Some thunderstorms can reach destructive wind speeds as strong as those of hurricanes and tornadoes. Such winds, however, don’t always rotate like their counterparts, but may travel in straight lines. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), straight-line winds that range in speed from at least 58 mph to 130 mph are known as derechos—meaning “straight ahead” in Spanish.


Where Do Derechos Typically Occur?

Derechos most commonly occur in the Midwest. Still, they are relatively rare there and may happen only once yearly in that region. Occasionally they can develop as far as the Northeast.


On August 10, 2020 NOAA tracked a Midwest derecho as it swept across parts of eastern Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Lightening, high winds, torrential rain, large hail, and a rash of weak tornadoes generated by the storm impacted many jurisdictions and caused over 1 million homes and businesses to lose power.


To stay safe during a derecho you should seek shelter in the same way you would a tornado or a hurricane, since high winds can cause power outages, flying debris, falling trees, and other serious hazards.


How Does a Derecho Develop?

A derecho is based on the occurrence of what is known as a “downburst.” A downburst happens when wet air inside of a thunderstorm mingles with the surrounding drier air, and the water in the air evaporates and cools down the air around it. Because the cool air is denser it quickly falls to the ground and generates powerful winds called downbursts.


A downburst can suck additional dry air into the storm, and create stronger downbursts and clusters of downbursts. Derechos occur when ideal conditions for downbursts come together over a wide area. Derechos are enormous storms with a path of damage that stretches at least 240 miles.

As a derecho increases in size it creates “bow echoes,” which are large curved groups of thunderstorms that speed in one direction.

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