The Ultimate Severe Weather Study Guide

A Review of Severe Storms for Tests and Science Competitions

Severe storms are intense storms that occur when the atmosphere is in a disturbed state. Local areas experience destructive weather because of it. While thunderstorms, hailstorms, lightning storms and tornadoes are the first severe weather types we tend to think of, floods and rainstorms, windstorms, and even snowstorms are included in the family of severe weather.

Use this study guide to familiarize yourself with each of these topics including definitions and terminology; severe storm types and development; and some of the worst storms in weather history. 

How the Atmosphere Turns Stormy

Mammatus Storm Clouds Saskatchewan
Richard Gillard / Getty Images

Observing Severe Storms

Hurricane Katrina on doppler radar, Aug 29, 2005. NOAA
  • How weather radar works and detects precipitation and storms.
  • Look for these shapes, patterns, and colors to find severe storms on radar.
  • Explore weather satellites, including how they work, polar orbiting vs. geostationary, and what satellite images are used in forecasting (visible, infrared, water vapor). 
  • How to read weather maps and interpret weather map symbols.
  • These clouds are typically associated with severe weather.

Thunderstorms & Lightning

Electric cloud
Pablo Perdomo / Getty Images
  • How rising air (convection) triggers thunderstorms.
  • Thunderstorm basics, including ingredients and life cycle.
  • How hail forms and how big it gets.
  • The 3 main types of lightning and how it forms.
  • Heat lightning vs. ordinary lightning 


Cultura Science/Jason Persoff Stormdoctor/Stone/Getty


Germany, Hesse, Eltville, Flooding of River Rhine Island Koenigskling Aue, aerial photo
Westend61 / Getty Images


Hurricane Patricia 2015
Hurricane Patricia's eyewall as seen color IR satellite, Oct 23, 2015. NOAA EVL

Severe Snowstorms

blizzard snow drift
Matheisl/Moment Mobile/Getty Images

Severe Weather Safety

Snowflake warning sign
Martin Diebel / Getty Images

Thunderstorm Safety

Tornado Safety

Flood Safety

Hurricane Safety

  • Know your hurricane risk, weather alerts, and safe locations

Winter Storm Safety