What is a Microburst?

By By Bo Zhang, AccuWeather Staff Writer
August 14, 2015, 5:13:12 AM EDT

A weather phenomenon, called a microburst, may cause destruction just as devastating as a tornado does.

A microburst is a small column of exceptionally intense and localized sinking air that results in a violent outrush of air at the ground. It is capable of producing damaging straight-line winds of more than 100 mph that are similar to that in some tornadoes, but without the tornado's rotation.

A microburst often has high winds that can knock over fully grown trees. The size of a microburst is typically less than 3 miles across, and its lifespan could range from a couple of seconds to several minutes.

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Microbursts may be accompanied by heavy precipitation or may occur in dry air, defining the two types of microbursts: wet microbursts and dry microbursts.

Dry microbursts are produced by high-based thunderstorms that generate little surface rainfall. Often, they are found in the Midwest and West. Wet microbursts are similar, except that they bring significant precipitation with them; these tend to form in the Southeast.

Although many microbursts form in thunderstorms, they also have been produced in less intense clouds.


The scale and suddenness of a microburst could bring extreme hazards to aircraft, with several fatal crashes at takeoff and landing having been attributed to the phenomenon over the past several decades. It was responsible for the Delta Flight 191 crash in 1985, which killed more than 130 people. Some airports have already installed instruments to detect microbursts, measuring wind shear at ground level.

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