Late Monday afternoon and evening, May 2nd, portions of the Tennessee Valley experienced thunderstorm activity. A cold front pushing through the region helped support the development of strong storms that produced strong winds, torrential rainfall, and hail! One of the strongest storms led to damage in one Lawrence County community.

Storm Damage Courtesy: Shannon Mitchell

Around 3:30 in the afternoon Monday, some residents in the Hillsboro community experienced significant damage from a downburst. The National Weather Service Office in Huntsville received reports of homes in a centralized area sustaining significant roof damage, one home losing its roof, and power lines coming down. Above is a look at the strong storm that moved through the Hillsboro community. That cell later merged with another storm, capable of producing large hail, strong winds, and torrential rainfall!

Multiple Rounds Of Storms Ahead

What Is A Downburst?

Visual representation of a downburst

A downburst is a strong surge of air from a storm that hits the ground and then quickly spreads outward. One defining detail to tell the difference between downburst damage and tornado damage is that damage is centralized in one location. The damage that was sustained in the Hillsboro community was contained to one area, helping meteorologists know that the damage was more likely to come from a downburst than straight-line winds or a tornado.

Setup for a downburst

Downbursts are most likely to occur in a thunderstorm that has every strong updraft. This strong updraft will feed the storm with moisture and unstable air. When the winds related to the updraft are strong enough, hailstones and rain can get suspended within the storm as they are descending. As colder and drier air builds into the middle portions of the storm, it weakens the updraft. That large core of rain and hail mentioned will then rapidly fall towards the ground and then spread outwards. The rain that falls appears to hit the ground similar to if you were to put on your faucet.

Most times they are known as a “microburst” because the damage associated with it is within a centralized location within two miles. Winds associated with a downburst can sometimes reach EF1 tornado strength, with winds nearing 100 mph.