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Natural Perspectives: Experiencing a derecho wind in Indiana

July 09, 2012|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
(Courtesy Lou Murray )

Vic and I just returned from Indiana, where we attended the funeral of my Aunt Shirley, my last surviving older relative on my dad's side.

Despite the sad occasion, Vic and I enjoyed sightseeing and visiting my relatives. We also got to experience a rare weather phenomenon, a derecho wind.

We arrived in Indianapolis at 5:30 a.m. June 29 on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles. The temperature was predicted to go above 100 degrees Fahrenheit that day, so we headed straight to my brother's air-conditioned house. Exhausted by the overnight flight, I promptly fell asleep. Vic went birding and returned in the early afternoon.

At about 3 p.m., Vic heard the house rumble and rattle like an earthquake. He woke me up, saying that I had to go outside to see the weather. I was expecting a sunny blast furnace and wasn't looking forward to the experience.

Imagine my surprise when I felt cool temperatures and saw that a stiff wind was whipping the trees around. The temperature had dropped 30 degrees. I looked up and saw storm clouds that were green and black. That looked like tornado weather to me.

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I would have loved a photo of those storm clouds, or a video of the trees being wind-thrashed, but safety trumped photo documentation. My brother's house had been stripped of part of its roof and some siding in a hailstorm a few months back. I had no desire to be outside if it started hailing again. We headed back into the house.

We learned on the Weather Channel that this powerful wind was called a derecho, which is Spanish for straight. Instead of a circular pattern as with tornadoes, the wind blows strong and straight. A derecho by definition has winds of more than 58 mph, and can even reach 100 mph.

You can see a great animation of the Doppler radar image of this storm as it swept across the country at http://www.erh.noaa.gov/lwx/events/svrwx_20120629/.

This straight line of severe thunderstorms formed near Chicago and blew all the way across to the mid-Atlantic coast. It caused millions of dollars of damage along its path, and knocked out power from Indiana to Washington D.C. And sadly, 20 people were killed by this line of thunderstorms.

We went out for the evening, and when we returned, we noticed that the power had gone out and then come back on. The wind had blown down trees, which in turn took down power lines. Thousands in the area were without power. In fact, hundreds of thousands of homes across the Midwest had power outages that night.

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