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31. Microburst Research - Nifty 50

Airplane wing

Microbursts are intense, sometimes even violent, yet highly localized downward and outward bursts of wind at relatively low atmospheric levels.

Microburst research is a relatively new area of atmospheric research, but NSF's involvement, as well as that of researchers and other agencies, has already saved lives. The effect of microbursts on aircraft is potentially dangerous, because the strong, quick bursts or drafts of wind can severely alter the course of an airliner, especially on landing or takeoff.

Deadly bursts of air

Microbursts have been identified as either the cause or the likely cause of some particularly deadly accidents: New York's LaGuardia Airport in 1975 and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in 1985. It is estimated that approximately 650 lives have been lost in the U.S.A. alone in 20 airline accidents attributed to microbursts.

NSF has funded Project NIMROD at the University of Chicago and Project CINDE in Denver, which have led to better understanding of how microbursts occur. NSF-sponsored research in universities and at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) resulted in the scientific knowledge that led to practical means for identifying microbursts.

NSF's and NCAR's work helped to convince the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to institute a worldwide training program, requiring all pilots to obtain microburst wind shear training twice a year, both in courses and in simulators.

Original publication date: April 2000

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