With Utah’s severe weather season right around the corner, it really peaks from the middle of May through the Middle of June. We don’t just get rain, we can get thunderstorms which usher in very strong winds, but how does that actually happen in the atmosphere?
The pinpoint weather team’s Alana Brophy explains.
We need three ingredients for thunderstorm development: Moisture, Instability and Lift. It all starts with warm, unstable rising air. When that happens, storm clouds begin to develop creating the possibility of heavy rain, gusty winds, small to large hail and dangerous lightning.
In Utah, many of our thunderstorms can create significant wind events as well, these are called downbursts.
Within a storm, there can be strong updrafts, this is when rain starts to form in the cloud. Then, the updraft starts to weaken as the rain falls. This allows for cold air to build up in the middle of the storm. Updrafts may fuel a storm but downdrafts will kill it. Downbursts occur when that surge of cold air hits the ground.
There are two types of downdrafts: Macro and Microbursts. They are classified by the size of the wind field at the surface. Though their names can fool you to be minor storms, both can cause serious damage.
They can be so powerful that a downdraft has the ability to take down a passenger aircraft due to an abrupt change in altitude when flying through them. Unfortunately, there have been several incidents involving aircrafts and downdrafts in aviation history that have led plane crashes.
Thunderstorms are complex, and can easily rise in severity. During our storm season, we will show our risk scale, so you know what to expect.