# Microburst

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A microburst is an intense small-scale downdraft produced by a thunderstorm or rain shower. There are two types of microbursts: wet microbursts and dry microbursts. They go through three stages in their cycle, the downburst, outburst, and cushion stages also called "Suriano's Stroke". [1] A microburst can be particularly dangerous to aircraft, especially during landing, due to the wind shear caused by its gust front. Several fatal and historic crashes have been attributed to the phenomenon over the past several decades, and flight crew training goes to great lengths on how to properly recover from a microburst/wind shear event.

A thunderstorm, also known as an electrical storm or a lightning storm, is a storm characterized by the presence of lightning and its acoustic effect on the Earth's atmosphere, known as thunder. Relatively weak thunderstorms are sometimes called thundershowers. Thunderstorms occur in a type of cloud known as a cumulonimbus. They are usually accompanied by strong winds, and often produce heavy rain and sometimes snow, sleet, or hail, but some thunderstorms produce little precipitation or no precipitation at all. Thunderstorms may line up in a series or become a rainband, known as a squall line. Strong or severe thunderstorms include some of the most dangerous weather phenomena, including large hail, strong winds, and tornadoes. Some of the most persistent severe thunderstorms, known as supercells, rotate as do cyclones. While most thunderstorms move with the mean wind flow through the layer of the troposphere that they occupy, vertical wind shear sometimes causes a deviation in their course at a right angle to the wind shear direction.

An aircraft is a machine that is able to fly by gaining support from the air. It counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines. Common examples of aircraft include airplanes, helicopters, airships, gliders, and hot air balloons.

Wind shear, sometimes referred to as wind gradient, is a difference in wind speed or direction over a relatively short distance in the atmosphere. Atmospheric wind shear is normally described as either vertical or horizontal wind shear. Vertical wind shear is a change in wind speed or direction with change in altitude. Horizontal wind shear is a change in wind speed with change in lateral position for a given altitude.

## Contents

A microburst often has high winds that can knock over fully grown trees. They usually last for seconds to minutes.

## History of term

The term was defined by mesoscale meteorology expert Ted Fujita as affecting an area 4 km (2.5 mi) in diameter or less, distinguishing them as a type of downburst and apart from common wind shear which can encompass greater areas. [2] Fujita also coined the term macroburst for downbursts larger than 4 km (2.5 mi). [3]

Mesoscale meteorology is the study of weather systems smaller than synoptic scale systems but larger than microscale and storm-scale cumulus systems. Horizontal dimensions generally range from around 5 kilometers to several hundred kilometers. Examples of mesoscale weather systems are sea breezes, squall lines, and mesoscale convective complexes.

Tetsuya Theodore "Ted" Fujita was a prominent Japanese-American severe storms researcher. His research at the University of Chicago on severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons revolutionized the knowledge of each. Although he is probably best known for creating the Fujita scale of tornado intensity and damage., he also discovered downbursts and microbursts, and was an instrumental figure in advancing modern understanding of many severe weather phenomena and how they affect people and communities, especially through his work exploring the relationship between wind speed and damage.

A downburst is a strong ground-level wind system that emanates from a point source above and blows radially, that is, in straight lines in all directions from the point of contact at ground level. Often producing damaging winds, it may be confused with a tornado, where high-velocity winds circle a central area, and air moves inward and upward; by contrast, in a downburst, winds are directed downward and then outward from the surface landing point.

A distinction can be made between a wet microburst which consists of precipitation and a dry microburst which typically consists of virga. [4] They generally are formed by precipitation-cooled air rushing to the surface, but they perhaps also could be powered by strong winds aloft being deflected toward the surface by dynamical processes in a thunderstorm (see rear flank downdraft).

In meteorology, a virga is an observable streak or shaft of precipitation falling from a cloud that evaporates or sublimates before reaching the ground. A shaft of precipitation that does not evaporate before reaching the ground is a precipitation shaft. At high altitudes the precipitation falls mainly as ice crystals before melting and finally evaporating; this is often due to compressional heating, because the air pressure increases closer to the ground. It is very common in deserts and temperate climates. In North America, it is commonly seen in the Western United States and the Canadian Prairies. It is also very common in the Middle East, Australia, and North Africa.

