Heat burst

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In meteorology, a heat burst is a rare atmospheric phenomenon characterized by a sudden, localized increase in air temperature near the Earth's surface. Heat bursts typically occur during night-time and are associated with decaying thunderstorms. [1] They are also characterized by extremely dry air and are sometimes associated with very strong, even damaging, winds.


Although the phenomenon is not fully understood, the event is thought to occur when rain evaporates (virga) into a parcel of cold, dry air high in the atmosphere, making the air denser than its surroundings. [2] The parcel descends rapidly, warming due to compression, overshoots its equilibrium level, and reaches the surface, similar to a downburst. [3]

Recorded temperatures during heat bursts have reached well above 40  °C (104  °F ), sometimes rising by 10 °C (18 °F) or more within only a few minutes.


In general, heat bursts occur during the late spring and summer seasons. During these times, air-mass thunderstorms tend to generate due to daytime heating and lose their main energy during the evening hours. [4] Due to the potential temperature increase, heat bursts normally occur at night, though they have also been recorded during the daytime. Heat bursts can vary widely in duration, from a couple of minutes to several hours. The phenomenon is usually accompanied by strong gusty winds, extreme temperature changes, and an extreme decrease in humidity. They may occur near the end of a weakening thunderstorm cluster. Dry air and a low-level temperature inversion may also be present during the storm. [5]


Heat bursts are thought to be caused by a mechanism similar to that of downbursts. As the thunderstorm starts to dissipate, the layer of clouds starts to rise. After the clouds have risen, a rain-cooled layer remains. The cluster shoots a burst of unsaturated air down towards the ground. In doing so, the system loses all of its updraft-related fuel. [6] The raindrops begin to evaporate into dry air, which reinforces the effects of the heat burst (evaporation cools the air, increasing its density). As the unsaturated air descends into lower levels of the atmosphere, the air pressure increases. The descending air parcel warms at the dry adiabatic lapse rate of approximately 10 °C per 1000 meters (5.5 °F per 1000 feet) of descent. The warm air from the cluster replaces the cool air on the ground. The effect is similar to someone blowing down on a puddle of water.

On 4 March 1990, the National Weather Service in Goodland, Kansas, detected a system that had weakened, containing light rain showers and snow showers. It was followed by gusty winds and a temperature increase. The detection proved that heat bursts can occur in both summer months and winter months, and also that a weakening thunderstorm was not necessary for the development of a heat burst.



The first step in forecasting and preparing for heat bursts is recognizing the events that precede them. Rain from a high convection cloud falls below cloud level and evaporates, cooling the air. Air parcels that are cooler than the surrounding environment descend in altitude. Lastly, temperature conversion mixed with a downdraft momentum continues downward until the air reaches the ground. The air parcels then become warmer than their environment.

McPherson, Lane, Crawford, and McPherson Jr. researched the heat burst system at the Oklahoma Mesonet, which is owned by both the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University. The purpose of their research was to discover any technological benefits and challenges in detecting heat bursts, to document the time of day and year at which heat bursts are most likely to occur, and to research the topography of where heat bursts are most likely to occur in Oklahoma.

Scientists and meteorologists use archived data to manually study data that detected 390 potential heat burst days during a fifteen-year period. In studying the archived data, they observed that 58% of the potential days had dry line passages, frontal passages, or a temperature change due to an increase in solar radiation in the hours of the morning or a daytime precipitation weather system.

By studying the archived data, scientists have the ability to determine the beginning, peak, and end of heat burst conditions. The peak of heat burst conditions is the maximum observed temperature. The beginning of a heat burst is the time during which the air temperature increases without decreasing until after the peak; the end of a heat burst is when the system ceases to affect the temperature and dew point of the area.

In addition to researching the life cycle and characteristics of heat bursts, a group of scientists concluded that the topography of Oklahoma coincided with the change in atmospheric moisture between northwest and southeast Oklahoma. An increase in convection normally occurs over the High Plains of the United States during the late spring and summer. They also concluded that a higher increase in convection develops if a mid-tropospheric lifting mechanism interacts with an elevated moist layer. [7]

