Weather 101: What is a downburst?


This week’s segment of weather 101 focuses on downbursts. Downbursts are strong downdrafts from thunderstorms that cause damaging wind gusts.

In order for a downburst to form, we first need a mature thunderstorm. As the updraft weakens, cooler air can infiltrate the middle of the storm.

The result is that cool air getting forced down. After it descends and hits the ground, it has to go somewhere, so it spreads out. The result is wind gusts around the center of the downburst.

There are other terms that can describe a downburst. They are based off of the size of the downburst itself.

A microburst is 2.5 miles wide or less. If it is wider than 2.5 miles, it is called a macroburst.

Wind gusts resulting from downbursts can be as damaging as weak tornadoes and sometimes can be mistaken for tornado damage at first. The difference, though, is that the wind goes in a straight line from the center of the downburst. A tornado has rotation associated with the damage.

Downbursts can occur under strong thunderstorms. When we talk about gust potential with thunderstorms, this is one of the things we need to watch out for here in Appalachia.

Stay tuned in two weeks for another segment of Weather 101.

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