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Bizarre Wichita 'Heat Burst' Explained

The weather is supposed to cool down at night, providing some relief during this blistering heat wave. Not so for the residents of Wichita, Kan.

At 12:22 a.m. CDT yesterday (June 9), the temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) at a local airport as a thunderstorm hit the area. Twenty minutes later, the temperature rocketed to 102 degrees F (39 degrees C), reported the local NBC affiliate.

The weird weather is what's known as a "heat burst" and it was accompanied by wind gusts of up to 60 mph (97 kph). The heat burst was short-lived, however, as the winds and temperatures rapidly spread across surrounding areas.

Heat bursts are created when rain hits very dry air high off the ground, around 3,000 feet (900 meters) up in the atmosphere , causing the rain to evaporate. The evaporated rain rapidly cools the dry air, compressing it and making this patch of air heavier than the air around it. The heavy air mass then falls toward the ground, heating as it compresses, eventually hitting the ground as a hot ball of air.

A few other recent heat bursts include:

  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Aug. 3, 2008: The temperature rose from the lower 70s F (20s C) to 101 degrees F (38.3 degrees C) in minutes.
  • Midland, Texas, June 16, 2008: At 11:25 pm CDT the temperature rose from 71 degrees F (21.7 degrees C) to 97 degrees F (36.1 degrees C) in minutes.
  • Emporia, Kansas, May 25, 2008: The temperature rose from 71 degrees F (21.7 degrees C) to 91 degrees F (32.8 degrees C) between 4:44 am and 5:11 am CDT.
Live Science Staff
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