What is a microburst?


HOUSTON – An interesting but dangerous weather phenomenon occurred Tuesday night over Hobby Airport as thunderstorms raced across the region.

A microburst -- a small but violent outflow of very cold air -- rushed out of a thunderstorm, damaging a hangar and several planes. It forms when a downdraft from a thunderstorm encounters a very cold pocket of air above the surface which causes the air to sink towards the surface exceptionally fast.

While they are very localized and small, the force of the air (and sometimes heavy precipitation) can be capable of producing destructive winds up to 100 mph or higher, similar to what a tornado can do in terms of damage. 

The main difference between a tornado and a microburst is that damage from a microburst is seen as a flattening of trees or a building, for example. Tornado damage is more chaotic and is caused by the rotation of the winds within the tornado.

Tuesday night's microburst was believed to have had an intense wind gust of at least 80 mph, which is similar to a Category 1 hurricane wind gust.

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