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Different types of severe storm winds

Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 4:41 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 5, 2022 at 9:52 PM EST
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(WHSV) - When severe weather strikes, damaging winds are a common threat. There are various types of winds that do different things in thunderstorms. For example, how can you tell if an area was hit by or tornado versus just damaging, straight-line winds?

Straight-line winds are well, straight. They are caused from a violent downdraft in a thunderstorm. Tornado winds spin, so impact on the ground is different. Winds from a tornado are typically stronger. Usually, tornadoes are not confirmed until the next day or two after the event. That’s when the National Weather Service comes out and surveys damage.

If damage is all pointed in the same direction, that is when you know the event was a straight-line wind event. The wind hits objects at one angle and blows them over.

Notice all the trees are knocked down in the same direction. This characterizes “straight” line...

Notice all the trees are knocked down in the same direction. This characterizes "straight" line...
Notice all the trees are knocked down in the same direction. This characterizes "straight" line winds.(NWS)

Tornado damage is more scattered about. If you have trees falling in all different directions, that’s when you know a tornado came through. Tornadoes have wind flow into it versus out like damaging winds. Tornadoes will pick up things and throw them around while straight line winds go direct.

Notice how trees have fallen in all different directions. That indicates the winds were spinning.

Notice how trees have fallen in all different directions. That indicates the winds were spinning.
Notice how trees have fallen in all different directions. That indicates the winds were spinning.(NWS Huntsville)

There are other types of severe thunderstorm winds:

Downdraft - These come from several thousand feet up in a thunderstorm and rapidly sink to the ground. Downdrafts are cold air from a thunderstorm, as cold air sinks if the surrounding air is warmer. This is just done in a more violent matter. Several types of winds root from this.

Macroburst - These come from violent downdrafts on the larger-scale size. Macrobursts are downdrafts more than 2.5 miles in diameter and cause more large-scale damage. Think about how water pours out of a faucet and hits the sink. The water makes contact with the sink and spreads out. This is essentially what a macroburst does.

Microburst - These also come from downdrafts but are more confined in space. Microbursts are downdrafts less than 2.5 miles in diameter. These kinds of winds cause all sorts of trouble for aviation especially when taking off or landing as these bursts of wind cause rapid increases and decreases in airspeed performance.

Downburst - This is a general term to describe macrobursts and microbursts. Basically localized strong wind from downdrafts.

Gust Front - These kind of winds are seen at the leading edge of a thunderstorm. Gust fronts are rain-cooled air that runs into warmer air being absorbed by a thunderstorm. This can cause sudden shifts in wind direction and make temperatures drop just out ahead of a thunderstorm.

Derecho - These are powerful storms that provide widespread damage from powerful microbursts. These storms move very quick and live for hundreds of miles. These storms have clusters of microbursts that spread at least 240 miles that contain damaging winds. If you were living in the area in June 2012, you probably are very familiar with this.

Damage from the 2012 derecho
Damage from the 2012 derecho(WHSV)

Haboob - These are walls of dust that move along the ground with thunderstorm downdrafts. Haboobs don’t happen in our area, as they are more common in drier locations in the country such as Arizona.

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