MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis area is no stranger to severe thunderstorms, but most people would probably admit that they don't pay that much attention when strong winds are in the forecast.
Sure, those winds may bring down some small twigs or blow your garbage can down the street, but typically thunderstorm winds aren't as destructive as a tornado. Or are they?
Winds in a tornado swirl in a circle and produce damage over a small area, typically less than a mile wide. Winds inside these twisters can reach over 200 mph, which can cause significant destruction.
Meanwhile, damaging winds from a thunderstorm blow in a straight line and can cause damage for several miles, usually a much wider area than a tornado. This is where the term 'straight-line winds' comes from.
Most of these straight-line wind events produce winds of 50 or 60 mph, which can cause some minor damage. However, thunderstorms can also produce straight-line winds that are just as strong as tornadoes.
In 2003, a severe thunderstorm produced 100 mph straight-line winds across the entire Memphis metro area, which resulted in significant damage and caused most of the city to lose power.
Memphians came to call that storm 'Hurricane Elvis' because the winds were equivalent to a category 2 hurricane.
Winds in a thunderstorm are considered severe if they reach 58 mph, which is typically enough to snap off limbs, take shingles off your home, and bring down power lines.
Once winds hit 75 mph, more significant damage is possible, including uprooted trees, significant roof damage, and major power outages.
Not every thunderstorm produces winds that are this strong. But it's a good idea to take the weather seriously when straight-line damaging winds are in the forecast.