ABOUT DERECHOS

Part of the NOAA-NWS-NCEP Storm Prediction Center web site
Prepared by Robert H. Johns, Jeffry S. Evans, and Stephen F. Corfidi (with the help of many others)

For feedback on "About Derechos," contact Stephen Corfidi

Last updated July 21, 2014; see What's New for recent additions and changes.


"The Line Storm," by John Steuart Curry, 1897-1946, a painting possibly inspired by the approach of a derecho-producing storm in Curry's home state of Kansas. (Oil and tempera on panel, 1934; Collection of Sidney Howard, New York; Lithograph in Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.)

Gust front "shelf cloud" (or "arcus") on the leading edge of a derecho-producing convective system. The photo was taken on the evening of July 10, 2008 in Hampshire, Illinois as the storm neared the Chicago metropolitan area. The derecho had formed around noon in southern Minnesota. (Courtesy of Brittney Misialek)




...CONTENTS...

WHAT'S NEW INTRODUCTION
STRENGTH AND VARIATION OF DERECHO WINDS CASUALTY AND DAMAGE RISKS
DERECHO-PRODUCING STORMS DERECHO DEVELOPMENT
TYPES OF DERECHOS DERECHO FORECASTING
DERECHOS AND FLASH FLOODS DERECHOS AND HEAT WAVES
TORNADOES AND OTHER CIRCULATIONS DERECHO CLIMATOLOGY
NOTEWORTHY EVENTS DERECHOS IN 2004 AND 2005
VISUAL ASPECTS REFERENCES



...DERECHO FACTS PAGE...

Note: Some of the following information, in abbreviated, question-and-answer format,
is available in The Derecho FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.



INTRODUCTION

Definition of a derecho
A derecho (pronounced similar to "deh-REY-cho" in English, or pronounced phonetically as "") is a widespread, long-lived wind storm. Derechos are associated with bands of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms variously known as bow echoes, squall lines, or quasi-linear convective systems.

Although a derecho can produce destruction similar to that of a tornado, the damage typically occurs in one direction along a relatively straight path. As a result, the term "straight-line wind damage" sometimes is used to describe derecho damage. By definition, if the swath of wind damage extends for more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers), includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) along most of its length, and several, well-separated 75 mph (121 km/h) or greater gusts, then the event may be classified as a derecho.

Origin of the term "derecho"
The word "derecho" was coined by Dr. Gustavus Hinrichs, a physics professor at the University of Iowa, in a paper published in the American Meteorological Journal in 1888. A defining excerpt from the paper can be seen in this figure showing a derecho crossing Iowa on July 31, 1877. Hinrichs used the word "derecho" to distinguish thunderstorm-induced straight-line winds from the damaging rotary winds produced by tornadoes. While the term was adopted to a limited extent by the meteorological community during the late nineteenth century, "derecho" disappeared from use for nearly a century until being resurrected by severe weather meteorologists in the mid-1980s.

"Derecho" is a Spanish word meaning "direct" or "straight ahead." (Click here to hear a pronounciation of the word "derecho"). In contrast, the word "tornado" is thought by some, including Hinrichs, to have been derived from the Spanish word "tornar," which means "to turn." Because "derecho" is of Spanish origin, the plural form is spelled "derechos;" i.e., the letter "e" is not added after the letter "o."


A web page about Gustavus Hinrichs has been created by Ray Wolf of the Davenport, Iowa National Weather Service Forecast Office. The page provides information on Hinrichs' background, and on his development of the term "derecho" in the late 1800s. Wolf's page also briefly discusses how the term "derecho" has come into more common use in recent years.



STRENGTH AND VARIATION OF DERECHO WINDS

Strength of derecho winds
By definition, winds in a derecho must meet the National Weather Service criterion for severe wind gusts (greater than 57 mph) at most points along the derecho path. But in stronger derechos, winds may exceed 100 mph. For example, as a derecho roared through northern Wisconsin on July 4, 1977, winds of 115 mph were measured. More recently, the derecho that swept across Wisconsin and Lower Michigan during the early morning of May 31, 1998 produced a measured wind gust of 128 mph in eastern Wisconsin, and estimated gusts up to 130 mph in Lower Michigan.

Variation of wind speeds in a derecho
The winds associated with derechos are not constant and may vary considerably along the derecho path, sometimes being below severe limits (57 mph or less), and sometimes being very strong (from 75 mph to greater than 100 mph). This is because the swaths of stronger winds within the general path of a derecho are produced by what are called downbursts, and downbursts often occur in irregularly-arranged clusters, along with embedded microbursts and burst swaths. Derechos might be said to be made up of families of downburst clusters that extend, by definition, continuously or nearly continuously for at least 240 miles (about 400 km). The derecho of July 4-5, 1980 is a good example of an event that exhibited wide variation in observed wind speeds due to embedded microbursts, downbursts, and downburst clusters. More on microbursts, downbursts, and downburst clusters may be found in Derecho-producing storms.



CASUALTY AND DAMAGE RISKS

Those most at risk from derechos
Because derechos are most common in the warm season, those involved in outdoor activities are most at risk. Campers or hikers in forested areas are vulnerable to being injured or killed by falling trees. People at sea risk injury or drowning from storm winds and high waves that can overturn boats.

Occupants of cars and trucks also are vulnerable to being hit by falling trees and utility poles. Further, high profile vehicles such as semi-trailer trucks, buses, and sport utility vehicles may be blown over. At outside events such as fairs and festivals, people may be killed or injured by collapsing tents and flying debris.

