Definition of Downburst

A downburst represents a potent, confined downward rush of air taking place within a thunderstorm, leading to an abrupt and forceful surge of wind upon reaching the Earth's surface. These winds hold the capacity to inflict significant damage, often misattributed to tornadoes due to their high intensity and brief occurrence.

Formation of Downbursts

Evaporative Cooling: The primary catalyst for downburst formation is evaporative cooling. When rainfall descends through a stratum of dry air below the thunderstorm, the raindrops undergo evaporation, thereby cooling the ambient air. The chilled air becomes denser, instigating its rapid descent towards the ground.

Precipitation Drag: Precipitation drag also contributes to the formation of downbursts. The mass of the falling precipitation possesses the ability to pull air downward, further augmenting the strength of the downdraft.

Types of Downbursts

Microburst: Microbursts refer to smaller, localized downbursts impacting an area under 2.5 miles (4 km) in diameter. Generally enduring for a short span of roughly 5 to 15 minutes, they have the potential to generate wind speeds reaching 100 mph (160 km/h).

Macroburst: Macrobursts constitute larger downbursts that affect a broader region, typically exceeding 2.5 miles (4 km) in diameter. They can persist for as long as 30 minutes and generate winds surpassing 130 mph (209 km/h).

Detection and Warning

Doppler Radar: Doppler radar technology serves as a tool for meteorologists to pinpoint areas of strong downdrafts within a thunderstorm, potentially signifying the presence of a downburst.

Wind Shear Detection: Airports frequently employ wind shear detection systems to identify downbursts, contributing to the maintenance of aircraft safety during takeoff and landing phases.

Downburst Safety and Preparedness

Severe Weather Awareness: Recognizing the perils associated with downbursts and comparable severe weather phenomena is vital for individual safety. Remaining informed about local weather conditions and adhering to any warnings or alerts disseminated by meteorological institutions is paramount.

Shelter: In the event of a downburst, it is advisable to find shelter indoors and distance oneself from windows. If one is operating a vehicle, one should pull over to a secure location and await the subsiding of the winds.

Post-Event Safety: Following the passage of a downburst, exercise caution around fallen power lines, damaged structures, and debris, as they may present further hazards.
Updated: Jun 5, 2023
Published by: Weather U.S. | About Us