day, you could have probably hundreds of clouds giving lightning strikes."

Lundquist noted that people in Chilliwack likely saw a less productive thunderstorm than the one people in Vancouver observed, for example. "They are highly localized." 

With this in mind, Monday's thrilling weather event was "definitely unique," explains Lundquist. "It was very intense; there was a lot of lightning per square kilometre and [the storm] aimed right at Metro Vancouver." 

Do Metro Vancouver's mountains prevent thunderstorms?

"No. In the interior that's where thunderstorms start because it is an elevated heat and moisture source," Lundquist explained. 

While the mountains don't protect the Lower Mainland from thunderstorms, they break up other stormy weather events, such as tornadoes.