The rear flank downdraft or RFD is a region of dry air wrapping around the back of a mesocyclone in a supercell thunderstorm. These areas of descending air are thought to be essential in the production of many supercellular tornadoes. Large hail within the rear flank downdraft often shows up brightly as a hook on weather radar images, producing the characteristic hook echo, which often indicates the presence of a tornado.

### Dry microbursts

When rain falls below the cloud base or is mixed with dry air, it begins to evaporate and this evaporation process cools the air. The cool air descends and accelerates as it approaches the ground. When the cool air approaches the ground, it spreads out in all directions. High winds spread out in this type of pattern showing little or no curvature are known as straight-line winds. [5]

A cloud base is the lowest altitude of the visible portion of a cloud. It is traditionally expressed either in metres or feet above mean sea level or above a planetary surface, or as the pressure level corresponding to this altitude in hectopascals.

Dry microbursts produced by high based thunderstorms that generate little to no surface rainfall, occur in environments characterized by a thermodynamic profile exhibiting an inverted-V at thermal and moisture profile, as viewed on a Skew-T log-P thermodynamic diagram. Wakimoto (1985) developed a conceptual model (over the High Plains of the United States) of a dry microburst environment that comprised three important variables: mid-level moisture, a deep and dry adiabatic lapse rate in the sub-cloud layer, and low surface relative humidity.

A skew-T log-P diagram is one of four thermodynamic diagrams commonly used in weather analysis and forecasting. In 1947, N. Herlofson proposed a modification to the emagram that allows straight, horizontal isobars and provides for a large angle between isotherms and dry adiabats, similar to that in the tephigram. It was thus more suitable for some of the newer analysis techniques being invented by the United States Air Force.

The High Plains are a subregion of the Great Plains mostly in the Western United States, but also partly in the Midwest states of Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota, generally encompassing the western part of the Great Plains before the region reaches the Rocky Mountains. The High Plains are located in southeastern Wyoming, southwestern South Dakota, western Nebraska, eastern Colorado, western Kansas, eastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma, and south of the Texas Panhandle. The southern region of the Western High Plains ecology region contains the geological formation known as Llano Estacado which can be seen from a short distance or on satellite maps. From east to west, the High Plains rise in elevation from around 1,160 feet (350 m) to over 7,800 feet (2,400 m).

The lapse rate is the rate at which an atmospheric variable, normally temperature in Earth's atmosphere, changes with altitude. Lapse rate arises from the word lapse, in the sense of a gradual change. It corresponds to the vertical component of the spatial gradient of temperature. Although this concept is most often applied to the Earth's troposphere, it can be extended to any gravitationally supported parcel of gas.

### Wet microbursts

Wet microbursts are downbursts accompanied by significant precipitation at the surface. [6] These downbursts rely more on the drag of precipitation for downward acceleration of parcels as well as the negative buoyancy which tend to drive "dry" microbursts. As a result, higher mixing ratios are necessary for these downbursts to form (hence the name "wet" microbursts). Melting of ice, particularly hail, appears to play an important role in downburst formation (Wakimoto and Bringi, 1988), especially in the lowest 1 km (0.62 mi) above ground level (Proctor, 1989). These factors, among others, make forecasting wet microbursts difficult.

CharacteristicDry MicroburstWet Microburst
Location of highest probability within the United States Midwest / West Southeast
PrecipitationLittle or noneModerate or heavy
Cloud basesAs high as 500 mb (hPa)As high as 850 mb (hPa)
Features below cloud base Virga Precipitation shaft
Environment below cloud baseDeep dry layer/low relative humidity/dry adiabatic lapse rateShallow dry layer/high relative humidity/moist adiabatic lapse rate

## Development stages of microbursts

The evolution of microbursts is broken down into three stages: the contact stage, the outburst stage, and the cushion stage.