Even those indoors may be at risk for death or injury during derechos. Mobile homes, in particular, may be overturned or destroyed, while barns and similar buildings can collapse. People inside homes, businesses, and schools are sometimes victims of falling trees and branches that crash through walls and roofs; they also may be injured by flying glass from broken windows. Finally, structural damage to the building itself (for example, removal of a roof) could pose danger to those within.

Another reason that those outdoors are especially vulnerable to derechos is the rapid movement of the parent convective system. Typically, derecho-producing storm systems move at speeds of 50 mph or greater, and a few have been clocked at 70 mph. For someone caught outside, such rapid movement means that darkening skies and other visual cues that serve to alert one to the impending danger (e.g., gust front shelf clouds --- see photos elsewhere on this page) appear on very short notice. In summary, the advance notice given by a derecho often is not sufficient for one to take protective action.

The following links provide personal stories of those who have survived derechos while outdoors:

      - A camper's close brush with death during the July 4-5, 1999 derecho in Maine.

      - A boater's encounter with the May 17, 1986 derecho on Lake Livingston, Texas.

      - A dramatic account of a boat overturned by intense straight-line winds during a July 1943 wind storm near Goshen, Indiana.

For a more comprehensive view of derecho hazards, the "Noteworthy Event" page for the July 4-5, 1980 derecho lists the cause of death or injury for the 73 casualties of that event, providing a typical example of the risks to humans posed by derechos.


Special hazards posed by derechos in urban areas
Whether in an urban or rural area, those out-of-doors are at greatest risk of being killed or injured in a derecho. But of particular significance in urban areas is the vulnerability of electrical lines to high winds and falling trees. In addition to posing a direct hazard to anyone caught below the falling lines, derecho damage to overhead electric lines sometimes results in massive, long-lasting power outages. Hundreds of thousands of people may be affected; in the worst events, power may not be restored for many days.

It is the complex and dense concentration of overhead distribution feeders in urban areas --- and their frequent proximity to large trees --- that make cities especially vulnerable to electrical outages following wind storms. The density and mileage of overhead electric distribution lines in urban areas far exceeds that of any rural or exurban area. Pole lines often carry multiple circuits and voltages, as well as lines for street lighting and customer service connections that further add to the vulnerability. Because of this, and because urban electrical feeders typically serve smaller territories relative to their rural counterparts, significantly greater manpower is necessary to restore service after major storms. In addition, unlike the localized damage produced by a tornado, derecho damage may be widespread. As a result, repairs often require greater effort, with additional delays related to shortages in supplies.

Cities in which derechos have resulted in prolonged power outages include Baltimore (June 29, 1980), Kansas City (
June 7, 1982), and Memphis (July 22, 2003). More recently, the Ohio Valley / Mid-Atlantic derecho of June 29, 2012 caused protracted, widespread power outages in cities from Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton to Atlantic City, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. There also is evidence to suggest that the impact posed by derechos has increased in recent years due, in part, to the maturation of shade trees planted in suburban areas in the 1950s and 1960s. The vast tracks of post-war suburbs, with their overhead utility lines and older trees, are especially vulnerable to damage from high winds of any source.



DERECHO-PRODUCING STORMS

Derechos are associated with bands of showers or thunderstorms (collectively referred to as "convection") that assume a curved or bowed shape. The bow-shaped storms are called bow echoes.  Bow echoes typically arise when a storm's rain-cooled outflow winds are strong, and move preferentially in one direction.

A derecho may be associated with a single bow echo or with multiple bows. Bow echoes, in turn, may consist of an individual storm, or may be comprised of a series of adjacent storms (i.e., a squall line or, more formally, a quasi-linear convective system) that together take on a larger scale bow shape. Bow echoes may dissipate and subsequently redevelop during the course of given derecho. Derecho winds occasionally are enhanced when a rotating band of storms called a bookend vortex develops on the poleward side of the bow echo storm system. Derecho winds also may be augmented by the presence of embedded supercells (rotating thunderstorms) and other smaller-scale circulations in the derecho-producing convective system (see Tornadoes and Other Circulations).

As noted previously, derecho winds are the product of what meteorologists call downbursts.  A downburst is a concentrated area of strong wind produced by a convective downdraft. Downbursts have horizontal dimensions of about 4 to 6 miles (8 to 10 kilometers), and may last for several minutes. The convective downdrafts that comprise downbursts form when air is cooled by the evaporation, melting, and/or sublimation (the direct change to vapor phase) of precipitation in thunderstorms or other convective clouds. Because the chilled air is denser than its surroundings, it becomes negatively buoyant and accelerates down toward the ground. Derechos occur when meteorological conditions support the repeated production of downbursts within the same general area. The "downburst clusters" that arise in such situations may attain overall lengths of up to 50 or 60 miles (80 to 100 kilometers), and persist for several tens of minutes. Within individual downbursts there sometimes exist smaller pockets of intense winds called microbursts.  Microbursts occur on scales (approximately 2 1/2 miles or 4 km) that are very hazardous to aircraft; several notable airline mishaps in recent decades resulted from unfortunate encounters with microbursts. Still smaller areas of extreme wind within microbursts are called burst swaths.  Burst swaths range from about 50 to 150 yards (45 to 140 meters) in length. The damage they produce may resemble that caused by a tornado.

A typical derecho consists of numerous downburst clusters ("families of downburst clusters") that are, in turn, comprised of many smaller downbursts, microbursts, and burst swaths. The schematic below illustrates the scalar relationships between these features.





