Severe thunderstorms and wind gusts in Victoria

Severe thunderstorms by definition produce wind gusts of at least 90 km/h or more, although peak winds may exceed 160 km/h in the most damaging storms. The strongest measured wind gust during a thunderstorm in Victoria is 168 km/h near the Lara area on 9th Jan 1981  .

Wind gusts are generated in thunderstorms when falling rain and hail drag the surrounding air downwards. Evaporation of the raindrops and hail cools the descending air, increasing the air's density, and accelerating the downward rush. The strong downdraft then spreads out once it reaches the ground, producing a cool, gusty wind that can cause damage. If the storm itself is moving quickly, or the atmospheric winds aloft are strong, the wind gusts at ground level may increase further.

Severe thunderstorm wind gusts can occur at any time of the year. Approximately 40% of all severe thunderstorms are associated with strong wind gusts. The most damaging thunderstorm-related windstorm to date in Australian history occurred in Sydney's northern suburbs on the afternoon of 21 January 1991. Trees up to one metre in diameter were snapped or uprooted and 7,000 houses damaged, 20 so badly they had to be demolished. An inspection of damage following the event suggested winds at the height of the storm reached 230 km/h. The combination of extraordinary winds and hail up to 7cm in diameter saw an insurance payout of $219 million.

Recent examples of damaging wind gusts from thunderstorms in Victoria include:

  • 08 Feb 2004: Severe thunderstorms with strong wind gusts caused damage in Myrtleford, Corowa, Wangaratta, Shepparton and Bright. Trees and powerlines were brought down and a roof was lifted off a house. Orchards in the Goulburn Valley were damaged.
  • 15 Feb 2002: At Swan Hill a thunderstorm severe wind gusts to 124km/hr. The airport terminal building roof was blown off and other building damage was sustained. The SES were called to over 40 jobs.