On Monday, August 10th, 2020, The states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky experienced an event known as a Derecho. By definition, a derecho must include wind gusts of at least 58 mph (50 knots or 93 km/h) or greater along most of its length, with a wind damage swath that must extend more than 250 miles (about 400 kilometers). This storm exceeded all of the criteria to classify it as a derecho by quite a bit. Wind reports started pouring in to the NWS Officies in Sioux Falls and Omaha at 7AM Monday morning, with most being in the 65-70mph range. These reports continued continuously for over 700 miles, and 12 hours. There were wind gusts as high as 112mph(recorded on a hand held anemometer), and sustained winds of over 90mph(recorded on airport weather stations, and city weather stations) from Ankeny/Ames all the way over to the Quad City IA/IL area. The highest sustained winds were between Newton to Marshaltown, and eastward to the area from Wilton to Clarence. Much of this area received winds in excess of 70mph for a period of up to 2 hours. This area also had gusts between 112 and 90mph on a few different occasions.
As many of you know, I am with the Iowa Storm Chasing Network , and we started our coverage of these storms about 8AM, as they moved into Iowa. We continued live coverage until power and internet went down in our broadcast locations near Ankeny and Altoona. At this point, I decided to head west and attempt to cover the storm as it moved east.
I was out chasing during this storm, and was trying to relay information as well as I could from the area near North English. I was attempting to live stream what I was seeing. This quickly became impossible, as the cell service started to die out at 11AM. I switched over to relaying photos via twitter, and direct phone calls to the NWS in the Quad Cities, until I completely lost signal around 12:45PM.
It quickly became apparent to me, within 1 hour after the main part of the storm had passed, that there had been a serious disconnect between the warnings that were issued, and what people had perceived as the threat. Many people were outside of their homes and businesses, wondering around with no aim or intention(similar to what you see in tornadic situations). They had been caught unaware of how strong this system was, despite up to 2 hours of warning time, and a very serious threat outlined in those warnings. My question was how did people not take this as serious as what the warnings had warned about?
The simplest explanation I can give is that there is a disconnect of the human mind between a warning for severe winds, and a warning for a tornado. They don’t equivocate winds to be as dangerous unless the winds are associated with a tornado. Why is this? Multiple studies of past Derecho events in Iowa (2013.2008, and 1998) have all shown that the winds from this type of event are as dangerous, and sometimes more dangerous, than a tornadic storm. Why have people so quickly forgotten about these devastating events? The simple answer? There are usually no tornadoes, or very few confirmed with derechos, because the damage is so widespread and consistent, that it is hard to pinpoint exact tornadic locations without video evidence, and exact coordinates. Even then, differentiating damage from a 112mph wind vs a 112mph tornado is difficult. The only difference is in how debris is scattered, and with the winds being so widespread, evidence can be mutilated before evaluation can happen. We have to stop equivocating a difference in winds based on what the parent storms are doing. Winds are devastating no matter what the parent storm is classified under.
So what can we, the public do to make sure that we aren’t caught unaware the next time that an event like this happens?
1. Etch the memory of this event into your mind, the minds of your childeren, and the minds of anyone who will listen. If more people remember, there will be less shock the next time it happens.
2. Heed all warnings that the NWS gives out. Damage is damage, no matter the cause. Stop treating warning differently just because there is the word tornado attached to the front of them.
3. Hold your state and local politicians accountable for strict building, electrical, and city codes. Make sure that the infrastructure that is put into place will be able to withstand events like this in the future, or at the very least, make sure that they have a plan in place to help with replacing and rebuilding infrastructure in a timely manner. There has been a very bad response to this particular event at the state government level.
What are some things that we, as weather spotters and media can do better? This question, I am unsure of, as the response that I have seen from the local media and NWS, as well as individual media has been spot on. I know we can do better and am open to suggestions.
Finally, after viewing multiple other blogs and articles from across the state and region, I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH THAT THERE NEEDS TO BE A COLLECTIVE RECOGNITION OF WARNINGS, no matter the type, across the entire US. Education is the way to do this. Examples, photos, videos. Don’t let the memory of this fade.
Post Script: After viewing Social media, with the general public, I also have this to say:
There is no comparison between a Derecho and a Hurricane. They are unequivocal in every way. They do different things in different areas, and don’t even resemble each other on radar. The only tie between the two is wind speeds, which are still an unequivocal parallel. Refer to them as what they are. It will help with the education aspect, and with helping to not let this event fade .
Another Addition, After some responses: It is absolutely a necessity to have a working NOAA Weather Radio in your home and place of work, and a mobile version for your car. It appears that this event in particular, there was a reliance on sirens, which is not a good practice.