U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in Int. J. Climatol. (2011) 31: 531–544; DOI: 10.1002/joc.2087


Heatbursts are characterized by a sudden and highly localized increase in air temperature, a simultaneous decrease in relative humidity and dewpoint temperature, and strong gusty winds, typically associated with decaying thunderstorms. The small spatial extent and short duration of most heatbursts makes detailed study of these events difficult using the standard federal observation network (e.g. hourly observations) established in most countries. Thus, many discussions of heatbursts note that they are ‘rare’ phenomena. However, observations from the Oklahoma Mesonet indicate that although heatbursts are meso-alpha scale phenomena, they are not rare. Using multi-criteria analysis, 207 heatburst events of various magnitudes, areal coverage and duration were identified between 1994 and 2009 across Oklahoma. Significantly more heatbursts were detected in the western two-thirds of the state as compared to the eastern third. Heatbursts were primarily nocturnal events, with 70% of heatburst events initiated between 0000 and 0800 UTC (i.e. between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. Central Standard Time). With 62 of the 207 events, June was the most active month for heatbursts. At the other extreme, no heatbursts were detected during February and November, and only one was observed during January and December. Almost all of the heatbursts occurred underneath or adjacent to weak radar echoes at the time of the event. Four basic radar patterns were associated with the events: (1) radar echoes associated with rapidly weakening convection, (2) weak reflectivity not produced by or associated with deep moist convection, (3) weak radar echoes to the rear of a dissipating mesoscale convective system (MCS) and (4) weak reflectivity along the periphery of intense convection that did not appear to be weakening.