What caused all these cornstalks to blow over?

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Dear Tom,
I traveled from Kane County to La Salle County recently, and I passed at least half a dozen spots where the corn was blown down in all directions, as if a powerful downdraft had slammed down the 5-foot-tall stalks. The corn in the rest of the field was fine. Any idea what caused this?
— Sheila Schmitt, Elgin
Dear Sheila,
It sounds as if you witnessed several microbursts. Dr. Ted Fujita, the famous tornado researcher from the University of Chicago, coined the term “microburst” to describe the phenomenon: powerful bursts of wind plunging downward from thunderstorms that, upon reaching the ground, spread outward in all directions. He likened a microburst to a garden hose whose stream of water, when directed at the ground, sprays outward in all directions.
Cornstalks were blown over in spots throughout a field in a seemingly random way, leaving the rest of the field unscathed. The cause could be a series of tiny tornadoes.


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