I was taught a word thunderhead means "cumulonimbus" in American English. However, Several speakers said they didn't use the word when I asked it on chat. It seems that the word certainly appears in corpus.

Do you use, or know this word? Do you know where, or by what kind of people it's used? Am I correct with its meaning?

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    Were they Americans and did they live in the Midwest? That's where the real thunderheads occur. Oklahoma's basketball team is called The Thunder. nGram here
    – Peter
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 17:47
  • @Peter Thank you. Could you perhaps elaborate it into an answer? I'm especially curious about what is the "real thunderheads". Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 17:51
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    real is a qualifier and I'm using it to mean big and massive. So if you get to experience a thunderstorm in the Midwest where the thunder rattles the windows and the house shakes and you go momentarily deaf because it's so loud. Then compared to that, any other thunderstorm will not seem so real. It's like: Coca-Cola - It;s the real thing (meaning not Pepsi). But were the people you were chatting with from the Midwest? Not everywhere will have thunderstorms like those.
    – Peter
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 17:56
  • @Peter So, do they call the massive thunderclouds typically seen in the Midwest as "thunderheads"? I think no one I talked with was from the Midwest. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 18:02
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    Yes, those are cumulonimbus, when there is a thunderstorm, then they become thunderheads which can also take the form of anvil clouds. The clouds form a large column of up and down drafts, planes will fly around these clouds to avoid the turbulence. The up drafts are what can create hail and produce a layered effect by constant freezing. Pics of thunderheads here
    – Peter
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 19:53

1 Answer 1


cumulonimbus is generally used in a technical discussion of the weather. We learned it in school in science lessons, but nowadays ???
I don't think many people would point up at a cloud and call it cumulonimbus.

"thundercloud" could be used if you are on the ground pointing at it, but I think it is more likely one would use "thunderstorm":

There is a thunderstorm coming.
Than looks like a really bad thunderstorm.

As for thunderhead, I would use this if I were on the ground and could see the cloud all the way to the top, or if I were in an airplane flying (at high altitude) near one.

(AmE disclaimer)

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    I am willing to bet that more Americans can draw a "thunderhead" than know what "cumulonimbus" means.
    – Jasper
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 0:54
  • @Jasper Maybe they don't teach science in school anymore...
    – user3169
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 4:44

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