## Physical processes of dry and wet microbursts

### Basic physical processes using simplified buoyancy equations

Start by using the vertical momentum equation:

${\displaystyle {dw \over dt}=-{1 \over \rho }{\partial p \over \partial z}-g}$

By decomposing the variables into a basic state and a perturbation, defining the basic states, and using the ideal gas law (${\displaystyle p=\rho RT_{v}}$), then the equation can be written in the form

${\displaystyle B\equiv -{\rho ^{\prime } \over {\bar {\rho }}}g=g{T_{v}^{\prime }-{\bar {T}}_{v} \over {\bar {T}}_{v}}}$

where B is buoyancy. The virtual temperature correction usually is rather small and to a good approximation; it can be ignored when computing buoyancy. Finally, the effects of precipitation loading on the vertical motion are parametrized by including a term that decreases buoyancy as the liquid water mixing ratio (${\displaystyle \ell }$) increases, leading to the final form of the parcel's momentum equation:

${\displaystyle {dw^{\prime } \over dt}={1 \over {\bar {\rho }}}{\partial p^{\prime } \over \partial z}+B-g\ell }$

The first term is the effect of perturbation pressure gradients on vertical motion. In some storms this term has a large effect on updrafts (Rotunno and Klemp, 1982) but there is not much reason to believe it has much of an impact on downdrafts (at least to a first approximation) and therefore will be ignored.

The second term is the effect of buoyancy on vertical motion. Clearly, in the case of microbursts, one expects to find that B is negative meaning the parcel is cooler than its environment. This cooling typically takes place as a result of phase changes (evaporation, melting, and sublimation). Precipitation particles that are small, but are in great quantity, promote a maximum contribution to cooling and, hence, to creation of negative buoyancy. The major contribution to this process is from evaporation.

The last term is the effect of water loading. Whereas evaporation is promoted by large numbers of small droplets, it only requires a few large drops to contribute substantially to the downward acceleration of air parcels. This term is associated with storms having high precipitation rates. Comparing the effects of water loading to those associated with buoyancy, if a parcel has a liquid water mixing ratio of 1.0 g kg −1, this is roughly equivalent to about 0.3 K of negative buoyancy; the latter is a large (but not extreme) value. Therefore, in general terms, negative buoyancy is typically the major contributor to downdrafts. [8]

### Negative vertical motion associated only with buoyancy

Using pure "parcel theory" results in a prediction of the maximum downdraft of

${\displaystyle -w_{\rm {max}}={\sqrt {2\times {\hbox{NAPE}}}}}$

where NAPE is the negative available potential energy,

${\displaystyle {\hbox{NAPE}}=-\int _{\rm {SFC}}^{\rm {LFS}}B\,dz}$

and where LFS denotes the level of free sink for a descending parcel and SFC denotes the surface. This means that the maximum downward motion is associated with the integrated negative buoyancy. Even a relatively modest negative buoyancy can result in a substantial downdraft if it is maintained over a relatively large depth. A downward speed of 25 m/s (56 mph; 90 km/h) results from the relatively modest NAPE value of 312.5 m2 s−2. To a first approximation, the maximum gust is roughly equal to the maximum downdraft speed. [8]

## Danger to aircraft

The scale and suddenness of a microburst makes it a notorious danger to aircraft, particularly those at low altitude which are taking off or landing. The following are some fatal crashes and/or aircraft incidents that have been attributed to microbursts in the vicinity of airports:

A microburst often causes aircraft to crash when they are attempting to land (the above-mentioned BOAC and Pan Am flights are notable exceptions). The microburst is an extremely powerful gust of air that, once hitting the ground, spreads in all directions. As the aircraft is coming in to land, the pilots try to slow the plane to an appropriate speed. When the microburst hits, the pilots will see a large spike in their airspeed, caused by the force of the headwind created by the microburst. A pilot inexperienced with microbursts would try to decrease the speed. The plane would then travel through the microburst, and fly into the tailwind, causing a sudden decrease in the amount of air flowing across the wings. The decrease in airflow over the wings of the aircraft causes a drop in the amount of lift produced. This decrease in lift combined with a strong downward flow of air can cause the thrust required to remain at altitude to exceed what is available, thus causing the aircraft to stall. [9] If the plane is at a low altitude shortly after takeoff or during landing, it will not have sufficient altitude to recover.

