Huge storm threatens millions across midwest, possible “derecho” superstorm feared

A reader just emailed me about this, and I didn’t even realize it was going on. A “gigantic” line of thunderstorms is heading east, and expected to impact states from Wisconsin all the way to Maryland over the next 24 to 36 hours. The storm may even spur a possible “derecho,” a term I wasn’t familiar with. But basically, it’s the kind of storm that knocked out power on the east coast last summer.

A non-derecho storm front we had here in DC a week or so ago. (Photo by John Aravosis)

A non-derecho storm front we had here in DC a week or so ago. (Photo by ©John Aravosis)

Well, it’s baaaack.

The National Weather Service says 12 million people are at risk of severe weather.  The biggest risk is in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. There’s less of a risk for an area extending from Wisconsin to Washington, DC. The storms may pack winds as high as 50 to 100mph (I know we had like 75mph gusts in Chicago last year, and there went the power for 24 hours).

What’s makes a “derecho” (the word for straight line, or straight ahead, in Spanish) so special is that while normal thunderstorms have damaging winds a mile or two wide and a few miles long, derechos can have damaging winds tens of miles wide, and hundreds of miles long.

According to NOAA, the Weather Service’s parent agency, a storm qualifies as a derecho is “if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length.”

More from CBS:

The risk of severe weather in Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, is roughly 45 times higher than on a normal June day, Bunting said. Detroit, Baltimore, Washington, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Louisville, Ky., have a risk level 15 times more than normal. All told, the area the weather service considers to be under heightened risk of dangerous weather includes 64 million people in 10 states.

“It’s a pretty high threat,” Bunting said, who also warned that the storms will produce large hail and dangerous lightning. “We don’t want to scare people, but we want them to be aware.”

Wednesday “might be the worst severe weather outbreak for this part of the country for the year,” said Jeff Masters, meteorology director at Weather Underground.

Growing up in the midwest, I think I’ve gained a healthy respect for storms, but also an utter fascination with them.  While, sure, I love a sunny day, what really gets me going is a LOUD, lightning filled, thunderstorm.  I love thinking back to standing on the front porch, smelling the rain in the air, the way the temperature suddenly cools down.  Love it.

Here are a few of my storm photos, since we’re on the topic:


This was a few years ago, a truly nasty front rolling through DC. (photo by ©John Aravosis)

And the photo above is kind of fun, because in addition to being rather apocalyptic (note the tornado-friendly green developing in parts), I love the little bird I caught right in the middle of the sky – here’s a blow up:



This was a nice storm rolling into Stockholm a couple years ago. (photo by ©John Aravosis)

And here’s a video I shot in the Chicago are on July 22, 2011, of a great storm front moving in.  Depending on the light, you can catch how the sky was turning green in some parts.  The conventional wisdom back home is that green is bad, as in tornado weather (thanks to reader Robert Martin for the “green” link).  Also, fast moving clouds are another bad sign.  (You’ll hear my dog Sasha freaking out in the background because I dared to leave the house and shoot some pictures without her.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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31 Responses to “Huge storm threatens millions across midwest, possible “derecho” superstorm feared”

  1. Bill_Perdue says:

    Super storms, super tornado swarms and super hurricanes are going to be the norm.

    And there’s no place to run or hide.

  2. Phil says:

    90 miles NW of Chicago here. NWS was predicting Armageddon all day. When the storms arrived, the tornado siren went off around 4:00. But NOTHING happened, no black or green sky, no apocalyptic winds or rain, nothing but a brief shower. We were quite disappointed.

  3. Rob says:

    Stubby, cigar-shaped body, crescent-shaped wings, brownish color.

  4. astroworf says:

    Like you, John, I am also energized by a good thunderstorm, but when southern Illinois was hit by a derecho a couple years ago, it was truly frightening. Perhaps worse than not knowing when the wind would ever die down was hearing tree trunks snap outside my house. I was without power for 10 days so I was thankful for a natural gas stove and water heater and a land line phone, which miraculously never went out.

