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SCIENCE FILE | I Didn't Know That

August 15, 1996

Q: Why doesn't California have many thunderstorms?

A: Thunderstorms occur when warm, humid air rises from the ground. As it cools, water condenses out, forming clouds and, ultimately, rain. Most thunderstorms in the United States occur in late spring and summer, when tropical maritime air moves across the country. They are most common in the late afternoon, when surface air is heated the most from the sun.

Thunderstorms are relatively rare along the Pacific Coast because it is usually too dry. They are also relatively infrequent in the New England area and some northern states because the air is too cold. The storms are most common in Florida and the gulf states, which average 70 to 90 annually, according to the Handy Science Answer Book.

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