The strongest microburst recorded thus far occurred at Andrews Field, Maryland on August 1st 1983, with wind speeds reaching 240.5 km/h (149.5 mi/h). [11]

## Danger to buildings

• On 15 May 2018, an extremely powerful front moved through the northeastern United States, specifically New York and Connecticut, causing significant damage. Nearly a half million people lost power and 5 people were killed. Winds were recorded in excess of 100 MPH and several tornadoes and macrobursts were confirmed by the NWS.
• On 3 April 2018, a wet microburst struck William P. Hobby Airport, Texas at 11:53 PM, causing an aircraft hangar to partially collapse. Six business jets (four stored in the hangar and two outside) were damaged. A severe thunderstorm warning was issued just seconds before the microburst struck.
• On August 9, 2016, a wet microburst struck the city of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, an eastern suburb of Cleveland. [12] [13] The storm developed very quickly. Thunderstorms developed west of Cleveland at 9 PM, and the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 9:55 PM. The storm had passed over Cuyahoga County by 10:20 PM. [14] Lightning struck 10 times per minute over Cleveland Heights. [14] and 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) winds knocked down hundreds of trees and utility poles. [13] [15] More than 45,000 people lost power, with damage so severe that nearly 6,000 homes remained without power two days later. [15]
• On July 22, 2016, a wet microburst hit portions of Kent and Providence Counties in Rhode Island, causing wind damage in the cities of Cranston, Rhode Island and West Warwick, Rhode Island. Numerous fallen trees were reported, as well as downed powerlines and minimal property damage. Thousands of people were without power for several days, even as long as over 4 days. The storm occurred late at night, and no injuries were reported.
• On June 23, 2015, a macroburst hit portions of Gloucester and Camden Counties in New Jersey causing widespread damage mostly due to falling trees. Electrical utilities were affected for several days causing protracted traffic signal disruption and closed businesses.
• On August 23, 2014, a dry microburst hit Mesa, Arizona. It ripped the roof off of half a building and a shed, nearly damaging the surrounding buildings. No serious injuries were reported.
• On December 21, 2013 a wet microburst hit Brunswick, Ohio. The roof was ripped off of a local business; the debris damaged several houses and cars near the business. Due to the time, between 1 am and 2 am, there were no injuries.
• On July 9, 2012, a wet microburst hit an area of Spotsylvania County, Virginia near the border of the city of Fredericksburg, causing severe damage to two buildings. One of the buildings was a children's cheerleading center. Two serious injuries were reported.
• On July 1, 2012, a wet microburst hit DuPage County, Illinois, a county 15 to 30 mi (24 to 48 km) west of Chicago. The microburst left 250,000 Commonwealth Edison users without power. Many homes did not recover power for one week. Several roads were closed due to 200 reported fallen trees. [16]
• On June 22, 2012, a wet microburst hit the town of Bladensburg, Maryland, causing severe damage to trees, apartment buildings, and local roads. The storm caused an outage in which 40,000 customers lost power.
• On September 8, 2011, at 5:01 PM, a dry microburst hit Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada causing several aircraft shelters to collapse. Multiple aircraft were damaged and eight people were injured. [17]
• On September 22, 2010, in the Hegewisch neighborhood of Chicago, a wet microburst hit, causing severe localized damage and localized power outages, including fallen-tree impacts into at least four homes. No fatalities were reported. [18]
• On September 16, 2010, just after 5:30 PM, a wet macroburst with winds of 125 mph (201 km/h) hit parts of Central Queens in New York City, causing extensive damage to trees, buildings, and vehicles in an area 8 miles long and 5 miles wide. Approximately 3,000 trees were knocked down by some reports. There was one fatality when a tree fell onto a car on the Grand Central Parkway. [19] [20]
• On June 24, 2010, shortly after 4:30 PM, a wet microburst hit the city of Charlottesville, Virginia. Field reports and damage assessments show that Charlottesville experienced numerous downbursts during the storm, with wind estimates at over 75 mph (121 km/h). In a matter of minutes, trees and downed power lines littered the roadways. A number of houses were hit by trees. Immediately after the storm, up to 60,000 Dominion Power customers in Charlottesville and surrounding Albemarle County were without power. [21]
• On June 11, 2010, around 3:00 AM, a wet microburst hit a neighborhood in southwestern Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It caused major damage to four homes, all of which were occupied. No injuries were reported. Roofs were blown off of garages and walls were flattened by the estimated 100 mph (160 km/h) winds. The cost of repairs was thought to be $500,000 or more. [22] • On May 2, 2009, the lightweight steel and mesh building in Irving, Texas used for practice by the Dallas Cowboys football team was flattened by a microburst, according to the National Weather Service. [23] • On March 12, 2006, a microburst hit Lawrence, Kansas. 60 percent of the University of Kansas campus buildings sustained some form of damage from the storm. Preliminary estimates put the cost of repairs at between$6 million and $7 million. [24] • On May 13, 1989, a microburst with winds over 95 mph hit Fort Hood, Texas. Over 200 U.S. Army helicopters were damaged. The storm damaged at least 20 percent of the fort's buildings, forcing 25 military families from their quarters. In a preliminary damage estimate, the Army said repairs to almost 200 helicopters would cost$585 million and repairs to buildings and other facilities about \$15 million. https://www.nytimes.com/1989/05/20/us/storm-wrecks-new-copters.html

