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Pay attention to straight-line winds

How to stay safe from these winds that can cause severe damage.

Uprooted tree that fell across a sidewalk
According to The National Severe Storms Laboratory, “Damaging winds are often called straight-line winds to differentiate the damage they cause from tornado damage.” Severe thunderstorms can create these straight-line winds which exceed 50 to 60 mph. The winds can pack a major punch, uprooting trees and knocking down power lines, similar to the destructive power of a tornado.

What are straight-line winds?

Straight-line winds can come in many forms. The common types are:
  • Downburst. A general term used to broadly describe all strong wind events localized in an area that are caused by a strong downdraft within a thunderstorm.
  • Downdraft. A column of air that that rapidly sinks towards the ground.
  • Macroburst. An outward burst of strong winds near the surface. Usually has a dimension larger than 2.5 miles (4km) when the downdraft reaches the surface.
  • Microburst. A downburst that is concentrated and produces an outward burst of strong air near the surface.
  • Derecho. A system of merged thunderstorms up to 65 miles wide that travels in a straight line, causing wind damage across an area of at least 240 miles. Wind speeds can top 100 mph.
Straight-line winds can cause the same level of damage as tornadoes, but they lack the atmospheric rotation to form a funnel cloud. The aftermath will show the difference: If downed trees and other kinds of debris are in parallel rows, that signifies straight-line winds. Tornado damage is more sporadic and widespread.

How to stay safe from straight line winds

Straight-line wind safety resembles tornado safety tips. Keep these tips in mind the next time your area has a severe thunderstorm warning:
  • Find shelter immediately — or crouch down in the lowest spot you can find.
  • Bring in or secure anything that's loose outside, such as lawn furniture, toys and bicycles.
  • Stay away from trees and power lines.
  • Go to the lowest level of your home and steer clear of windows.
  • If you're driving, pull over to a safe area with your vehicle in the direction of the wind.
Learn severe weather safety tips on Simple Insights®.

The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with State Farm® (including State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and its subsidiaries and affiliates). While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. State Farm is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. State Farm makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.


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