Small-Scale Strong Winds

Summertime storms often produce wind does some very strange things. A wind “gust” is not a wall of wind; gusts are actually very localized. Last night in Limestone County, two meteorologists (Barry Britnell and Stephen McCloud) both reported estimated wind gusts approaching 60 MPH; one of my Twitter followers (Joy Owen) reported a measured gust of 42 MPH.

In other words, the wind gusts can be just as hit-or-miss as the rainfall patterns across the area!

Take a look at these photos of some corn that was blown over as the outflow from stronger storms passed through southern Madison County on Thursday evening. Linda Hampton writes:

Owens Cross Roads: We had
a sudden storm come up about 9 last night June 20. This morning the garden
looks like the attached photos, with a path cut through the corn, from
east to west. Corn on both sides looks untouched.. Was it a mini tornado
or what?

So, what in the world could cause such a small swath of wind high enough to lay over several rows of corn?

It wasn’t a classic tornado; that is almost certain. There is no “convergent” damage here (tornadoes pull things toward the center of the funnel instead of blowing it all in one direction). Occasionally a small vortex can develop in the outflow of a storm, but the wind doesn’t quite get strong enough to do significant damage.

It might have been a landspout, which is similar to a waterspout (and similar to a tornado but it doesn’t form like a classic tornado would). That also seems pretty unlikely, though. This is such a tiny swath of high wind and there is no other evidence of circulation, that it probably was not a rotating wind storm.

So, what does that leave? Let’s look at the picture again. This is the view looking in an easterly direction this morning. The wind would have been blowing toward the camera:

Linda Hampton's photo annotated

Linda Hampton’s photo annotated

It looks like some of that strong north wind that was running about 20 to 40 MPH last night (outflow from storms) may have been slowed down by the trees and the buildings nearby. There’s a noticeable gap between what I would call the “woods” and that building, and that is where the wind (coming from an east-northeast direction) would not have been affected as much.

My opinion is that the entire corn crop was blown around by gusty, straight line winds, but that gap may have allowed the wind to gust maybe as much as 20-30% higher in that one spot! It’s hard to know for sure, but that’s my educated guess!

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