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What’s a ‘microburst’? One just slammed parts of Ohio, causing widespread damage

A thunderstorm in Ohio produced a microburst on Friday causing tornado-like damage to an area with thousands of people — but what, exactly, is it?

The National Weather Service confirmed that the city of Cleveland Heights didn’t just experience a severe thunderstorm on Friday, but a microburst, the city said in a Facebook post. It’s the area’s second microburst in three years.

The storm was responsible for uprooted trees, cars crushed by limbs and at least 120 downed power lines leaving more than 8,000 customers without electricity, Cleveland.com reported. 70 to 80 mph winds swept through the area, some potentially reaching speeds of 90 mph.

Experts say this is right on par with a microburst.

“[A microburst] is consistent with what we’re seeing on the radar,” meteorologist Karen Clark said, according to the news outlet.

A microburst is “a localized column of sinking air (downdraft) within a thunderstorm,” according to the National Weather Service. Typically only a couple miles wide, a microburst is caused when an updraft cools to the point it can no longer hold its water droplets and hailstones, causing the core to fall, then “burst” as it hits the ground. This sends straight-line winds tearing across the area, AccuWeather says.

There are two types of microbursts, dry and wet, the latter accompanied by a great deal of precipitation, according to the NWS. Winds from a microburst can reach 100 mph — a similar wind speed to that of an EF1 tornado.

Microbursts are short, only lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, according to AccuWeather, but they pack a punch. It’s not uncommon for microbursts to uproot trees and cause severe damage to homes, the NWS says.

The NWS says the nature of microbursts make them difficult to predict, often happening between radar scans. Because of this, the NWS implores people to take severe storm warnings seriously.

Microbursts are dangerous to aircraft, famously downing Delta Flight 91 approaching Dallas-Forth Worth airport in 1985, the New York Times reported. Now, pilots are trained on what to do when they encounter a microburst.

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Dawson covers goings-on across the central region, from breaking to bizarre. She is an MSt candidate at the University of Cambridge and lives in Kansas City.
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