Niyogi said a number of factors are at play — tall buildings alter wind patterns, and heat and pollution can affect the creation of storms.

"What the storm is really responding to is those changes in the environment," Niyogi said. "All three of those — the change in landscape from rural to urban, heat and particulates — in some way affect the environment around the city."

Niyogi also analyzed storms about 46 miles away from Indianapolis and did not see the same patterns that formed when storms passed through the urban area.

Niyogi believes understanding how land use could affect storms would lead to better weather and flood predictions. He said it might be possible to use data on land use and weather when planning construction to lessen the impacts storms might have on the surrounding areas.

"While we cannot control a large thunderstorm, our research does bring up the possibility that the impact of these thunderstorms can be affected by land-use planning," Niyogi said.

Niyogi is working to create interactive simulations that allow researchers to study how changes to the landscape might change weather patterns. NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation funded parts of this the research.