Isolated vs Scattered Thunderstorms: Detailed Comparison

Isolated vs Scattered ThunderstormsImagine you’re watching a couple of flashes of lightning from afar. Suddenly, one of them hits the ground near you, and you see it becoming a thunderstorm while it’s approaching you. Seem familiar?

It’s from War of Worlds. I love thunderstorms but that scene? I wasn’t fond of that. It was a scattered thunderstorm with the damage of isolated thunderstorms.

You must have heard these terms in weather forecasts. If you don’t know what they mean, don’t worry. We’ll talk all about thunderstorms in this article.

How are these two different? Is one more damaging than the other? We’ll be making a detailed comparison of isolated vs scattered thunderstorms.

But first, let us know what these terms actually mean.

What Is a Thunderstorm?

What Is a Thunderstorm

Thunderstorms are mother nature’s angry outbursts, that’s what some people say, seeing the chaotic nature of it. It’s funny, but if you’ve been a victim of a thunderstorm, you won’t laugh.

A thunderstorm is a violent amalgamation of thunder, lightning, rain, and strong wind, etc. These components alone are pretty mild apart from the loud heart-wrenching sound of thunder. Even as an adult, people can get scared.

However, when these natural phenomena come together, it gets dark, loud, and windy. You don’t want to be outside when a thunderstorm approaches. However, depending on the type of thunderstorm, you could be more or less cautious.

How Are Thunderstorms Formed?

How Are Thunderstorms Formed?

You’ve already read about the components of a thunderstorm. But how do these several natural phenomena come together?

It starts with the movement of warm and moist air to colder areas in the atmosphere. Since cold air is denser, it gets replaced by lighter warm air, which creates a cycle.

Most of the time, this transition doesn’t lead to anything. But when it doesn’t slow down and stop, everything starts happening at once.

The cumulation of clouds leads to rain, and air movement cycles create depression. One by one, natural calamity starts to show up.

The Effects of Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms can bring about a lot of damage to human lives and the environment. It can cause floods, damaged buildings, loss of life from lightning, and many more.

It’s a natural phenomenon, so it’s inevitable. You can’t do anything to prevent it. However, you can take precautions to minimize the effects as much as possible.

How Many Types of Thunderstorms Are There?

There are 4 types of thunderstorms. They are,

  • Single-cell
  • Multicell cluster (scattered thunderstorm)
  • Multicell or square line
  • Supercell (isolated thunderstorm)

What Does Scattered Thunderstorm Mean?

What Does Scattered Thunderstorm Mean?

Scattered thunderstorms are exactly what the name refers to. The thunderstorm is distributed over a larger area. Statistics say it covers 30-40% of a forecast area.

During a scattered thunderstorm, the flashes of lightning are spread throughout the area. And this does mean that a single place can be hit by multiple bolts of lightning at once. That makes it far scarier than isolated thunderstorms.

There’s also a science behind it. It has been classified as a multicell thunderstorm. A multicell cluster thunderstorm refers to a group of cells acting as a single unit. Most of the time, scattered thunderstorms are only scary on the outside.

Even if that’s the case, citizens are encouraged to abandon outdoor activities. Since it can affect larger areas at once, it’s not safe to roam around.

Scattered thunderstorms also mean that resuming your outdoor activities is out of the question. Throughout the day, you’ll be experiencing lighting, pouring rain, and heavy wind.

However, the effects of scattered thunderstorms are less severe with small to medium-sized hails and weaker tornadoes.

What Do Isolated Thunderstorms Mean?

What Do Isolated Thunderstorms Mean?

This is the second type of thunderstorm. And as the name suggests, isolated thunderstorms are limited in terms of range. It covers only 20% of the forecast area.

You can’t predict isolated thunderstorms. And it can quickly change into scattered thunderstorms. Although the damage dealt by these thunderstorms is limited to a small area, it can do a lot of damage where it hits.

Isolated thunderstorms are classified as supercell thunderstorms. That means it has a single powerful cell.

In isolated thunderstorms, you can’t predict the weather. It can be sunny in one area, and the area beside it could be affected by thunder and cloudy weather.

If you hear roars, you better stay indoors. Being outside when lightnings are striking is never a good idea. You can check what CDC has to say.

When you’re confronted with an isolated thunderstorm, don’t worry, as it’ll mostly die out soon. The duration of an isolated thunderstorm lasts about an hour on average — no need to halt everything you’re planning.

Difference Between Isolated and Scattered Thunderstorms

We understand that there are differences between the two. But what are those? Here’s a brief discussion on it;

Amount of Affected Area

The main difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms is in the affected area size. Isolated thunderstorms can only affect 10-20% of the forecast area, whereas scattered thunderstorms cover up to 50% of the forecast area.

Cell Classification

Thunderstorms are tough. But there are classifications. For example, isolated thunderstorms are classified as supercell thunderstorms. And scattered thunderstorms are called multicell thunderstorms..

Ability to Damage Property

Although the names do not refer to their damaging properties, they can be a good indicator of the potential. Isolated storms do not damage the surroundings as much as scattered storms do.

However, isolated storms could easily turn into large-scale storms. So, saying one type is more dangerous than the other doesn’t hold much water.


Scattered thunderstorms are easier to forecast and predict. So, you can take precautions for it. For isolated thunderstorms, you don’t have to pack up everything hoping that the storm will subside.

In Conclusion

Thunderstorms are majestic. It’s a sight to behold. On the other hand, it can be pretty devastating. So, the best thing to do during one is to keep indoors.

Now, before I end the discussion on scattered vs. isolated thunderstorms, you should know that these two don’t indicate the severity of the storm. Rather, it’s to do with the amount of area affected by the storm.

For example, isolated thunderstorms are intense and unstable. It could change any moment and turn into the other thunderstorm in our discussion.

And that’s all I could put together on short notice.

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