What is a Microburst? How is it different from a tornado?

Published: Mar. 18, 2020 at 7:06 PM EDT
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Following our coverage of tornadoes, now we move on to microbursts.

Like a tornado, a microburst is a severe weather event that can cause extreme damage. Although there are similarities between microbursts and tornadoes, the two often get confused for another and there are some different qualities between them.

A microburst develops within a thunderstorm when dry air mixed with precipitation inside a storm cloud. The dry air causes the water droplets to evaporate, causing temperatures to quickly drop. As a result, the now supercooled air then forms a rapid column of sinking air which hits the ground and spreads out in all directions.

The formation of a tornado is slightly different as it is more of a swirling vortex constructed from the lifting of warm, moist air and cooler drier air sinking which creates a rotation.

Both microbursts and tornadoes have the potential to produce high wind speeds and cause significant damage. When surveying the damage from either storm system, we need to study the direction.

The damage from a microburst looks like some raked through the area from the strong winds forcing damage out in a fan or straight lined direction. A tornado has more of a circular or swirl pattern.

Each are difficult to forecast as they form rapidly. A microburst normally lasts just a few minutes and can span an area up to 2 miles. Damage over a larger area with similar qualities and stronger winds would be considered a MACROburst.