What is a Microburst?

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Security cameras this week recorded strong winds pushing vehicles around the parking lot of a central Missouri grocery store, reported KRGC. The surprisingly powerful wind was likely a microburst from a passing thunderstorm.

Microbursts occur when an intense downward wind from a thunderstorm plummets towards the Earth’s surface, like an atmospheric bomb. The downdraft can reach hurricane speeds, but doesn’t spin like a tornado or cyclone. Instead the wind spreads out in straight lines from the initial impact, then curls skyward as the air slows due to friction with the ground.

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A microburst covers an area of less than 4 kilometers in diameter and lasts only two to five minutes, according to the American Meteorological Society.

Microbursts strike with little warning making it difficult for meteorologists to forecast them. The unpredictable, intense, low-altitude winds of a microburst make them especially treacherous for aviators during take-offs and landings.

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Photo: A NASA artist’s rendering shows the effect of a microburst. Credit: NASA 

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