DERECHO DEVELOPMENT

Derecho development necessarily is tied to the formation of bow echoes. A bow echo usually arises from a cluster of thunderstorms, but also may evolve from a single strong storm. Bow echoes most frequently occur when tropospheric winds are relatively strong and unidirectional (i.e., they vary little in direction with height). As the rain-cooled downdraft of a thunderstorm reaches the earth's surface, it spreads horizontally, most rapidly in the direction of the mean tropospheric flow. As the cool, dense air spreads outward, it forces the lighter, warm and moist air surrounding the storm up along the leading edge of the outflow, or gust front (see figure below, with mean flow assumed to be from left to right). The upward motion along the gust front typically is greatest along that part of the front that is moving most rapidly --- that is, progressing --- in the downwind direction (to the right in the figure). Gust fronts often are marked by low, ominous cloud formations known as arcus or shelf clouds. Photographs of such clouds on the forefront derecho-producing storms appear at the top of this page and here.




The development of a thunderstorm's downdraft ordinarily marks the dissipation stage of that particular storm. But air forced up along a gust front can give birth to new thunderstorms. As new storms mature, the rain they produce reinforces the existing "pool" of rain-cooled air produced by earlier storms, allowing the gust front to maintain its strength. As this cold pool increases in size and elongates in the direction of the mean wind, it may induce an inflow of air known as the rear-inflow jet (dashed brown arrow in figure below) on the trailing side of the thunderstorm complex. This causes the updraft to tilt toward the rear side of the storm (i.e., to the left in the figure). Tilting of the updraft allows the thunderstorm to further expand, increasing the aerial coverage of the rain. This, in turn, adds to the pool of cold air accumulating beneath the storm and strengthens the gust front, causing it to bow outward in the downwind direction. The resulting acceleration in forward motion of the gust front subsequently forces more warm, moist air upward, creating still more storms, and the process repeats.




The rain produced by the newer storms reinforces the cold pool, strengthening the inflow of air from the back side of the developing storm complex and encouraging the downward transport of higher momentum air from aloft. These processes can enable the system to attain a nearly steady-state condition. At this point, the convective system typically exhibits a pronounced bow shape on radar (see figure below) and satellite, with an area of moderate to occasionally heavy rain located near the center of the cold pool, well behind the arc of intense rain immediately behind the gust front. As long as the thermodynamic and kinematic environments support the continued development of new thunderstorm cells in the downwind direction along the advancing gust front --- a process known as downwind or "forward" propagation --- the convective complex will persist, along with the potential for downbursts and microbursts.





An animated, visible data satellite view of a derecho-producing convective system appears below. This particular event (May 31, 1994) occurred in a relatively dry environment over Utah and western Wyoming. Because of this, there was minimal supplementary cloud cover that tends to obscure the active storm towers of systems occurring in more moist regimes. As a result, the case well-illustrates the process of forward propagation along a convective system gust front. As the arc-shaped gust front advances from southwest to northeast across Utah, the rapidly-growing, new updrafts appear as sharply-outlined whitish clumps (cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds). These stand in marked contrast to the more fibrous debris clouds (cirrus "anvils") that are left behind as the gust front continues northeastward, undercutting the older updrafts and severing their link to warm, buoyant air. The derecho-producing convective system is therefore seen to be comprised of a series of discrete, downwind-developing, individual storms. For more on thunderstorm propagation and derechos, see Derechos and Flash Floods.





TYPES OF DERECHOS

Four main types of derechos may be distinguished. This classification largely is based on the overall organization and behavior of the associated derecho-producing convective system and reflects, in part, the dominant physical processes responsible for the thunderstorms that produce the damaging winds.

Serial derechos
The type of derecho most often encountered during the spring and fall is called a serial derecho.  These are produced by multiple bow echoes embedded in an extensive squall line (typically many hundreds of miles long) that sweeps across a very large area, both wide and long. This type of derecho typically is associated with a strong, migratory low pressure system. An example of a serial derecho with a very extensive squall line and embedded smaller scale bow echoes is the one that affected Florida, Cuba, and adjacent parts of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean during the early stages of the "Storm of the Century" on March 12-13, 1993.

Progressive derechos
The second type of derecho is called a progressive derecho.  These are associated with a relatively short line of thunderstorms (typically from 40 miles to 250 miles in length) that may at times take the shape of a single bow echo, particularly in the early stages of development. In some cases, the width of a progressive derecho and its associated bow echo system remain relatively narrow even though they may travel for hundreds of miles. An example of this type is the "Boundary Waters-Canadian Derecho" that occurred on July 4-5, 1999. In other cases, the progressive derecho and associated bow echo system begin relatively small, with a narrow path, but over time grow to exceed 250 miles in width. The line of thunderstorms of a progressive derecho often begins as a single bow echo that evolves into a short squall line, typically with more than one embedded bowing segment. Such development occurred with the "I-94 Derecho" over the north central United States on July 19, 1983 (see Fig. 2 in that event's discussion page). Progressive derechos may travel for many hundreds of miles along a path that is relatively narrow compared to those of serial derechos. Often they are associated with an area of weak low pressure at the surface.

The schematic below highlights the distinguishing features of serial and progressive derechos:



Hybrid derechos
Occasionally, derechos having characteristics of both serial and progressive events are observed. These events are known as hybrid derechos.  For example, the "Southern Great Lakes Derecho of May 30-31, 1998 was attendant to a strong, migrating low pressure system. However, the derecho path and the associated bow echo convective system had many characteristics of a progressive derecho.

