Often it is the loss of electrical power that most impacts city dwellers following a strong derecho. This loss may be due to falling trees and tree limbs severing or shorting electrical lines, or to direct destruction of the overhead electrical distribution plant by high winds. Large portions of a metropolitan area may remain without electrical power for days or even weeks after a major derecho. The stories of two cities that suffered long-lasting power outages from strong derechos are given below.

"The Kansas City Derecho of 1982"

During the pre-dawn hours of Monday, June 7, 1982, a derecho formed over north central Kansas (KS) and roared eastward causing considerable damage and some injuries as it crossed northern Kansas, central Missouri (MO), and west central Illinois (IL) (Figure 1). The most intense part of the storm occurred along a band from just west of Manhattan, KS (orange "M" in Figure 1) through the central and northern parts of the Kansas City metropolitan area (orange "K" in Figure 1). Measured peak wind gusts included 62 mph at Manhattan, 78 mph at Topeka (orange "T" in Figure 1), 90 mph at Lake Perry, KS (orange "P" in Figure 1), and 78 mph at Kansas City International Airport. Gusts were estimated to have reached 90 to 100 mph in several places, including the northern Kansas City suburb of Parkville, MO. Along the most intense part of the derecho path ("M" to "K"), mobile homes were overturned, buildings were damaged, planes were overturned at the airports in Topeka and Kansas City, and thousands of trees were damaged or blown down (Figure 1). Six people were injured in the overturned mobile homes. Much of the area lost electrical power, including the northern two-thirds of the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Figure 1. Area affected by the June 7, 1982 derecho (outlined in blue). Curved purple lines represent the approximate locations of the gust front at hourly intervals. "+" symbols indicate the locations of wind damage or estimated wind gusts above severe limits (58 mph or greater). The red line indicates the location of a tornado track. The other symbols are described in the text.

Electrical power losses affected over 100,000 residents in the Kansas City metro area. For many, the outage lasted for several days; for some, more than a week. The power losses and their affect on the city were captured in photographs published by the Kansas City Star and Kansas City Times newspapers; scanned images from these publications are shown below (Figures 2-6).

Charles Doswell III, at the time a research meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Forecast Center, experienced the power loss with his family at their home in the northern part of Kansas City, Missouri. The Doswell household remained without electrical power for about a week. After the power had been off for several days, food in the family freezer began to melt. To save expensive meat that was stored there, Doswell cooked as much of it as he could during the course of one day using two charcoal grills. In the process, he singed the hair on his hands when some fat caught fire on the grill. The day after the grilling frenzy, power was restored to his next door neighbor's home; Doswell's house, however, remained without power. Showing considerable goodwill, the neighbor allowed Doswell to run an extension cord from her home to Doswell's basement, where electrical power could be supplied to the refrigerator and freezer. This action proved very helpful as another three or four days passed before electrical power finally was restored to the Doswell home.

The Kansas City Star, June 7 1982

Figure 2. As the derecho passed through the Kansas City metro area near sunrise on the June 7, 1982, this large oak tree was blown down, damaging two homes on the 4500 block of North Bales Avenue on the north side of the city. This was just one of thousands of trees that were damaged or blown down, many of which severed electric lines and cut off power to the region.

The Kansas City Times staff photo by Frank Niemeir and Cliff Schiappa, June 8, 1982

Figure 3. On the afternoon of June 7, 1982, an electric company lineman works on damaged power lines in the 1700 block of 34th Terrace in the Midtown area of Kansas City, Missouri.

The Kansas City Times staff photo by Frank Niemeir and Cliff Schiappa, June 8, 1982

Figure 4. A couple in the northwest suburb of Parkville, Missouri sit at their kitchen table with a kerosene lamp late Monday evening June 7, 1982, waiting for electrical service to be restored.

The Kansas City Times staff photo by Greg Smith, June 8, 1982

Figure 5. More than 100 people wait to buy ice at a refrigerator company in the 200 block of West 75th Street (on the south side of Kansas City). The picture was taken about a one half hour after the company's normal closing time on Monday afternoon, June 7, 1982. Many people had to wait more than 90 minutes to get ice that was used to keep perishable foods cold in the wake of the early morning derecho.

The Kansas City Times staff photo by Frank Niemeir and Cliff Schiappa, June 8, 1982

Figure 6. On Monday June 7, 1982, fifty-one boxes of frozen french fries from a fast food restaurant in Sugar Creek, Missouri (an eastern suburb) were transferred from a truck to a refrigerated trailer after power was lost near sunrise because of the derecho winds. Many businesses had to close and find ways to save perishable food.


[Scanned photographs from The Kansas City Star and Times newspapers provided by W. D. Hirt; permission for display of the photographs granted by The Kansas City Star].

The Kansas City Star and The Kansas City Times
Storm Data for June 1982
Rockwood and Maddox 1988


"The Mid-South / Memphis Derecho of 2003"

During the early morning of Tuesday, July 22, 2003, a derecho formed over north central Arkansas and moved rapidly east-southeast, reaching northern Alabama by mid-morning (Figure 1). Although the storm weakened over northern Alabama, it re-intensfied over northwest Georgia and moved across northern and central Georgia into South Carolina before ending by late afternoon. Many thousands of trees were damaged or blown down. Two people were killed and 11 others were injured, mostly due to trees falling on homes or vehicles.

Between 6 and 7 a.m. CDT Tuesday, the derecho passed through the Memphis, Tennessee metropolitan area ("M" in Figure 1), producing some of the most intense winds during its existence. Numerous homes and buildings were damaged, and at least 20 were destroyed.

