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Well, Blow Me Down! Inside a Derecho

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Well, Blow Me Down! Inside a Derecho

In 2012, a massive straight-line storm system spanning more than 700 miles devastated large sections of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, and added a new word to the weather vocabulary of many Americans.

This type of storm system, called a “derecho,” is relatively rare when compared to other types of destructive weather events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Only a small area of the United States, centered on the Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa tri-state region, sees more than one derecho event per year, on average. A surrounding region encompassing most of the Eastern U.S. sees a gradually lessening frequency of the storms, based on distance from this epicenter, with outlying areas such as Vermont and West Texas and the Southeastern Coast seeing no more than one derecho every four years.

A derecho is defined as “a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms.” The name “derecho” comes from the Spanish word for “straight,” as opposed to other destructive wind events, such as tornadoes, that tend to be cyclonic in nature.

To be classified as a derecho, a storm must meet all of the following qualifications:

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1) There must be a concentrated area of wind gusts greater than 50 knots, or 60 miles per hour.

2) The storm must have a major axis length of 248 miles or more.

3) Wind must occur in a continuous and nonrandom pattern.

4) There must be at least three reports, separated by 40 miles or more, of wind gusts greater than 64 knots, or 74 mph.

5) No more than three hours can elapse between successive wind damage events.

Derechos are generally a warm-weather phenomenon, occurring mostly in summer, usually between May and August in North America, with peak activity during June and July.

Derechos are made even more dangerous by their relative silence. While most major thunderstorms can be heard approaching from several miles away, derechos can strike suddenly, with little to no warning. A derecho’s violent winds can uproot trees and damage structures in a very short period of time, leaving a wake of destruction before anyone even knows what happened.

Have you ever experienced a derecho? Share your stories below!

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1 Allison Falls { 06.23.16 at 1:13 pm }

I was in Alderson wv 2012 @ Fireman’s Rodeo with 9 other Fire Dept. When sky’s turned black and all of sudden everyone’s radios went off and out of no where the wind came . 70 mph Turning things upside down. We grab everyone and went to school. It’s a horrific sight.
So please take heed to these storms
Be safe and God Bless

2 Susan Eckard { 06.23.16 at 11:40 am }

I was in the June 2012 Derecho in WV. It was devastating to many in this state. The sky got real dark and out of nowhere the wind was like hurricane force blowing down trees and powerlines. it was short lived with little rain, lightening or thunder. My son and his family were without power for 2 weeks because of the widespread damage.

3 Angela Degooyer { 05.16.15 at 10:23 am }

I have a video from last year in St. Catharines Ontario Canada that I believe was one , unfortunately I have no way to post it here . Let me know where and I’ll send you the video .

4 Shawn g { 05.15.15 at 12:00 am }

July 2014 was camping on Madeline Island, Lake Superior. It was our last night camping. I can’t remember the exact time but it was in the middle of the night. We were in our pop up camper. I woke to a rumbling noise coming out of the east and it was getting closer and louder. I thought it may be thunder but it was a constant rumble. The wind picked up severely and it started pouring, We had the inside flaps partially down inside the camper for ventilation when the rain started coming in. My wife woke up, closed her flap, and fell back asleep. The wind died down soon after that and the rain subsided, but another rumbling soon followed, the wind picked up and the rain came. Mind you it is pitch black in the camper and in the woods where we were under 30 foot pine and birch trees and I’m waiting for trees to come crashing down. The storm finally passed. The next morning it was calm and we packed up quickly, drove not more than a mile when we saw tree limbs down, power lines and also some full trees down, one had crashed through a garage. Waiting at the harbor the car Ferry docks and unloads numerous electric company vehicles with basket cranes and a couple Red Cross vehicles so we are thinking that there was major damage or injuries on the island. We came to find out later that the Red Cross was there for a blood drive, but there were down power lines for the electric company to fix. It was a spooky storm in the darkness of the night and I can understand when people say tornadoes sound like trains rolling through. I posted comments on Facebook when we got back and had one of my high school buddies respond with a national weather radar map showing the path and strength of the derecho, a term I had never heard of. It started in North Dakota and swept into wisconsin within hours. It was tracked for 600 miles in 12 hours- 50 miles per hour! I would hate to be in any of the storms that people were talking about wind speeds of 90-100 mph. I still have the radar track on my computer.

