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Power out in Washington DC area

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 Photo by Brittney Misialek, former WGN Weather Intern


Viewing the sudden power outages in Washington Dc, we note an excellent (and painful) example of how quickly the world in which we normally live can be turned upside down. With 911 service disabled and trees blocking many streets, normal transportation lines of communication were severely interrupted. The power outages are a result of a strong line of thunderstorms organized into a formation known as a derecho. When electrical power is interrupted emergency generators engage in many business and government operated public services. These generators, however, usually have enough fuel to run from 5-24 hours of continuous use. After their initial fuel stocks are consumed, they must be resupplied. But sometimes resupply is not possible and basic services fail. Water and sewer plants require electricity for operation. Hospitals and other health care facilities can only operate basic service functions, and then for a matter of a day or two at the most.  The combination of blocked roads and widely damaged power grid make recovery much longer and more expensive.

Then there is the issue of lost wages and productivity for all employees who cannot work due to their place of employment being shut down. Depending on the employer they might be able to take vacation days, but the employer is hit two ways when that option is exercised, 1) no work is being done, no sales made, the only business income is lost income, and 2) all employees are out at the same time, thus stopping all the business functions and making resumption of business more difficult and lengthy. It's not a picnic for anyone. The reader might find our "Surviving Disaster Without Leaving Home" book to be of value as your own planning is reviewed.


We present two facets of this destructive series of events, 1) damages to several eastern states, and 2) weather event details.

1) Powerful storms damage Eastern US - details

Washington DC- From Washington Examiner: In Washington's northern Virginia suburbs, emergency 911 call centers were out of service; residents were told to call local police and fire departments. Huge trees toppled across streets in the nation's capital, crumpling cars. Cellphone and Internet service was spotty, gas stations shut down and residents were urged to conserve water. The power outages were especially dangerous because they left the region without air conditioning in an oppressive heat wave. Temperatures soared to highs in the mid-90s Saturday in Baltimore and Washington, a day after readings of up to 104 degrees were reported in the region. (read more)

 Washington DC - From

New Jersey - From WSJ: A ban on outdoor water use remained in effect Sunday in Monmouth County, and customers were advised to limit their indoor consumption as well.

"In this heat, people need water," said Thomas Stokes, a 63-year-old Middletown resident, who volunteered Sunday at one of three water-distribution centers set up in Monmouth County. (read more)

West Virginia - From WCHS: AEP Ohio released the following statement Sunday night: "By 6:00 p.m. July 1, AEP Ohio had restored power to more than 250,000 of the 660,000 customers affected by the catastrophic storms that moved through the state June 29. (read more)

Maryland - From WBAL: In Baltimore County, officials are telling residents without power they can use public library branches as cooling centers. He says most branches will be open until 9 p.m. Assistant Fire Chief Kyrle Preis also says residents can use the branches to charge up phones and laptops. Preis adds that a number of fire stations are providing water for residents without out. Residents should call the fire station in their neighborhood to see if water is still available. (read more)

Connecticut - From New Haven Register: WTNH TV reported that a particularly severe hail storm developed near the New York border in the town of Sharon and that the worst of the hail came in and around the Waterbury and Watertown areas. There were many reports of hail the size of golf balls and larger, the station reported. The hailstorm moved in a swath across Connecticut, striking first around Sharon, moving from there to Waterbury and Watertown and then heading all the way out to the shoreline, dropping hail in the Westbrook and Old Saybrook areas, said WTNH web meteorologist Quincy Vagell. (read more)


2) Weather event details and references

Historic perspective may help the reader to understand that while the derecho is not very common on the eastern seaboard, it is well within the parameters of US weather history. Having reviewed the historic evidence we are frankly skeptical of some hasty claims that the episode somehow is reflective of "climate change". In our opinion much popular weather discussion seems more speculative entertainment intermixed with political fragments than hard and accurate forecasting and reporting. For our part, we believe that forecasting specialists would see their reputations improve if they stuck more to science and eschewed the entertainment aspect. These type storms are not new to the US, and the summer brings the greatest likelihood of their occurrence.