Image provided by Scott McNeil

Figure 1. Area affected by the western part of the July 22, 2003 derecho (shaded gray and red areas), with the approximate hourly positions of the leading edge of derecho winds (gust front) indicated by the light blue lines (times in CDT are yellow; in UTC, light blue). The red shading highlights area of strongest damaging wind (speeds greater than 75 mph). The black "M" denotes location of the Memphis metropolitan area. The white dashed lines show the continued track of the weakened derecho that later re-intensified over northwest Georgia and moved east across northern Georgia into western South Carolina (not shown).

Power outages in the Memphis metropolitan area were extensive. About 750,000 people (over 60 percent of the population) lost power, and three-quarters of the regions's traffic signals ceased operation, causing chaotic traffic flow. Also, the Memphis airport, an important hub for travelers and freight, had to be closed. It would take two weeks for the entire metropolitan area to have power restored (Figure 2).

Image provided by Scott McNeil

Figure 2. Number of customers without electrical power in the Memphis metropolitan area following the derecho of July 22, 2003. The values on the left side of the graph represent the number of customers without electrical power (in thousands). Each green bar denotes the number of customers without power on a given day, with the left-most bar representing July 22, 2003, and the right-most bar August 5, 2003 (14 days later).

Scott McNeil, a senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Memphis, Tennessee, (black "M"in Figure 1), was working a midnight shift during the early morning of July 22nd. When the derecho gust front hit the building in which the forecast office is located just before 7 a.m. CDT, winds gusted to over 80 mph. Scott remembers feeling the building shake, and hearing the ceiling tiles rattle. Commercial electrical power was lost, so the office's backup generator was activated. When the winds diminshed, the damage outside became apparent. Trees near the employee parking lot had fallen on many cars, including Scott's. When he left the office at 8 a.m., Scott and several of his building co-workers had to use a chainsaw to free their damaged vehicles from the trees. Because only the canopy of a tree had fallen on Scott's car, his car received only minimal damage.

After extracting his vehicle, Scott started his commute home, a ride that typically takes about 25 minutes. He had to detour around several fallen trees that blocked his normal route. Nearly every traffic signal was "out," resulting in significant traffic problems. Scott finally arrived home after nearly an hour and a half. Although many buildings in his neighborhood suffered major damage, his home escaped unscathed.

As is often the case in metropolitan areas, the primary impact that Scott and his family experienced from the storm was an extended electrical power outage. To save the contents of the home refrigerator, Scott placed food in plastic coolers packed with ice. By the second day of the power outage, however, ice was becoming scarce in Memphis, and Scott had to travel west into Arkansas to obtain a new supply. Luckily, his in-laws lived in a Memphis suburb where electrical power was restored relatively quickly. When it became obvious that it might be several more days before power would be restored to midtown Memphis, Scott transported the food in the coolers to his in-laws' home.

During the period of power outage, Scott was working a series of midnight shifts (midnight to 8 a.m. CDT) and needed to sleep during the day. However, sleeping during very warm and humid summer days in Memphis without air conditioning would be uncomfortable at best. Fortunately, Scott's in-laws came to the rescue again; he slept in their air-conditioned home for the duration of the outage.

Power was restored to Scott's neighbors six days after the derecho. But electrical service to Scott's house was not restored until noon on July 29th --- more than a week after the storm (see Figure 2). However, the aftermath of the storm continued to plague Scott and his family. As electrical power was restored to their home, a power surge destroyed the television set. The July 2003 Memphis derecho is one that Scott and his family will not soon forget.

Figures 3-10 (below) were courteously provided by The Commercial Appeal (a Memphis newspaper) and Scott McNeil. They show dramatic examples of the severe damage experienced in the Memphis area as a result of the July 22, 2003 derecho. Given the amount of damage and extensive loss of electricity, Shelby County, Tennessee (the county in which Memphis is located) was declared a Federal Disaster Area.

Photo by Scott McNeil

Figure 3. Car crushed by a large tree trunk on Central Avenue in midtown Memphis.


The Commercial Appeal staff photo by Mike Maple

Figure 4. Two children examining the root structure of an uprooted tree on Belvedere Boulevard in midtown Memphis.


The Commercial Appeal staff photo by Lance Murphy

Figure 5. Damage to the Gibson Lounge and Gibson Guitar Factory.


The Commercial Appeal staff photo by Alan Spearman

Figure 6. A house heavily damaged by a fallen tree on Linden Avenue near Cooper Street in midtown Memphis.


The Commercial Appeal staff photo by Karen Pulfer Focht

Figure 7. Roof and severe structural damage to a building in the 200 block of Front Street, where journalist Gregory James resided and experienced the devastation.


The Commercial Appeal staff photo by Mike Maple

Figure 8. View of Linden Avenue west of Barksdale Street on Friday afternoon, July 25, 2003, (three days after the derecho), showing pole-top capacitors and associated switching equipment still littering the street.


The Commercial Appeal staff photo by Alan Spearman

Figure 9. A homeowner on East Goodwyn Street working to extract a large, uprooted oak tree that had sandwiched itself between the bedrooms of his two young sons.


Photo by Scott McNeil

Figure 10. Damaged car and downed power lines on Linden Avenue.


[Information concerning the July 22, 2003 derecho's affect on the Memphis metro area was provided by S. McNeil, D. Valle, J. Howell, and G. Garrett, National Weather Service, Memphis, Tennessee]

Additional information:
Scott McNeil et al., 2003: Presentation at the 2003 Annual Meeting of the National Weather Association (Jacksonville, Florida)
The Commercial Appeal newspaper (Memphis, Tennessee; photographs used with permission)
Storm Data, July 2003

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