Low dewpoint derechos
Most derecho-producing thunderstorm systems originate in and/or move through areas of seasonably rich low-level moisture. For example, nearly all the cases included in Noteworthy Events occurred with surface dewpoint temperatures at or above 70° Fahrenheit. In contrast, bands of widespread wind-producing storms sometimes develop in environments of very limited moisture, for example, with dewpoints in the 40s or low 50s (°F). Such systems are known as low dewpoint derechos.  Low dewpoint derechos most often occur between late fall and early spring in association with strong low pressure systems, and are a form of hybrid derecho. On occasion they appear during the warmer half of the year, especially in drier regions. The May 31, 1994 Utah-Wyoming derecho shown in the animated satellite loop in Derecho Development (above) is an example of a low dewpoint event. This system produced a 105 mph wind gust at Provo, Utah, where sixteen people were injured, and severely damaged the Saltair Pavilion on the Great Salt Lake. A wind gust of 140 mph was measured on Camel Back Mountain in nearby Dugway Proving Ground. Surface dewpoints were in the mid-40s °F along the path of the storm. Low dewpoint derechos are essentially organized bands of successive, dry downbursts or microbursts. More information on derechos in environments of limited moisture is available here.



DERECHO FORECASTING

Formation
Reduced to simplest terms, a derecho-producing convective system is comprised of a line of downstream-replicating, ordinary thunderstorm cells. Forecasting derechos begins, therefore, with examination of the atmospheric environment to assess the likelihood for the sequential development of individual thunderstorms, and, in particular, thunderstorms that might produce strong surface winds.

Thunderstorms are reasonably well-forecast; the processes governing their formation have been fairly well-understood for the better part of a century. In contrast, derecho forecasting remains one of the most challenging tasks facing operational meteorologists today. This difficulty reflects two primary limitations: (1) the imprecise nature of the observational network (relative that necessary) to produce an accurate and detailed picture of the propensity for thunderstorms with strong surface winds, and (2) our incomplete understanding of the processes that lead to repetitive, linearly-organized storm development.

Many meteorological factors, some acting synergistically and some seemingly at odds, may come together to yield an environment conducive to derechos. The variation of these factors over space and time also is important in fostering or hindering development. Two nearly identical meteorological settings at a given location might yield vastly different outcomes --- that is, a derecho or no derecho --- depending upon how the atmosphere evolved to that point in time, and how conditions vary spatially around that location. Derecho formation also is dependent upon very small-scale processes involving condensation, melting, evaporation, and sublimation of water deep within rapidly changing clouds --- processes that are neither well-understood, nor readily observable.

In some ways, serial derechos are easier to forecast than progressive events because the primary forcing mechanisms responsible for their development (e.g., strong cold fronts or jet stream disturbances) are fairly well sampled by today's observing network. On the other hand, unlike many other significant weather events of any type, progressive derechos may arise in relatively benign large-scale environments, with little or no identifiable atmospheric forcing. Many progressive derechos, in fact, arise in a manner that might best be described as a form of "atmospheric boot-strapping," wherein seemingly random interactions between individual thunderstorm cells --- or a loosely organized group of cells --- sometimes lead to a much larger, more strongly-organized system. One factor that appears important in realizing such development is the release of very strong latent heating in a relatively confined region. This may occur through the simultaneous development of many vigorous individual thunderstorm cells near a weak front or other local lifting mechanism. Such latent heating involves the lofting of abundant rain, snow, and hail particles that can lead to the rapid formation of strong storm downdrafts and an expanding cold pool. The "Super Derecho" of May 8, 2009 is an example of a storm that exhibited this type of development.

Recent research has to some extent furthered our understanding of mechanisms behind repetitive, downstream thunderstorm development, and studies have shed light on the origins of strong winds in convective storms (e.g., the BAMEX program of 2003; see References). In addition, numerical forecast models exist that have, on occasion, correctly depicted derecho development. But significant advances in forecast skill likely will require deployment of a nationwide network of atmospheric sensing devices with greatly enhanced spatial and temporal resolution relative to that in place today --- in addition to further storm-scale research.

Movement
Once a derecho has formed, the forecast task reduces to determining where the parent convective system will move, and how long will it last. As noted in Derecho Development, a derecho will persist as long as the environment on the downwind side of its elongating cold pool is favorable for the formation of new storms. But both the location and rate of new storm development in the downwind direction typically vary over space and time, with factors such as the distribution of low-level moisture, atmospheric instability, and "capping" (warm layers aloft that hinder storm formation) --- amongst others --- typically involved. Such variables complicate the forecast process. At the same time, the background wind field around a derecho rarely remains static. Because the overall motion of a derecho-producing convective system is a combination of (1) advection (the movement of individual storm cells by the environmental wind outside the storms), and (2) propagation (the development of new storm cells relative to older ones), spatial and/or temporal changes in the environmental wind add further complexity to the forecasting of derecho tracks.

Various parameters and techniques have been developed in recent years to help forecast derecho formation, movement, and longevity (see References). These tools will require modification as observational and modelling studies further our understanding of derecho mechanics.



DERECHOS AND FLASH FLOODS

On occasion, on the rear flank of a convective system responsible for a progressive derecho, a nearly stationary band of thunderstorms may form. If such a band persists for an extended period, and/or if the line forms in a region of rocky or steeply-sloped terrain, flash flooding may follow. Situations of this type are not common, but when they do occur, the results may be devastating as the convective system's high winds are followed by the ravages of flooding. The "Ohio Fireworks" derecho-flash flood of July 4, 1969 is an example of what might be termed a concurrent derecho-flash flood convective system.  Eighteen people died, many others were injured, and widespread destruction occurred as derecho winds swept across Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and adjacent Lake Erie. A few hours later, more than two dozen people perished from subsequent flash flooding in Ohio. The devasting Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood of July 20, 1977 also was associated with a convective system that produced both flash flooding and high winds.

