Weather Ready Nation – Squall Lines & Straight Line Winds


After severe thunderstorms strike on the South Plains, it can be easy to assume that a tornado touched down when looking at some of the catastrophic damage, but that’s not always the case. In tonight’s Weather Ready Nation Report, we take a look at a particular thunderstorm type and the dangers that it can bring to our region.

To many of you, a thunderstorm is seen as one of two things: one that is non-severe and one that is severe. But as meteorologists, we classify them in an abundance of categories. From familiar types like single-cell thunderstorms and supercells, to the more complex mesoscale convective system. While these are all types of storms we see here on the South Plains, one very familiar term you may have heard us use is squall line thunderstorm.

“A squall line isn’t necessarily severe. So all it is, is essentially a line of storms. And normally the widths of the storms are very small, maybe 10 to 20 miles long. So within this whole line, you might have a few storms that are capable of producing stronger winds.” Explains William Iwasko, a Meteorologist from the National Weather Service.

Since squall lines are a type of thunderstorm complex that is characterized strictly from radar images, it is important to know what to look for as well as the types of hazards that are possible when they occur.

According to William, “a squall line, basically a line of thunderstorms that can produce very strong straight line winds, it can produce heavy rains, can even produce hail, and even tornadoes. So it really can produce all types of hazards. Now, normally, the most typical type of severe weather that we see with squall lines are straight line winds as you say. And that’s because, these storms can actually enhance their own environment, so that the really strong winds aloft they can bring down to the surface.”

The ability for squall lines to enhance their own environments can further develop into what is called a “bow echo”. However, since these are indicated strictly by the radar image, you will not be able to tell with the naked eye that a storm is bowing towards you.

William goes on to explain further what a bow echo is. “So one particular part of this line can become extremely strong. And normally that is a bow echo. And so you’ll actually begin to see the line bow out. And that’s an indication that you’ve got really strong winds within that portion of the storm. So even though we may not have a tornado warning issued, you can experience winds of 100 to 120+ mph, even though they’re only in one direction. So if you do see a really strong bow echo coming towards you, it can produce just as much damage as a tornado.”

Squall lines are possible just about any time of year here on the South Plains, so it is important to always remember to get off the road and get into a sturdy structure when you hear us mention these terms and phrases. Also, make sure to stay tuned to KLBK whenever severe weather is in the forecast so we can keep you informed on what to expect.

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