Hurricanes and tornadoes are not the only types of storms to create extreme gusts of wind. Thunderstorms, hailstorms, and low-pressure weather systems can produce winds powerful enough to damage property or cause fatalities. Sweeping across areas as large as 100,000 square miles at speeds of 60 mph, windstorms wreak havoc by knocking out power lines, toppling trees, and destroying vehicles and homes.
With such devastating consequences, researchers and officials do their best to predict these types of storms and warn residents caught in the storm’s path. Advanced radar techniques scan middle- and upper-levels of storms, providing meteorologists with data that is then used to predict potential developments. Other factors include the level of moisture in the air, the motion of the storm, and the strength of the storm’s updrafts. Pieced together, the data can provide great insight into a storm’s expected behavior, but nothing is certain when it comes to the weather.
Most homeowners insurance covers windstorm damage. Windstorm policies come into effect when damage to your property is caused by winds sustaining speeds above 35 mph.
Straight-line winds are winds that come from thunderstorms and are considered severe by the National Weather Service when they reach 58 mph or greater. Ideal conditions for this type of destructive force include updrafts that are strong, dry air in the middle troposphere and fast-moving storms. Although considered separate from tornadoes and hurricanes, these powerful gusts are still covered under most insurance when they damage homes and businesses. Evidence of straight-line wind damage is seen when debris is flung in the same direction of the storm, whereas hurricane and tornado winds swirl debris all over the place. Despite a difference in wind direction, straight-line winds can be just as intense as tornadoes and hurricanes.
Downdrafts are columns of air that hurtle towards the surface from the top of a storm and can produce even more powerful downbursts. Downbursts have horizontal dimensions larger than 2.5 miles and explode outwards when they hit the ground, creating swaths of damage. Although typically associated with thunderstorms, they are known to occur with storms lacking any thunder.
Microbursts are concentrated downbursts that usually only last 5-10 minutes. Speeding down from a storm’s vertex, these laser-like columns of air reach maximum speeds of 168 mph when they hit the surface. With nowhere to go, these destructive winds jettison outwards without potentially devastating effects.
A derecho is a specific type of windstorm that is commonly widespread and long-lasting. Associated with rapidly moving storm fronts, they often contain downbursts, microbursts, and a path that extends for more than 240 miles. Wind gusts in these types of storms reach at least 58 mph along its entire length.