The top three images show what a microburst looks like. Dust and dirt caught in the wind show off the shape of the microburst. The bottom image shows a tree that was damaged by the winds. This microburst happened in Kansas on March 12, 2006.
Courtesy of NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library, National Weather Service Forecast Office of Topeka, KS/ KHP

Type of Wind: Microburst

Microbursts are dangerous winds created by thunderstorms. A microburst hits the ground and spreads horizontally with a burst of wind. The strong wind is formed by cooling from the evaporation of rain droplets in the cloud. This cooling quickly rushes out of the clouds toward warmer temperatures near the ground.

A microburst produces straight-line winds. These wind speeds are very fast. They can be as fast as the winds of small tornadoes. But tornadoes and microbursts are quite different. A tornado causes the winds to come into the storm, but a microburst causes the wind to leave the storm. A microburst lasts for about 5-15 minutes.

A microburst can spread 2.5 miles (4 km) or less. The damage from a microburst can look like that of a tornado. Blown down trees and heavy damage to buildings are examples of the damage from a microburst.

Microbursts have been a major cause of airline accidents. On August 2, 1985, a tragic plane accident happened when a plane flew into a microburst at the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport in Texas. To find microbursts and help airplanes avoid them, airports use Doppler radar and LLWSAS (Low Level Wind Shear Alert System).

Last modified June 26, 2008 by Vanessa Pearce.

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