What's The Difference Between A Downburst, Microburst?

Downburst is a term that describes a strong wind event caused by a downdraft within a thunderstorm.

Wednesday, September 6th 2023, 4:03 pm

By: News 9


News 9’s Meteorologist Lacey Swope breaks down the difference between a downburst and a microburst.

What is a Downburst?

Downburst is a term that describes a strong wind event caused by a downdraft within a thunderstorm.

These powerful winds develop when precipitation falls through dry air, leading to a rapid evaporation. Once they reach the ground, they will spread out quickly.

How do Downbursts develop?

Downburst develop when a thunderstorm has a powerful updraft which causes the cloud to grow vertically and prompts the development of raindrops and hailstones. 

The updraft can be so strong that it drops a large amount of rain and hail in the middle and upper parts of the storm.

At the same time, strong airflow can introduce drier air into the lower parts of the storm.

What is a Microburst?

A microburst is a powerful localized downdraft within a thunderstorm with a diameter of 2.5 miles or less. It can cause extensive damage to the surface and be life-threatening.

According to the National Weather Service, "Wind speeds in microbursts can reach up to 100 mph, or even higher, which is equivalent to an EF-1 tornado. Winds this high can cause major damage to homes and other structures and level hundreds of trees"

How are Microburst developed?

Microburst start at the development of a thunderstorm water droplets and hailstones suspended in the updraft. However, some factors can lead to weakening and the core of the storm falling to the ground, causing the highest winds and greatest damage in the area it first strikes. Forecasters are able to monitor and watch the development of a Downburst or a Microburst but once it has hit the surface, it will no longer show up on radar.

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