The proposition of global warming and the July 2012 storms follows -

From WV Gazette: The bizarre tempest called a "derecho" began in Iowa and was magnified by intense heat over Illinois. It clocked hurricane-force 90-mph gusts in Indiana and barreled as fast as a speeding car across Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia to the East Coast. Charleston had gusts up to 78 mph. More than a dozen people were killed along the eastbound route, mostly by falling trees. Disasters have been declared everywhere...As the state recovers from the extreme Friday night blast, it's a good occasion to ask again whether violent storms are linked to global warming...As West Virginia copes with this latest weather nightmare, people should give intelligent consideration to all evidence related to climate change. (read more)


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.

derecho likelihood

From NOAA: An exceedingly warm and humid air mass produced a deadly heat wave over parts of the Midwest during mid-July 1995. The broad area of hot and humid air contributed to the development of a series of progressive derechos along a nearly stationary west-east front along the northern fringe of the heat wave region (Fig 1). Four derechos occurred over portions of the northern United States and southern Canada between the evening of July 11th and the morning of July 15th, and the storm paths are shown as colored outlines in Fig. 1.   (read more)

Super derecho

super derecho

The May 8, 2009 "Super Derecho" was one of the most intense and unusual derechos ever observed. The wind storm produced significant and often continuous damage over a broad swath from the high plains of western Kansas to the foothills of the Appalachians in eastern Kentucky (Figure 1). Multiple wind gusts in excess of 70 mph and isolated gusts over 90 mph were measured along its path. The associated convective system exhibited numerous small-scale bow echoes, a well-defined larger-scale bow, and numerous small-scale vortices with tornadoes. In addition, flash flooding was widespread on the northern fringe of the system, especially in Missouri. But what made the event most unique was the appearance of an unusually strong, long-lived, larger-scale circulation known as a mesoscale convective vortex, or MCV. This feature was accompanied by a band of intense surface winds and tornadoes that occurred independent of the severe weather directly associated with the large-scale bow.

derechos july1995


Ohio 1969

derecho Ohio 1969

During the afternoon of Friday, July 4, 1969, thunderstorms formed over southeast Lower Michigan (MI). As these storms moved southeastward during the early evening, a strong derecho evolved over extreme southeastern Michigan (MI) and Lake Erie (LE). The derecho then roared southeast across northern and eastern Ohio (OH) and western Pennsylvania (PA) during the next few hours. The hourly positions of the gust front (associated with multiple bow echoes) are shown in Fig. 1 above. Winds gusted to 104 mph in Toledo ("T"), and reached 100 mph in the Cleveland ("C") area. In towns and cities near Lake Erie, many people were in parks getting ready to watch the Independence Day fireworks. Also for the occasion, many small boat owners had anchored their craft just off the Lake Erie shore line to watch the fireworks. As the derecho passed, many thousands of trees were blown down, including 5000 in Toledo alone. In the fireworks areas near the south shore of Lake Erie, eight people were killed by falling trees and over 100 boats were overturned, with three persons drowned. A total of 18 people were killed as a result of the derecho winds in Ohio. Some of the worst damage occurred in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. As the derecho moved into Pennsylvania it continued to produce much damage, with 5 people injured in Meadville ("M").

 Canada 1999

derecho Canada 1999

During the pre-dawn hours on Sunday, July 4, 1999 thunderstorms were occurring over portions of the Dakotas. By 6 AM CDT some of the storms formed into a bow echo and began moving into the Fargo, North Dakota area with damaging winds. Thus would begin the "Boundary Waters - Canadian Derecho" that would last for over 22 hours, travel over 1300 miles at an average speed of almost 60 mph, and result in widespread devastation and many casualties in both Canada and the United States (Fig. 1). The following paragraphs describe what happened along the path of this long-lived international derecho.

The NOAA site (linked above) has a long list of these type storms. We hope our readers find value in the depth of this material.

Last modified on Monday, 02 July 2012 19:09

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