Documented cases

DateLocationTemperature °F/°C (Initial)Temperature °F/°C (Final)Difference (Max)Reference(s)
11 October 2022Durban, South Africa88°F (31°C)100°F (38°C)12°F (7°C) [8]
14 June 2022 Tracy, Minnesota 80 °F (27 °C)93 °F (34 °C)13°F [9]
21 May 2022 Beja, Portugal 73.2 °F (22.9 °C)92.1 °F (33.4 °C)18.9°F [10]
20 May 2022 Greenville, North Carolina 73 °F (23 °C)86 °F (30 °C)13°F [11]
22 June 2021 Littleton, Colorado 72 °F (22 °C)88 °F (31 °C)16°F [12] [13]
13 June 2021 Friona, Texas 70 °F (21 °C)88.1 °F (31.2 °C)18°F [14] [15] [16]
4 June 2020 Edmond, Oklahoma 97 °F (36 °C) [17]
25 July 2019 Donna Nook, Lincolnshire, England71.6 °F (22.0 °C)89.6 °F (32.0 °C)18°F [18]
16 July 2017 Chicago, Illinois 72 °F (22 °C)79 °F (26 °C)7°F [19] [20] [21]
16 July 2017 Chicago, Illinois 73 °F (23 °C)81 °F (27 °C)8°F
July 2016 [lower-alpha 1] Hobart, Oklahoma 80.6 °F (27.0 °C)105.7 °F (40.9 °C)25.2°F [22]
July 2014 Calgary, Alberta 79 °F (26 °C)84 °F (29 °C)5°F [23] [24] [25] [26]
31 July 2014 Calgary, Alberta 79 °F (26 °C)84 °F (29 °C)5°F
January 2014 Melbourne, Victoria 85.8 °F (29.9 °C)102 °F (39 °C)16.2°F [27] [28] [29]
75.6 °F (24.2 °C)90.5 °F (32.5 °C)14.9°F
79.9 °F (26.6 °C)92.5 °F (33.6 °C)12.6°F
92.5 °F (33.6 °C)97.5 °F (36.4 °C)5°F
11 June 2013 Grand Island, Nebraska 74.2 °F (23.4 °C)93.7 °F (34.3 °C)19.5°F [30]
15 May 2013 Dane County, Wisconsin 10°F [31]
14 May 2013 South Dakota 58 °F (14 °C)79 °F (26 °C)21°F [32]
1 July 2012 Georgetown, South Carolina 79 °F (26 °C)90 °F (32 °C)11°F [33]
3 May 2012 Bussey, Iowa 74 °F (23 °C)85 °F (29 °C)11°F [34] [35]
29 April 2012 Torcy, Seine-et-Marne, France56.1 °F (13.4 °C)75 °F (24 °C)18.9°F [36]
23 August 2011 Atlantic, Iowa 88 °F (31 °C)102 °F (39 °C)14°F [37] [38] [39]
3 July 2011 Indianapolis, Indiana 15°F [40]
9 June 2011 Wichita, Kansas 85 °F (29 °C)102 °F (39 °C)17°F [41]
29 October 2009 Buenos Aires, Argentina 87.8 °F (31.0 °C)94.2 °F (34.6 °C)6.4°F [42]
26 April 2009 Delmarva Peninsula 68 °F (20 °C)87 °F (31 °C)19°F [43]
18 August 2008 Edmonton, Alberta 72 °F (22 °C)88 °F (31 °C)16°F [44] [45] [46] [47] [48]
3 August 2008 Sioux Falls, South Dakota 70 °F (21 °C)101 °F (38 °C)31°F [49]
26 June 2008 Cozad, Nebraska 20°F [50] [51]
16 June 2008 Midland, Texas 71 °F (22 °C)97 °F (36 °C)26°F [52] [53]
25 May 2008 Emporia, Kansas 71 °F (22 °C)91 °F (33 °C)20°F [54]
16 July 2006 Canby, Minnesota 100 °F (38 °C) [55]
20 June 2006 Hastings, Nebraska 75 °F (24 °C)94 °F (34 °C)19°F [56] [57]
12 June 2004 Wichita Falls, Texas 83 °F (28 °C)94 °F (34 °C)11°F [58] [59]
May 1996 Chickasha, Oklahoma 87.6 °F (30.9 °C)101.9 °F (38.8 °C)14.3°F [60]
May 1996 Ninnekah, Oklahoma 87.9 °F (31.1 °C)101.4 °F (38.6 °C)13.5°F
2 July 1994 Barcelona, Spain 23°F [61]
August 1993 Barcelona, Spain 23 °F
15 June 1960 Kopperl, Texas 75 °F (24 °C)100 °F (38 °C)25 °FPossible that temps rose to or above 140 °F (60 °C) as thermometers designed to detect such temperatures broke. [62]

See also


  1. This event lasted from 11:00 PM CDT, 6 July, to 12:15 AM CDT, 7 July

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