The same unidirectional wind profile that is conducive to downwind (or forward) propagation of a convective system --- that is, the repetitive, downwind development of new thunderstorm cells such as that which occurs in a derecho --- is, paradoxically, also favorable for repetitive storm development in the upwind direction. The figures below illustrates why this is so. When the environmental flow around a convective system is nearly unidirectional (as in the wind profile at left), the system's collective outflow of cool air at the surface --- the cold pool --- necessarily elongates downstream in the direction of the mean flow. This elongation is shown schematically in the plan view in the right part of the figure, where "T" refers to "time." As noted in Derecho Development, the leading edge of the cold pool, or gust front (depicted here with weather map frontal symbols), is the main site of new thunderstorm formation. Such development may occur repetitively along the boundary if thermodynamic conditions are favorable.




As the cold pool elongates, repetitive storm growth on the downwind-moving, progressive part of the gust front comprises the derecho-producing convective system (red arc in bottom cross section of figure below, and on right side of plan view inset). Meanwhile, because of the unidirectional nature of the flow, the trailing, upwind part of the gust front often becomes stationary. This is especially true when the atmosphere is very moist through a deep layer, and the potential for very cool storm downdrafts is minimal. The stationary source of low-level uplift provided by the gust front can then serve as the seat of repetitive thunderstorm development in the upstream direction (green arc in top cross section, and on left side of plan view). As individual storms grow and mature, they move parallel to the boundary, causing multiple episodes of heavy rain at locations along the line. Such convective evolution is known as echo training.  Prolonged echo-training in a moisture-rich environment nearly always results in flash flooding. Smaller scale or more intermittent episodes of echo training frequently occur on the rear flanks of progressive derechos, and may cause localized flooding in the wake of a derecho's high winds. More information on the relationship between derecho and flash-flood producing convective systems is available here.





DERECHOS AND HEAT WAVES

Some of the most intense summer derechos, especially those of the progressive type, occur on the fringes of major heat waves. Examples include the July 1983 "I-94" derecho in the upper Mississippi Valley, the Mid-July 1995 derechos in New York and Canada, and the more recent Ohio Valley / Mid-Atlantic derecho of June 2012. The relationship is more than statistical. It turns out that the meteorological conditions favorable for large-scale heat waves often also are conducive to derechos. In the United States, this is especially true from the Upper Missisippi Valley and Upper Great Lakes into the Ohio Valley and Northeast.

The primary link between heat waves and derechos is the presence of an elevated mixed layer, or EML.  An EML is a layer of mid-tropospheric air that originates over the arid, elevated terrain. Because of their origin, EMLs exhibit sharp decreases in temperature with height. The large vertical temperature differentials (or "steep" lapse rates) in EMLs are analogous to those observed over black-topped roofs and parking lots on sunny days. Such thermal stratification encourages the formation of strong updrafts that can lead to the development of thunderstorms. In fact, the frequent presence of an EML on days othwerwise favorable for thunderstorm formation to a large extent accounts for the intensity of the storms commonly encountered over the Great Plains.

During a typical heat wave over the central and eastern United States, a large, stationary upper-level high pressure area usually is present over the south-central states. Persistent westerly winds on the poleward side of the high allow EMLs generated over the Rocky Mountains to extend eastward into the Ohio Valley and Northeast, well beyond their usual range over the Plains. Warm air aloft associated with the base of the EML acts as a "cap" or "lid" that prohibits thunderstorm development along much of the extent of the EML, southward into the heat wave-associated "high." But on the northern fringe of the EML, where low-level uplift frequently is focused along a stationary front marking the northern edge of the heat wave, updrafts that form in the strongly heated air near the ground may breach the cap, resulting in an explosive release of instability. If other conditions are favorable (e.g., low-level moisture is abundant along the front, winds are largely unidirectional, parallel to it, and increase with height), additional storms may erupt in concentrated fashion along the boundary, yielding a band of downstream-developing storms and, on occasion, a full-blown derecho.

The schematic below illustrates the idealized, large-scale meteorological environment favorable for progressive derechos on the northern fringe of a quasi-stationary high pressure cell associated with a major heat wave over central and eastern United States. The location of the EML in such situations is approximated by the brown-tinted band behind the word "Progressive," with the mean mid-tropospheric flow depicted by the arrow marked "Airflow," and the high pressure center by an "H." The region most susceptible to serial-type derechos in such a pattern also is shown.





TORNADOES AND OTHER CIRCULATIONS IN DERECHO ENVIRONMENTS

Tornadoes
Derechos and tornadoes can occur with the same convective system. This is particularly so with serial derechos associated with strong, migratory low pressure systems. The tornadoes may occur with isolated supercells (rotating thunderstorms) ahead of the derecho producing squall line, or they may develop from storms within the squall line itself. An example of a serial derecho that produced both extremely damaging straight-line winds and significant tornadoes from supercells embedded in the derecho-producing squall line is that which affected Florida during the early stages of the so-called "Storm of the Century" of March 12-13, 1993. Although not as common, tornadoes sometimes occur with progressive derechos. When they do, the tornadoes typically form within the bow echo storm system itself, and only rarely are associated with isolated supercells ahead of the bow.

