Nine Years Since the Ohio Valley/Mid-Atlantic Derecho

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Damage reports received on June 29, 2012. Wind gusts and damage are indicated by the blue squares. Most are from the derecho. Courtesy: SPC/NOAA

WEST VIRGINIA (WVNS) — On June 29, 2012, a powerful line of storms raced from the Midwest to the East Coast of the United States. It resulted in one of many billion-dollar disasters in the United States in 2012 according to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). In all, $2.9 billion worth of damage occurred from the derecho, with damage and wind reports stretching from Illinois to Virginia.

What is a derecho?

In order to qualify as a ‘derecho’ [deh-REY-cho] certain criteria needs to be met:

  1. Wind damage path has to be equal or greater to 250 Miles
  2. Along most of the damage path wind gusts of 58 mph or higher have to be recorded
  3. Several separate gusts of 75 mph or greater also have to be recorded along the path of the storm
An example of a Bow Echo as seen in the early stages of the June 2012 Derecho.
Image Adapted From: “The Ohio Valley / Mid-Atlantic Derecho of June 2012”

Derechos commonly form along lines of storms that become ‘bow-echoed’, sometimes shortened to just ‘bowed’. This is usually observed on radar images and often alerts meteorologists that strong winds are likely in a storm complex.

What caused the June 2012 derecho?

The combination of a stalled out front, strong moisture at the surface, and the nocturnal low-level jet (NLLJ) all contributed to the formation of the storm complex. Early in the morning across Iowa, the NLLJ, an area of strong moist low-level winds common across the plains on summer nights, ran up and over the stalled out front. This spawned a small cluster of thunderstorms that began to move east along following the path of the stalled out front.

Archived Surface Analysis
Weather Prediction Center surface analysis from 1200Z (8am EDT) 29 June 2012
Courtesy: WPC/NOAA

As the day went on and the sun climbed through the sky, areas to the south of the stalled front began to heat up, quickly destabilizing the atmosphere ahead of the cluster of storms. In addition to seeing temperatures hit the 90s in the Ohio Valley, dew points were in the 70s, an indication of a strong pool of moisture through much of the area. As the storms passed through this moist and unstable air, they began to grow and expand into a squall line, or for the weather gurus: a ‘quasi-linear convective system’.

“ping-pong” reflectivity loop of the June 2012 Derecho
Courtesy: SPC/NOAA from “The Ohio Valley / Mid-Atlantic Derecho of June 2012”

Once the line of storms crossed into Ohio, it began to ‘bow out’ — the first indication that this line was more than likely to produce strong damaging wind gusts. As the day went on, the length of the line grew to nearly 300 miles, while the average speed of the storms averaged out to just over 60 mph. In total, the storms traveled approximately 700 miles in just 12 hours.

Damage in West Virginia

As a result of the derecho, thousands were left without power, as trees toppled power lines across the state. Many more were left with damage to their homes and vehicles due to flying debris and fallen trees. In total, 22 people lost their lives in the path of the derecho, three were in West Virginia.

The canopy of the Liberty Gas Station off Rt. 19 in Shady Spring, WV was toppled over by the strong winds on June 29, 2012.

Initially, a disaster was declared on June 30, 2012 by FEMA. But it wasn’t until nearly a month later on July 23, 2012, that West Virginia was declared a ‘Major Disaster Area’ by FEMA and then-President Barack Obama. This opened up more federal funds to help with clean-up and rebuilding efforts across the state.

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