  5. Betty McG says:

    Beautiful pictures. I trained as a storm spotter for the National Weather Service years ago, Try the Storm Prediction Center site everything that is going on realtime. (It’s properly linked at the bottom of Weatherdudes page and is where he has cut and pasted from and he is right–Get A Weather Radio! Listen to your Weather Radio. For your local weather bureau, click on the Hazards map, then on the area you want to see locally. (I don’t think the http I put in linked.) Tornadoes and Hurricanes get most of the news time but straight line winds do more damage each year. The Outreach link on the bar just below the header on the SPC page has links to whatever weather event you want to know about with pictures and photos.

  6. TheOriginalLiz says:

    It always makes me think of a town Wyatt Earp may have gone through on his way to Tombstone.

  7. cole3244 says:

    compared to tornado alley ours is like a day at the beach, thanks though.

  8. JamesR says:

    Thanks for the great links BeccaM

  9. Actually I do remember the constant trees going down yes

  10. Not familiar with that bird, how can you tell?

  11. BeccaM says:

    By the way, Weatherdude over on DailyKos always provides some of the best liveblogging of major weather events — including a whole lot of explanation for those of us who like to know not just what is happening, but why.

    I’ve learned a ton about basic meteorology from him. Here’s his current liveblog URL:

    Apparently the derecho is underway, and it’s a doozy.

  12. karmanot says:

    That works!

  13. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Fox News has announced that they’re pushing back against the liberal bias evident in the term “derecho” superstorm and that henceforth they’ll be referring to such destructive storms as “izquierda” storms.

  14. Ceif says:

    The Power of the Nothing:

  15. Gindy51 says:

    The bird is a chimney swift, by the way.

    Husband is out golfing at the club but I am sure they will call the matches as we are right in between Cinci and Indy. Guess I better tell the kid to get her shit packed and in the basement as well as put the dog beds down there.
    God I hate spring in the Midwest…. gimme fall ANY day or even winter.

  16. Gary Harmer says:

    It’s a good thing that the climate isn’t going through any changes. Had me worried there for a minute.

  17. BeccaM says:

    You succeed. :-)

  18. Naja pallida says:

    I try.

  19. karmanot says:

    You are soooo bad! :-)

  20. karmanot says:

    Stay safe C.

  21. karmanot says:

    Yep, that applied to Ann Arbor when I lived there. The green also included the faint smell of ozone. It was weirdly beautiful.

  22. karmanot says:

    Be careful and be sure Derecho has access to a school shelter! He may have to ‘comb’ the neighborhood to find one.

  23. karmanot says:

    OMG! ‘The Day After Tomorrow.’

  24. BeccaM says:

    The more energy is pumped into the atmosphere, the more severe and extreme weather events are going to be — and they’re going to happen more often.

  25. Tony T says:

    Derecho. Sounds like a cross between a cowboy and a greaser. “Derecho, the high plains drifter, was in serious trouble at school.” Funny thing is, is that the storms haven’t even formed yet. The weather dudes are just out of there minds confident that they will. I’m due west of Chicago in the Fox Valley region so I am keeping my eyes open today.

  26. TheOriginalLiz says:

    a couple of the townhouses in my area have only finally finished repairs caused from the last cluster of dericho storms that came through. And we’re not wealthy, by any means, we just live around trees that go through roofs.

  27. Robert Martin says:

    Your statement about the sky turning green being an indicator of possible tornado’s is exactly what I heard as a kid when I was living in Illinois. It midwest parlance it is called “going green” as in “Oh no… head for the basement, it’s going green.” The explanation for this, from what I understand is that the sky turns green because the clouds are SOOO thick that they scatter the light in such a way that we see green. Here is an explanation by a meteorologist: Note he says that the sky “going green” is not necessarily PROOF that a tornado is coming but that the conditions are there for it to happen because of how thick and high the storm clouds are.

  28. cole3244 says:

    i live in hurricane country and winds of 50 to 100 mph and i think we dodged another big one.

  29. caphillprof says:

    John, we’ve been having a derecho almost yearly in the DC area for the past 5-6 years. You don’t remember wealthy folks in NW having trees down and no power for several weeks?

  30. Naja pallida says:

    Damn gays are at it again! :)

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