BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Snow in south Louisiana is rare enough, but the flakes that fell on December 8, 2017 came with something even more unusual in a few instances: thunder. It's a phenomenon that I witnessed myself early on that Friday morning from my home in southeast Baton Rouge.
Truthfully, I only witnessed part of the rare "thundersnow." My wife and I had woken our two daughters early that morning to make sure they got a chance to enjoy the rare winter wonderland. As I was putting a jacket on my 4-year-old daughter, Eliana, she looked toward our front door (which has windows) and said, "lightning!"
And I thought, okay, that's the imagination of a 4-year-old wrapped up in the excitement of seeing snow for the first time or perhaps there was a nearby power flash, but a few seconds later, it was clear that her exclamation was right as I heard the distinct rumble of thunder echoing through our neighborhood.
A quick check of radar moments later also showed that a flash or two of lightning was being detected near Baton Rouge, including in the WAFB First Alert Weather App.
It wasn't until later that day though that the lightning was attributed to FM Radio. Dr. Christopher Schultz, a research meteorologist with NASA, linked me into a Twitter conversation showing that the lightning strikes near Baton Rouge occurred in the area of two FM radio towers.
You can see in the maps he attached, four lightning strikes were detected in close proximity to Baton Rouge (two in the same location). Three of the four coincide with the locations of radio towers for FM stations WFMF and WYNK in West Baton Rouge Parish. Those towers are both roughly 1,500 feet tall. The fourth strike was detected near Highland Road Park in Baton Rouge, but Dr. Schultz notes that all four strikes occurred within one second of each other, meaning the strike in EBR detected in EBR was likely just an eastward propagation from what started at those radio towers.
If all of that isn't enough, Dr. Schultz says that these strikes were of the ground-to-cloud variety, rather than the much more common cloud-to-ground strikes that we most often witness. In essence, that means an electrical charge moved upward from the towers (upward leader) and were followed by a return stroke from the cloud back toward the ground.
Need visual proof of our thundersnow? Doug Glen sent in the video below from the Brookhollow Glen subdivision off of Perkins Road. Watch for the lightning flash 26 seconds into the video, followed by the sound of thunder about 10 seconds later. That 10 second delay would indicate the strike was about 2 miles from his location.