Wind shear, sometimes referred to as windshear or wind gradient, is a difference in wind speed and direction over a relatively short distance in the atmosphere. Wind shear can be broken down into vertical and horizontal components, with horizontal wind shear seen across fronts and near the coast, and vertical shear typically near the surface, though also at higher levels in the atmosphere near upper level jets and frontal zones aloft.
Wind shear itself is a microscale meteorological phenomenon occurring over a very small distance, but it can be associated with mesoscale or synoptic scale weather features such as squall lines and cold fronts. It is commonly observed near microbursts and downbursts caused by thunderstorms, fronts, areas of locally higher low level winds referred to as low level jets, near mountains, radiation inversions that occur due to clear skies and calm winds, buildings, wind turbines, and sailboats. Wind shear has a significant effect during take-off and landing of aircraft due to its effects on control of the aircraft, and it has been a sole or contributing cause of many aircraft accidents.
Sound movement through the atmosphere is affected by wind shear, which can bend the wave front, causing sounds to be heard where they normally would not, or vice versa. Strong vertical wind shear within the troposphere also inhibits tropical cyclone development, but helps to organize individual thunderstorms into longer life cycles which can then produce severe weather. The thermal wind concept explains how differences in wind speed at different heights are dependent on horizontal temperature differences, and explains the existence of the jet stream.