What are microbursts and why can they cause so much damage?

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Microburst. It's a term that's been tossed around a lot this past week. With the active forecast that's unfolded across the state and the numerous damaging wind reports received, let's talk a little bit more about what a microburst is.

A microburst is a small scale, short-lived burst of wind (can last between 5-15 minutes) that comes from a thunderstorm. It's carried straight to the ground from the storm downdraft and then quickly spreads out, often causing wind damage. Microbursts pack very strong winds that can reach up to 110 mph or even higher for a localized area (usually less than or equal to a 2.5-mile diameter).

But why have we had so many across central and eastern Kentucky? The atmospheric environment has been just right for them to occur. Instability (storm energy), high precipitable water values (water vapor), dry air in the mid-levels, and strong winds in the dry layer are just a few parameters necessary. However, the ideal conditions typically come together during hot and humid afternoons, just like the ones we've had this week.

There are two primary types of microbursts: 1.) wet microbursts and 2.) dry microbursts. Wet microbursts are accompanied by significant precipitation and are most common during the summer season. Wet microbursts are more common here in Kentucky and have been responsible for numerous damage reports this week.

Microbursts are often mistaken for tornadoes as both can have damaging winds, a loud "roaring sound" from high winds, and "twisted" off tree damage."If it's a tornado, that damage is going to be in different directions. For a microburst wind, chances are everything is going to be in the same direction, so trees are going to be laying down in the same direction," said Chief Meteorologist Chris Bailey.