The occurrence of tornadoes with derecho-producing convective systems reflects the fact that both tornadoes and strong convective wind gusts share, to some extent, common origins in the background atmospheric environment. In short, the great degree of thermodynamic instability; i.e., buoyancy, that gives rise to strong updrafts and, ultimately, the thunderstorms that spawn tornadoes also promotes the formation of storm downdrafts. In addition, both tornado and derecho environments are characterized by the presence of substantial vertical wind shear; i.e., large changes in wind speed and/or direction with height. While derecho-producing convective systems tend to be most favored when the vertical wind profile is unidirectional, a unidirectional wind profile may still contain appreciable shear. At the same time, in even a modestly sheared environment, small-scale stretching and tilting motions often present along storm gust fronts in a squall line may yield low-level circulations that, on occasion, can "tighten up" into a tornado.

Mesovortices
While storm downdrafts likely account for the greater proportion of damaging nontornadic winds in a derecho-producing convective system, observational evidence and numerical simulations show that corridors of enhanced wind damage in derecho-producing squall lines often are associated with embedded circulations or "vortices." These features may occur in various sizes and generally are referred to as mesovortices.

Mesovortices can arise in many ways. For example, the bookend vortices mentioned in Derecho-producing storms are counter-rotating circulations that arise as the rear-inflow jet of a developing convective system impinges on the system's gust front (see Derecho development). This forces horizontally-rotating "tubes" of air along the gust front to tilt vertically in storm updrafts on either side of the jet. Once formed, the pair of resulting vortices can enhance the rear-inflow jet and thereby initiate or accelerate the bowing process, as shown here. Bookend circulations may reach dimensions of several tens of miles. Counter-rotating vortices also occasionally arise from the downward tilting of horizontal vorticity by storm downdrafts, as shown in the following schematic modified from this study by Wakimoto et al. The horizontal vortex tubes (here depicted by green arrows) arise from differencies in buoyancy strength (that is, the tendency for spontaneous upward motion) across a thunderstorm or squall line's gust front.




Smaller circulations on the order of a mile or two in diameter sometimes develop along gusts fronts as a result of what is known as horizontal shear instability. This form of instability is derived from the very sharp changes in wind direction and speed that exist across such boundaries. When the background wind shear and/or buoyancy are great, shear-induced vortices sometimes sufficiently strengthen to produce tornado-like damage. Many such features accompanied the "Super Derecho" of May 8, 2009 (see Figure 4). Mesocirculations in some derecho-producing convective systems also may be traced to supercell storms that were present during the early stages of system development and subsequently were absorbed within it (e.g., see the "People Chaser Derecho" of 2001). Similar circulations appear when an accelerating line or bow echo overtakes a more slowly-moving supercell storm.

The illustration below shows several mesovortices along a derecho-producing squall line as viewed by Doppler radar. The left panel shows radar reflectivity, the right, radar velocity, with the radar location depicted by the black circles at the top left in both panels. Vortices 1 and 2 are small-scale circulations that may have arisen due to the presence of strong horizontal shear along the gust front. Vortex 3 is larger, but not as well-organized. Animated reflectivity data (not shown) suggest that this feature most likely is the residual circulation associated with a supercell storm that was overtaken by the convective system's accelerating gust front.




When a derecho-producing convective system becomes particularly large and long-lasting, a larger-scale circulation known as a mesoscale convective vortex or "MCV" may develop. These vortices arise from localized pressure falls that occur in response to the concentrated release of latent heat (i.e., warming) that accompanies the development of deep cumulonimbus clouds. On occasion MCVs may grow in size to occupy an area as large as that of a typical Midwestern state; such circulations may last for more than a day and enhance the convective system's strength and longevity (e.g., the "Super Derecho" of 2009 previously mentioned). Smaller MCVs commonly form in weaker wind-producing systems. They often appear as swirls of residual mid-level clouds, or as bands of showers in radar imagery, long after the parent convection has dissipated. The radar reflectivity image below shows the very well-developed MCV associated with the "Super Derecho" of May 2009 as the circulation entered southwest Missouri from southeast Kansas.




Once developed, it is the superpositioning of vortex-induced winds with those of the convective system's larger-scale outflow that can lead to corridors of enhanced damage in a derecho. Typically, with convective systems that form in the mid-latitudes where the mean tropospheric flow is westerly, this superpositioning yields the strongest winds on the equatorward side (i.e., the southern side in the Northern Hemisphere) of the vortices, where the wind fields are additive. An analogous additive effect accounts for the fact that the highest wind speeds in a hurricane generally occur in the storm's right front quadrant (when facing in the direction of storm motion).



DERECHO CLIMATOLOGY

Where and when derechos are most frequent in the United States
Derechos in the United States are most common in the late spring and summer (May through August), with more than 75% occurring between April and August (see graph below). As might be expected, the seasonal variation of derechoes corresponds rather closely with the incidence of thunderstorms.




Derechos in the United States most commonly occur along two axes. One extends along the "Corn Belt" from the upper Mississippi Valley southeast into the Ohio Valley, and the other from the southern Plains northeast into the mid Mississippi Valley (figure below). During the cool season (September through April), derechos are relatively infrequent but are most likely to occur from east Texas into the southeastern states. Although derechos are extremely rare west of the Great Plains, isolated derechos have occurred over interior portions of the western United States, especially during spring and early summer. Additional climatological information on United States derechos is available here.




