Damaging Winds Basics

wind damage

What are damaging winds?

Damaging winds are often called “straight-line” winds to differentiate the damage they cause from tornado damage. Strong thunderstorm winds can come from a number of different processes. Most thunderstorm winds that cause damage at the ground are a result of outflow generated by a thunderstorm downdraft. Damaging winds are classified as those exceeding 50-60 mph.
 Are damaging winds really a big deal?
 Damage from severe thunderstorm winds account for half of all severe reports in the lower 48 states and is more common than damage from tornadoes. Wind speeds can reach up to 100 mph and can produce a damage path extending for hundreds of miles.
 Who is at risk of damaging winds?
 Since most thunderstorms produce some straight-line winds as a result of outflow generated by the thunderstorm downdraft, anyone living in thunderstorm-prone areas of the world is at risk for experiencing this hazard.

People living in mobile homes are especially at risk for injury and death. Even anchored mobile homes can be seriously damaged when winds gust over 80 mph.

Mobile home that has been blown over by straight line winds

Types of Damaging Winds

The 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.

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

macroburst is an outward burst of strong winds at or near the surface with horizontal dimensions larger than 4 km (2.5 mi) and occurs when a strong downdraft reaches the surface. To visualize this process, imagine the way water comes out of a faucet and hits the bottom of a sink. The column of water is the downdraft and the outward spray at the bottom of the sink is the macroburst. Macroburst winds may begin over a smaller area and then spread out over a wider area, sometimes producing damage similar to a tornado. Although usually associated with thunderstorms, macrobursts can occur with showers too weak to produce thunder.

microburst is a small concentrated downburst that produces an outward burst of strong winds at or near the surface. Microbursts are small — less than 4 km across — and short-lived, lasting only five to 10 minutes, with maximum wind speeds, sometimes exceeding 100 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.

downburst is a general term used to broadly describe macro and microbursts. A downburst is a general term for all localized strong wind events that are caused by a strong downdraft within a thunderstorm, while microburst simply refers to an especially small downburst that is less than 4 km across.

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 the air above them, forming a shelf cloud or detached roll cloud.

derecho is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. A typical derecho consists of numerous microbursts, downbursts, and downbursts clusters. 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.

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

Haboob in western Oklahoma

Oklahoma Mesonet

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