What needs to be in the air to build thunder clouds?



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    Thunderclouds (“cumulonimbus clouds”) develop as a result of cumulus clouds, which are created by water evaporating into the atmosphere.  A lower humidity on the ground will ultimately increase the altitude of the base of a cloud, and when evaporated water rises from a higher ground temperature, it eventually remains suspended in the air since the temperature around the airborne water parcel is cooler than the parcel itself.  At this point, the atmosphere of the cloud is considered unstable (explained in the link), and in temperatures between -40ºC and 0ºC the water vapor in the cloud becomes a mix of gas, liquid and ice, at which point conditions for heavy rain, lightning and subsequently thunder can occur.

    Simply put, a cumulus cloud, suitable temperatures and ample quantities of water vapor are necessary for thunderclouds, but also certain humidity conditions in both the cloud and the atmosphere below the cloud.  All is explained in great detail in the attached link: an exerpt from “Lightning: Physics and Effects” by Vladimir A. Rakov and Martin A. Uman (page 67).

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