WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Hey guys, 2 questions. 1: What is the difference between a downdraft and a microburst. 2: Do you know of anywhere (website, place, etc.) where I can learn about being a stormchaser? I am VERY interested in weather and i'd love to chase storms. Thanks!

Posted May 25, 2008

MIKE MOSS SAYS:         Stephen,     A downdraft is kind of a generic term describing a flow or current of air down toward the ground, usually within a convective cloud like a towering cumulus or cumulonimbus. Downdrafts can be weak or strong and may or may not lead to especially high winds at the surface. A microburst is a strong wind that occurs due to intense downdrafts in a thunderstorm striking the ground and spreading outward at speeds sufficient to cause damage or interfere with aviation, with the affected area coveraing a diameter of 2.5 miles or less. If the area affected by damaging winds has a greater span than 2.5 miles, it may be referred to as a macroburst. In either case a more generic term you may sometimes hear for damaging winds resulting from the surface impact of a thunderstorm downdraft is "downburst."

As for the storm chasing question, you might like to consider taking a Skywarn spotter course offered by the National Weather Service. A schedule of courses and contact information is available at


Beyond that, there are companies that specialize now in storm chasing vacations that you can locate via a web search.


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