BLOG: What is a downburst? - | WBTV Charlotte

BLOG: What is a downburst?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Abstract: Sometimes downburst damage is so severe that it can be mistaken for a tornado.


Sometimes we talk about straight–line wind damage. It causes, well, damage straight-line compared to tornado damage which scatters debris in all directions.

This is likely caused by a downburst. That's a localized area of damaging winds flowing out of a thunderstorm. For this to happen, thunderstorm rain must fall through a layer in the atmosphere that is relatively dry.


It causes evaporative cooling. That makes the parcel of air cooler than the air around it. It will then sink since it's more dense. The colder the air is compared to the air around it, the faster it will sink. In fact, sometimes you can actually feel how cool the air is when it reaches the ground.

When a storm is moving quickly and there is also a downburst, that further increases the downburst wind speed and damage potential. Sometimes the damage is so severe that it can be mistaken for a tornado. The damage pattern will reveal whether it was caused by a tornado or straight-line winds.

The moral of the story is take all warnings seriously – whether it's a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning, both can cause lots of damage. Seek shelter in a sturdy building until the storm has passed.


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