Severe Weather 101

Types of Damaging Winds

Straight-line wind is a term used to define any thunderstorm wind that is not associated with rotation, and is used mainly to differentiate from tornadic winds.

A downdraft is a small-scale column of air that rapidly sinks toward the ground.

A downburst is a result of a strong downdraft. A downburst is a strong downdraft with horizontal dimensions larger than 4 km (2.5 mi) resulting in an outward burst of damaging winds on or near the ground. (Imagine the way water comes out of a faucet and hits the bottom of the sink.) Downburst winds may begin as a microburst and spread out over a wider area, sometimes producing damage similar to a strong tornado. Although usually associated with thunderstorms, downbursts can occur with showers too weak to produce thunder.

A microburst is a small concentrated downburst that produces an outward burst of damaging winds at the surface. Microbursts are generally small (less than 4km across) and short-lived, lasting only 5-10 minutes, with maximum windspeeds up to 168 mph. There are two kinds of microbursts: wet and dry. A wet microburst is accompanied by heavy precipitation at the surface. Dry microbursts, common in places like the high plains and the intermountain west, occur with little or no precipitation reaching the ground.

A gust front is the leading edge of rain-cooled air that clashes with warmer thunderstorm inflow. Gust fronts are characterized by a wind shift, temperature drop, and gusty winds out ahead of a thunderstorm. Sometimes the winds push up air above them, forming a shelf cloud or detached roll cloud.

A derecho is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.  By definition, if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length, then the event may be classified as a derecho.  

A typical derecho consists of numerous microbursts, downbursts, and downburst clusters.

More information about derechos from the Storm Prediction Center →

A haboob is a wall of dust that is pushed out along the ground from a thunderstorm downdraft at high speeds.