Severe thunderstorms can create straight-line winds in excess of 58 mph. These winds can pack a major punch, uprooting trees and knocking down power lines. Learn more about damaging straight-line winds and how to stay safe.
What they are
Straight-line winds can come in many forms. Two common types are:
- Downburst: A strong downward current that bursts outward on or near the ground. Wind speeds can exceed 165 mph, similar to winds in an EF3 tornado or Category 5 hurricane.
- 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. 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.
How to stay safe
Straight-line wind safety resembles tornado safety. 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.