Damaging winds can come from thunderstorms or from sudden onset “microburst” winds that are difficult to predict. When these winds exceed 50 mph, they are considered damaging winds. NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory is conducting research on damaging wind events. for more information on the ongoing research visit their website.
Differences in Wind Types
People get very passionate about proving they had a tornado vs. straight-line winds. Both can be extremely damaging, and in fact damage from straight-line winds spawned from thunderstorm cells is far more common. Downbursts (Straight-line Winds) are caused by rising air that cools to the point where water vapors occur. This vapor results in a cumulus cloud. At a point where the air becomes over-saturated, cold air begins to drop, meeting the earths surface. This compressed air causes a dramatic increase in winds, some that exceed tornado winds. A comprehensive explanation of this process is available through weather.gov .
Wind Preparedness Measures
Most preparedness measures for winds are fairly similar, whether straight-line or tornado winds. There is also some overlap in hurricane preparedness procedures. Damage can also occur from wind borne objects rather than the wind. In some instances the same storm cells that cause straight-line winds also produce damaging hail. This can not only damage homes and vehicles, but also crops. Hail Know is a project from the University of Nebraska discussing hail preparedness.