Derechos outside North America
Derechos likely occur in other areas of the world where meteorological conditions are favorable for their development. However, only one such event has been formally documented in recent years. On July 10, 2002, a serial derecho occurred over eastern Germany and adjacent portions of neighboring European countries. In Berlin and surrounding areas, 8 people were killed and 39 were injured, mainly from falling trees. In Bangladesh and adjacent parts of India, a type of storm known as a "Nor'wester" occasionally occurs in the spring. From various descriptions and knowledge of the meteorological environments involved, it appears that some of these storms may be progressive derechos.



VISUAL ASPECTS

A frequent question regarding derechos is whether or not their approach may be identified by characteristic cloud formations. The short answer is "No." Although some derecho-producing convective systems are indeed preceded by well-defined shelf or arcus clouds along the progressive portions of their gust fronts (recall examples shown at the top of this page), these formations are not always present. This is because the local wind and thermodynamic conditions that give rise to shelf clouds typically change appreciably over space and time. While the environment might favor the development of such clouds at some point during the life of a given event, it is uncommon for these conditions to exist everywhere and at all times during its existence. In addition, environments that give rise to dramatic shelf clouds sometimes appear when the larger-scale weather pattern is not favorable for derecho development. As a result, striking shelf clouds on occasion occur in conjunction with relatively benign thunderstorms. For example, the following image shows a turbulent, low-hanging shelf cloud that accompanied a small but intense cluster of thunderstorms near Ventnor, New Jersey on July 24, 1979. The winds aloft were comparatively light and not favorable for organized, sustained storms. But moisture-rich air in the lower levels and convergence (uplift) along sea-breeze boundaries contributed to circulations that briefly gave rise to an impressive shelf cloud, in addition to very heavy rain.



Photo by Stephen Corfidi



Arguably some of the most dramatic and longer-lasting derecho-induced shelf clouds appear over the Great Plains. This, in part, reflects that region's proximity to the western United States plateau and its associated elevated mixed layer air, or EML, previously discussed. A very strong temperature inversion or "cap" that marks the base of the deep EML commonly is present over the Plains states on days when derecho-producing storms arise there. It is this inversion that contributes to the development of marked shelf-type accessory clouds as cool thunderstorm outflow winds force warm, humid, low-level air to rise through the stable layer. On occasion, more than one inversion and/or moisture discontinuity may be present near the base of EML. These environments are the ones that sometimes give rise to particularly menacing, multi-tiered shelf formations such as the one shown below. This photograph was taken near Fort Supply, Oklahoma as the intense "Southward Burst" derecho of May 27, 2001 approached from the north. Additional images from this event are available here.



Photo by Douglas Berry



Whether or not a notable shelf cloud develops, the exceedingly dark aspect presented by the leading edge of many derechos largely is due to the blocking of sunlight by the deep and often horizontally-extensive clouds that comprise the parent storm system. During spring and summer this blocking effect is accentuated around sunset for east or southeast-moving storms as the low sun angle at that time maximizes the path taken by sunlight through the clouds. The high "optical density" of rapidly-growing cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds is another reason approaching derechos appear dark. Greater concentrations of small water droplets are present in vigorous convective clouds, where rapid condensation is taking place, compared to those in weaker cumuliform clouds or stratus types. Small droplets back-scatter (reflect) incident sunlight very effectively, allowing very little indirect light to pass through. As a result, derecho-bearing squall lines tend to be especially dark and foreboding when they lie between the observer and the sun. This is the case with the early evening sequence shown below, photographed near Vernon, Texas in April 2000.


Photos by Stephen Corfidi



NOTEWORTHY EVENTS

Many significant derechos (i.e., those that have caused severe damage and/or casualties), have occurred over North America during the last few decades. Most of these affected central and eastern parts of the United States and Canada. Linked below are brief summaries of some of these events. The list is not all-inclusive, and additional cases will be added as time permits. Information includes a map of the area affected, a description of the storm's impact and meteorology, and, where available, links to additional information.

Holiday weekend events
The human impact of the following events was enhanced by their occurrence on summer holiday weekends, causing many to be caught out-of-doors during the sudden onset of high winds...
July 4, 1969................"The Ohio Fireworks Derecho"....MI, OH, PA, WV
July 4, 1977................"The Independence Day Derecho of 1977"....ND, MN, WI, MI, OH
July 4-5, 1980............"The 'More Trees Down' Derecho"....NE, IA, MO, IL, WI, IN, MI, OH, PA, WV, VA, MD
Sept. 7, 1998............."The Syracuse Derecho of Labor Day 1998"....NY, PA, VT, MA, NH
Sept. 7, 1998............."The New York City Derecho of Labor Day 1998"....MI, OH, WV, PA, NJ, NY, CT
July 4-5, 1999............"The Boundary Waters-Canadian Derecho"....ND, MN, ON, QB, NH, VT, ME

The derechos of mid-July 1995
The mid-July 1995 derechos were noteworthy for both their intensity and range...
Series Overview..........Montana to New England
July 12-13, 1995........"The Right Turn Derecho"....MT, ND, MN, WI, MI, ON, OH, PA, WV
July 14-15, 1995........"The Ontario / Adirondacks Derecho"....MI, ON, NY, VT, NH, MA, CT, RI

Low dewpoint derechos
In contrast to most derechos, these events occur in environments of very limited moisture...
Nov. 20, 1989............."The Mid-Atlantic Low Dewpoint Derecho of November 1989"....PA, NJ, NY, MD, DE
May 31, 1994............."The Utah / Wyoming Derecho of May 1994"....UT, WY, ID, CO

