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Why tropical storm force gusts whipped through WNY Wednesday

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Posted at 12:46 PM, Mar 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-09 12:46:24-05

This wasn't your typical Western New York wind event. 

Tropical Storm force gusts ripped through the area, knocking down trees, power lines across the area. Roofs, shingles, tractor trailers weren't spared. 

Usually, strong low pressure systems moving through our area with a cold front drives our wind events during the fall and winter months.

This was not the case Wednesday. Even Mr. Sun played a role. In order to explain why winds were so strong, we'll have to take a look at a vertical profile of our atmosphere Wednesday.

Confusing, right? Let me break it down for you. Every morning and evening, the National Weather Service sends a weather balloon up into the atmosphere. A transmitter attached to the balloon sends back to us data that forecasters from across the country use to asses our atmosphere. 

The red lines in the sounding you see below represent temperature. The green line on the far right are dew points. Solid horizontal lines represent height, wind barbs on the left represent wind speed in knots and wind direction. 

The sounding pictured above is from Monday morning. If you look closely, the red line skewers to the right. This indicates that air near the surface is warmer than the air at the surface. This is what we call an inversion. 

It's why Buffalo sometimes smells like cheerios. Air at the surface, is unable to rise above a certain height because the air above is warmer. Air at the surface is colder, weighs more, is more dense and not buoyant.

Now take a look at Wednesday's sounding. There's barely an inversion at all. This lack of a cap allowed for a strong river of air (jet streak) riding a cold front to mix down to the surface.

The heating of the surface also likely played a role, since a difference in temperature is one of the elements that drives wind.

As soon as the sun began to set, winds began to decrease. Brisk breeze remains out there across WNY today. Certainly however not as gusty compared to Wednesday.