You might have heard of the term derecho on the Weather Channel or in the news and thought nothing of it, but a derecho is actually a very serious weather phenomenon that can be seriously dangerous for anyone and anything in its path.
If you want to know more as we go into the season when derechos are more common, keep reading – these things are no joke, and actually a really interesting weather phenomenon.
Derecho, which is derived from the Spanish word that means straight, is also called a mesoscale convective system. This is because a derecho is essentially a big string of thunderstorms and intense weather, all traveling together in a straight line.
It’s also been called a “line storm”, though this is less common. Common signs of a derecho in the sky include a shelf cloud, which is such a unique cloud formation that people instantly know the weather is going to get bad, just by looking at it.
Derechos can produce destruction on a similar scale to tornados, though obviously, the destruction happens in a line. You can often follow on a map the trail a derecho took by the destruction, and predict where it will hit next.
To be classified as a derecho, wind damage needs to extend for more than 250 miles, and wind gusts need to be at least 58 miles per hour, sustained, with gusts increasing to at least 75 miles per hour. Winds can get as strong as a small hurricane, but instead of happening on the coast, this is happening anywhere, at any time.
In 1977, winds of over 115 miles per hour were recorded in northern Wisconsin from a derecho. In 1998, between Michigan and Wisconsin, winds gusts were upwards of 130 miles per hour. Imagine waking up in Michigan with hurricane weather outside!
A derecho is known to tip over tractor-trailers, SUVs, mobile homes, and rip roofs right from homes without a second thought.
Here’s the issue with a derecho – it isn’t like a hurricane, when you have days to prepare and plan, or a tornado, when you (generally) have enough warning to shelter. Derechos come on suddenly, and often the only warning is the shelf cloud that leads the charge.
Because these storms are moving at 50 miles per hour or more, they rapidly cover ground, and leave almost as soon as they have come.
Derechos are complex, incredibly fast-moving, and can create intense damage. They are no joke – if you see a dark shelf cloud, especially in the summer months, take shelter.