5 Mark Younger { 05.14.15 at 9:03 pm }

Memphis TN had one that was named Hurrican Elvis -On July 22, 2003, a progressive derecho with straight-line winds in excess of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) struck Crittenden, DeSoto, Fayette, and Shelby Counties, including the city of Memphis. The storm passed through the area between 6 and 7 am.

6 lidia { 05.14.15 at 11:37 am }

I am no Spanish expert, but i remember derecha means right, derecho means straight or “straight ahead”. I think it is confusing because English speakers will use “its right up ahead”, meaning keep on this track, not turn right up ahead.

7 Terrie { 05.14.15 at 10:15 am }

the person who wrote this, needs to look at a US map…There are many “Tri States in the US but, none that are MO, IA, & OK….MO, IA, KS,… NE, IA, KS… OK, KS, MO…However, the states listed are all heavy tornado states.
Not being smart alec but just saying…

8 Susan Higgins { 01.05.17 at 4:26 pm }

Hi Lauren, it appears to mean both:

9 Diana { 06.23.16 at 4:46 pm }

Oops! Derecho is straight, la derecha is right

10 Diana { 06.23.16 at 4:45 pm }

Derecho is straight, la derecho is right

11 Lauren Green { 05.14.15 at 9:44 am }

Very interesting article and great picture but…’derecho’ means “right” in Spanish, not straight.

12 Peggy { 05.14.15 at 9:23 am }

we experienced one May 8, 2009. It lasted I think for about 40 minutes. The highway looked like a war zone from all the trees that were down and many houses and buildings suffered a lot of damage. Fredericktown, Missouri.

13 MMSands { 05.14.15 at 5:09 am }

Yeah, try Memphis, TN in the summer of 2003. Nicknamed “Hurricane Elvis” it was devasating.

14 Christa { 05.14.15 at 3:45 am }

I sure have! In June of 2012, here in WV we had one. Let me put it to you like this to those who have never been thru this kind of storm…..Ive been thru many hurricanes while I lived in Fl, and also many tornados in WV but omg this one was sneaky and violent. It definitley was quiet rolling in but then outof nowhere CHAOS! I am a HUGE storm lover, and usually get excited with storms, but this one terrified me! I was 8 months pregnant then too, and worried to death I would need to run, and couldnt lol.

15 Bulldog1978 { 05.13.15 at 9:57 pm }

This is the first time I’ve seen or heard abut Derechos. They look ominous.

16 Sheila { 05.13.15 at 7:02 pm }

Is this called a “Plow Wind” in Canada?

17 Duke { 06.12.13 at 8:16 pm }

I work for a wireless carrier and last year was the first time I knew for sure what a “Derecho” was. We worked countless hours to restore power to sites. Meanwhile so many people were displaced from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties that there were parking lots with tents and the Red Cross set up all over. It was mid to high 90’s all week those poor people having to hunker down in makeshift campgrounds. Power was out in some areas for 21 days. Hope to never see another.

18 gary { 06.12.13 at 7:43 pm }

This is the type of storm that flattened a large swath of the BWCAW and surrounding areas in 1999. if I recall correctly, it left a path of destruction in its wake all the way to New England.

19 Katman { 05.12.13 at 10:03 pm }

We have been watching the derecho and the dust winds arriving from the west toward the east. We believe the weather is digitally controlled, emanating from the change of systems brought about from seeding the westward winds with the Welsbach patented. This alumina, barium and strontium mixture is in the aerial spraying which causes the winds and rains to push into the east. While the west, California, Texas and up to Missouri is dry, the Midwest is getting soaked. The spraying of ions into the stratosphere, along with microwave resonance is causing severe climate change we are experiencing. Check out

20 asaucedo { 05.10.13 at 11:59 pm }

From southwest Missouri we usually get these in mid summer usually around late afternoon through the evening hours, I always went out to the field and watched the lightning associated after dark. Usually there are reports of destroyed buildings and fallen trees where the storm was strongest, one year a derecho tore shingles off of our house and blew our barn apart.

21 Lee { 05.10.13 at 6:25 pm }

Could these phenomenon be the result of the ongoing Geo-engineering projects? I understand that they have the ability to steer storms, and it seems odd that this is not even considered when discussing these type of events.

22 Dianne { 05.09.13 at 1:50 pm }

Was coming home from a friends house last summer and got caught in the middle of a derecho. Trees and lines down all over. Had to try 2 different ways to get thru to my home. When I got to the end of the road I live on 3 large trees were down across the road. Climbed over then and went hom. What should have been a 20 min drive turned into 1.5 hours but at least I was safe. Some people died. I live in central WV.