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## References

Notes

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2. Glossary of Meteorology. Microburst. Archived 2008-12-12 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 2008-07-30.
3. Glossary of Meteorology. Macroburst. Retrieved on 2008-07-30.
4. Fernando Caracena, Ronald L. Holle, and Charles A. Doswell III. Microbursts: A Handbook for Visual Identification. Retrieved on 2008-07-09.
5. Glossary of Meteorology. Straight-line wind. Archived 2008-04-15 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 2008-08-01.
• Fujita, T.T. (1985). "The Downburst, microburst and macroburst". SMRP Research Paper 210, 122 pp.
6. University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign. Microbursts. Retrieved on 2008-08-04.
7. Charles A. Doswell III. Extreme Convective Windstorms: Current Understanding and Research. Retrieved on 2008-08-04.
8. NASA Langley Air Force Base. Making the Skies Safer From Windshear. Archived 2010-03-29 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 2006-10-22.
9. Aviation Safety Network. Damage Report. Retrieved on 2008-08-01.
10. Glenday, Craig (2013). Guinness Book of World Records 2014. The Jim Pattinson Group. p. 20. ISBN   978-1-908843-15-9.
11. Roberts, Samantha (August 10, 2016). "What happened in Cleveland Heights Tuesday night?". KLTV. Retrieved August 15, 2016.
12. Steer, Jen; Wright, Matt (August 10, 2016). "Damage in Cleveland Heights caused by microburst". Fox8.com. Retrieved August 15, 2016.
13. Reardon, Kelly (August 10, 2016). "Wind gusts reached 58 mph, lightning struck 10 times a minute in Tuesday's storms". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved August 15, 2016.
14. Higgs, Robert (August 11, 2016). "About 4,000 customers, mostly in Cleveland Heights, still without power from Tuesday's storms". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved August 15, 2016.
15. Evbouma, Andrei (July 12, 2012). "Storm Knocks Out Power to 206,000 in Chicago Area". Chicago Sun-Times .
16. Gorman, Tom. "8 injured at Nellis AFB when aircraft shelters collapse in windstorm – Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011 | 9 p.m." Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
17. "Microbursts reported in Hegewisch, Wheeling". Chicago Breaking News. 2010-09-22. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
18. "Power Restored to Tornado Slammed Residents: Officials". NBC New York. 2010-09-20. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
19. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-09-03. Retrieved 2010-06-26.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) and http://www.nbc29.com/Global/story.asp?S=12705577
20. Brian Kushida (2010-06-11). "Strong Winds Rip Through SF Neighborhood – News for Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa". Keloland.com. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
21. Gasper, Christopher L. (May 6, 2009). "Their view on matter: Patriots checking practice facility". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
22. "One year after microburst, recovery progresses" KU.edu. Retrieved 21 July 2009.

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