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The Ferocious Power Of A Microburst

Downed trees and power lines were still the scene on Cleveland's East Side days after the storm. [Tim Dubravetz / ideastream]
fallen tree in yard and workers in hard hats

The intensity of the storm that tore through parts of Cleveland's eastern suburbs on Sept. 13 prompted some Facebook speculation that a tornado had come through. But the National Weather Service reports that this extreme weather event had a different name: a microburst. 

Whereas a tornado is a revolving column of wind, a microburst is a stationary column that shoots winds straight down. Karen Clark, a meteorologist with Cleveland's National Weather Service (NWS), says once those winds hit the ground, they are deflected sideways across the landscape at ferocious speeds.

Closed roads, downed trees and power lines still dotted Cleveland's East Side days after the storm. [Tim Durbravetz / ideastream]

“On Friday in particular, we had a situation where there was a lot of dry air up in the mid-levels of the atmosphere that evaporates as it descends and that can enhance that downdraft,” she said. “We also had a situation where there were stronger winds in the atmosphere as you went higher up, and so the thunderstorm is also able to work with those stronger winds aloft and bring those down to the surface.”

Scene in Cleveland Heights after the microburst. [Mike Vendeland / ideastream]

Tree services and power company workers were still helping to put the neighborhood back together Monday. [Tim Durbravetz / ideastream]

The NWS clocked Friday’s winds at somewhere between 70 and 90 mph. Clark added that the old, mature leafy trees that lined the East Side streets were perfect for those high winds to grab and slam to the ground. Right after the storm hit, more than 50,000 FirstEnergy customers lost power due to fallen trees and snapped utility poles. Workers were still restoring power Monday.

david.barnett@ideastream.org | 216-916-6242