23 merry leigh { 05.09.13 at 1:09 pm }

SO WIERD!! I had a dream last night about this kind of storm! I opened my house door and the animals were in it. The wind was blowing them so hard, but straight at them, so that their fur was blowing back like they were in a wind tunnel. I herded them into my house to save them! I though in my head what kind of a storm is THIS? And here’s my answer! Thanx!

24 Jeannie { 05.08.13 at 3:02 pm }

Last summer near the end of June, we were driving to Pennsylvania to visit our daughter and her husband. We were driving the loop south of Columbus when the sky suddenly got black, wind slammed the side of the car and leaves and debris was flying everywhere. It rained so hard we could hardly see, but no where to get off the road for shelter and the cars that had pulled off had trees down on them, so my husband got behind a truck and just drove slowly and kept going. When the truck suddenly swerved to the left lane, my husband followed and discovered a large tree was down in the right lane. We continued to drive in the storm and poring rain until we got to Zanesville Ohio and decided to stop for the night. We had just gotten into our hotel room when a tornado warning was issued. It was a terrifying evening. Later we watched on tv as the storm continued on towards Washington D C. Our first experience with this type of storm. Being from Missouri, we are used to tornado warnings.

25 Michael Amato { 05.08.13 at 3:02 pm }

When I was in Vietnam during the dry season, our convoy ran into a smaller version of a Derecho. The visibility fell to zero during this duststorm & the winds were quite strong. After fifteen minutes the storm ended & we were able to continue on.

26 gem { 05.08.13 at 2:58 pm }

When used as an adverb, derecho does translate as “straight.”

27 sammi { 05.08.13 at 1:51 pm }

there are more derechos in MN than in any other area….and i have experienced them many times first hand. most of us in southern MN have also seen tornados.

28 Jaime McLeod { 05.08.13 at 12:18 pm }

toadu – As noted in the story, a storm has to meet some specific qualifications to be named a derecho. A derecho is one kind of straight line wind. There are other types of straight line winds, too.

29 toadu { 05.08.13 at 11:23 am }

Is this the same storm that our local weather casters call “straight wind” storms?

30 Nikki { 05.08.13 at 10:46 am }

South Jersey experienced a derecho last summer… 🙁 Very sad to see the destruction mother nature can leave behind…. Although I did not have any structural damage we were without power for almost a week. Many others did not have power restored anywhere from 14-21 days, the clean up from that storm I believe saved many from further destruction when Sandy came barreling through our same area later on.

31 Anita { 05.08.13 at 10:38 am }

@ Kenton…it depends on how the word is used as to its definition.

32 fisherman 2 { 05.08.13 at 10:10 am }

I’ve seen these in smaller versions where I live. I don’t know what they’re when they are smaller but nontheless still scarey. Some with no wind and some with 30 to 40 mph winds.

33 Kansas Dad { 05.08.13 at 9:59 am }

Unlike Denise our ‘derecho’ happened in early spring. Temps were 80’s for highs. Our wind speeds were determined to be 100 mph. Our power was out for 3 days, and was really wasn’t that bad a situation. In our little town everybody was helping everybody else, the town really came to together, led by our Church. If you had a generator, you shared with your neighbor, saw, rake, whatever. There wasn’t much rain with the storm, so sump drainage wasn’t much of a concern. The Lord really protected us from real damage.

34 Kenton { 05.08.13 at 9:51 am }

Interesting, and terrifying, Will add this to my weather-spotting repertoire.

FYI: drecho means right not straight in Spanish.

35 Kylee from Our Little Acre { 05.08.13 at 9:10 am }

I blogged about our derecho experience last June in NW Ohio here:

36 Denise { 05.07.13 at 7:51 pm }

Oh my goodness… I live in Lynchburg, Virginia and unfortunately, I found out what a derecho was the hard way last summer. Winds topped out at 90-95 mph; houses were destroyed, tress were up-rooted and my power was out for more than a week. The city was devestated. In the middle of a heat wave when temperatures soared above 100 everyday that week and peaking at 108F on June 30. We had no air conditioning and it got so hot inside we had to sleep outside at night when temperatures couldnt drop any lower than 90. It was very uncomfortable and we had to wake up before sunrise because we knew it was going to heat up quickly with the suffocating humidity. Could you imagine using water in a bucket from the river to bathe with?? There was no water available, we had no other option! The heat index had become so dangerous we decided to leave home and drive down to Florida to stay with my sister for a few days.

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