Overshooting Storm Top

March 03, 2021


Photographer: Pablo Barrios 
Summary Authors: Pablo Barrios Jim Foster

In most cases when storms ascend through the troposphere, upon reaching the tropopause, the storm’s top will flatten out, giving it an anvil shape. However, on occasion, a particularly vigorous thunderstorm will develop vertically at such a rate that it actually passes through the tropopause into the lower levels of the stratosphere, resulting in a noticeable prominence. This is referred to as an overshooting top.

The troposphere is turbulent and well mixed compared to the more stratified, and therefore stable stratosphere, where the temperature increases with altitude. Only the most powerful and fastest developing storms can protrude into this more stable portion of our Earth’s atmosphere. The level where the tropopause occurs varies from about 5 to 10 miles (8 to 16 km) but is typically lower as latitude increases. Additionally, it’s generally lower during the winter season than in summer. Photo taken from La Carolina, San Luis, not long after nightfall on January 15, 2021.

Photo Details: Canon T6i camera; 24 mm; f/5,6; 30 sec exposure; ISO 400.