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June 29, 2012: The day “Derecho” became a household name

The region's notorious wind storm that became a household name
Published: Jun. 29, 2017 at 12:30 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 29, 2020 at 12:57 PM EDT
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Hours after the historic wind storm moved through on June 29, 2012, the term “Derecho” (pronounced “deh-RAY-cho”), became a common term for those in our area that lived through it.

It has been nearly a decade since the rare wind storm barreled into the region, after a day of record, triple-digit heat.

THE DAY OF THE EVENT

The region had seen several days of extremely hot temperatures. The morning of June 29th, the overnight low was 84º, and had we not cooled down after the wind storm moved through, it would have been record-setting.

The afternoon high of 104º did set a record, a tie for the hottest June temperature on record, and the warmest June day in over two decades.

The extreme heat helped provide the fuel for the storm complex that started near Chicago early in the evening, then expanded and got stronger, moving through southwest and Central Virginia between 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. that evening.

The mountains did manage to weaken the storms some, but not enough to keep it from producing an 88 mph wind gust in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. As the storms moved east of the Highlands, Roanoke recorded a wind gust of 81 mph at the airport.

The storm complex continued eastward, gradually getting weaker before exiting the eastern seaboard.

June 29, 2012 derecho that swept through the Mid Atlantic.
June 29, 2012 derecho that swept through the Mid Atlantic.(National Weather Service)

POWER OUTAGES

More than 4 million customers lost power due to the multi-state wind event. This was the largest non-hurricane outage on record, which left many customers without electricity for a week or more. Not to mention, the outage came during a time when the region was experiencing some of the hottest weather since the early 1900s.

DEATHS

More than a dozen died as a result of the wind event itself, mostly from trees falling onto homes or vehicles. Another 34 died from heat-related illnesses due to the lack of electricity in the days that followed.

THE FORECAST

Unlike many major tornado outbreaks in the recent past, this particular event was not forecast well in advance. Warm-season derechos, in particular, are often difficult to forecast and frequently result from subtle, small-scale events that are difficult to predict less than 12 hours in advance.

With better data and model improvements, more recent wind events have been better predicted with up to 18 to 24 hours notice.

According to a National Weather Service assessment of the Derecho, overall, lead times (advanced warning) were greater than 30 minutes and all deaths occurred within severe thunderstorm warning polygon boundaries.

The bigger issue was getting those warnings out to those in the path.

WDBJ COVERAGE AND NEW WAYS TO WARN

As the line of storms reached central West Virginia, continuous coverage on TV resumed until the event cleared the entire region.

Social media was in its infancy and not everyone had Facebook and Twitter. While warnings went out to television and app subscribers, those that were hoping to be alerter through social media were out of luck due to the algorithms used by Facebook.

After the Derecho, WDBJ7 invested in cutting-edge technology for its weather app. The technology uses geo-fencing or targets specific hometowns. This allows the meteorologist to send out area-specific alerts and custom videos to warn of approaching weather events using the WDBJ7 Weather App.

“The technology developed by The Weather Company and IBM, was used extensively during the recent tornado outbreaks and flooding events,” explains Chief Meteorologist Brent Watts. “We are committed to using every piece of technology possible to keep our viewers informed of dangerous weather, and ultimately keep them safe.”

Download the WDBJ7 Weather app for Free in the App store.

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