Serial derechos
Four well-documented events that affected parts of the central and eastern United States...
April 9, 1991..............."The West Virginia Derecho of 1991"....AR,TN, MS, AL, KY, IN, OH, WV, VA, MD, PA
March 12-13, 1993...."The Storm of the Century Derecho"....FL, Cuba
April 4-5, 2011..........."The April 4-5, 2011 Southeast  'Derecho' "....TX, AR, LA, KY, OH, TN, MS, AL, FL, WV, VA, MD, DE, NC, SC
April 19-20, 2011......."The Ozarks / Ohio Valley Derecho of April 2011"....OK, TX, AR, MO, IL, IN, OH, KY, TN, MS, AL

"Southward bursts"
"Southward burst" is a term coined by Porter et al. in a 1955 paper (see reference here) to describe a progressive-type squall line that surges rapidly southward rather than east...
May 4-5, 1989............"The Texas Derecho of 1989"....TX, OK, LA
May 27-28, 2001......."The People Chaser Derecho"....KS, OK, TX

Other noteworthy events
June 7, 1982.............."The Kansas City Derecho of 1982"....KS, MO, IL
July 19, 1983.............."The I-94 Derecho"....ND, MN, IA, WI, MI, IL, IN
May 17, 1986............."The Texas Boaters' Derecho".....TX
July 28-29, 1986........"The Supercell Transition Derecho"....IA, MO, IL
July 7-8, 1991............"The Southern Great Lakes Derecho of 1991"....SD, IA, MN, WI, MI, IN, OH, ON, NY, PA
May 30-31, 1998......."The Southern Great Lakes Derecho of 1998"....MN, IA, WI, MI, ON, NY
June 29, 1998............"The Corn Belt Derecho of 1998"....NE, IA, IL, IN, KY
August 9-10, 2000....."The Appalachian-crossing Derechos of August 2000"....IN, OH, KY, WV, VA, NC, SC
July 22, 2003.............."The Mid-South Derecho of 2003"....AR, TN, MS, AL, GA, SC
May 8, 2009..............."The 'Super Derecho' of May 2009"....KS, MO, AR, IL, IN, KY, TN, VA, WV, NC
July 10-11, 2011........"The Cross Country Derecho of July 2011"....CO, KS, NE, IA, IL, WI, IN, MI, OH, KY, WV, PA, MD, VA
June 29, 2012............"The Ohio Valley / Mid-Atlantic Derecho of June 2012"....IL, IN, KY, OH, WV, PA, VA, MD, DE, NJ, NC
June 30, 2014............"The 'One-two Punch' Derechos of June 30 - July 1, 2014"....IA, IL, WI, IN, MI, OH



DERECHOS IN 2004 AND 2005

The Storm Prediction Center's severe weather report data base was examined to identify those severe weather events that involved widespread damaging winds associated with convective storms in the years 2004 and 2005. These events include all the derechos that occurred over the continental United States during that two-year period. Hyperlink maps were created to show the approximate path for each event. The maps link to a display of all severe weather reports and locations in the Storm Prediction Center data base for the day of the event. The records are preliminary and do not include official National Weather Service final storm report information listed in Storm Data; the data also do not include reports from Alaska and Hawaii. The maps do, nevertheless, provide a general idea as to the typical geographical and seasonal distribution of severe wind-producing events in the United States. Information on significant derechos that have occurred since 2005 will be added, on a time-permitting basis, to Noteworthy Events.



REFERENCES

Here is a list of selected of research papers on derechos and the convective systems responsible for their development. In addition to presenting analyses of some well-documented events, these papers describe what is known about the formation and mechanics of derecho-producing convective systems.

In the mid-1990s, the Atmospheric Environment Service of Canada assembled a video that documents the passage of a progressive-type derecho through the Pakwash forest of northwest Ontario on July 18, 1991. The video includes camcorder footage of the storm affecting a forested area, post storm aerial views of the forest "blowdown," and interviews with people who experienced the event. While the video clips were made some time ago, they remain useful in providing insight into the impact a derecho can have in real-time, .



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Contact Stephen Corfidi for "About Derechos" feedback



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Many people assisted in preparing "About Derechos" by providing photos, images, stories, suggestions, and other information. Their assistance was very much appreciated.

From Environment Canada: Phil Chadwick, Rene Heroux, Mike Leduc, Serge Mainville, Brian Murphy, Peter Rodriquez, Sarah Scriver, Dave Sills, and Pierre Vaillancourt.

From the U.S. National Weather Service and National Severe Storms Laboratory: James Auten, John Cannon, Ariel Cohen, Mike Coniglio, Sarah Corfidi, Mark Darrow, Greg Dial, Chuck Doswell, Roger Edwards, Randy Graham, Jared Guyer, John Hart, Victor Homar, David Imy, Sarah Jamison, Ed Jessup, Rusty Kapela, Steve Keighton, Richard Koeneman, Norvan Larson, Jeff Last, Jay Liang, Patrick Marsh, Dan McCarthy, Corey Mead, Peter Parke, Steve Pennington, Tom Reaugh, Kevin Scharfenburg, Russ Schneider, Todd Shea, Rich Thompson, Frank Wachowski, Jeff Waldstreicher, Steve Weiss, and Mike Wyllie.

Others who assisted include: Curtis Alexander, Bert Barnes, Karen Bennett, Marlin Bree, Dave Crowley, Lee Grenci, Botchy Grimm, Dave Lewison, Chouga McGuire, Pete Pokrandt, Colin Price, Kristina Reichenbach, and Robert Schlesinger.

Special appreciation is extended to Dennis Cain for the base schematic illustrations that appear in "Derecho-producing storms," "Derecho development," and "Derecho climatology," and are used in the National Weather Service's Jet Stream Online School for Weather.