Extreme storms and extreme heat hit the U.S.

By Dr. Jeff Masters
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Published: 5:50 PM GMT on June 30, 2012

A violent line of organized severe thunderstorms called a derecho swept across the U.S. from Illinois to Virginia on Friday, damaging houses, toppling trees, bringing down power lines. The storms killed six people in Virginia, two in New Jersey, and one in Maryland, and left at least 3.4 million people without power. The thunderstorms in a derecho (from the Spanish phrase for "straight ahead") create violent winds that blow in a straight line. The traditional definition of a derecho is a thunderstorm complex that produces a damaging wind swath of at least 240 miles (about 400 km), featuring a concentrated area of thunderstorm wind gusts exceeding 58 mph (93 km/hr.) A warm weather phenomenon, derechos occur mostly in summer, especially June and July in the Northern Hemisphere. They can occur at any time of the year and occur as frequently at night as in the daylight hours. As seen on our wundermap with the "go back in time" feature turned on, Friday's derecho began near Chicago in the early afternoon, then marched east-southeast, peaking in intensity over Virginia and Washington D.C. on Friday evening. The derecho was unusually intense due to the extreme heat, which helped create an unstable atmosphere with plenty of energy to fuel severe thunderstorms.


Figure 1. Radar image from our wundermap with the "go back in time" feature turned on for 11 pm EDT Friday June 29, 2012, showing the derecho over Washington D.C. and Baltimore. Click on the "hour" button above the wundermap to advance the time by one hour to watch the progress of the derecho across the country.


Figure 2. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) logged 871 reports of damaging winds on Friday. Twenty one of these reports were for winds over 80 mph. The highest wind gust was in Oswego, Illinois: 92 mph.



Figure 3. A dramatic change in the weather in Buckeye land: the temperature at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio dropped from 97°F to 68° after passage of Friday's derecho. The storm brought a wind gust of 82 mph to campus, and 0.86" of rain.

Historic heat wave topples Dust Bowl-era extreme heat records
A historic heat wave on a scale and intensity not seen in the U.S. since the great heat waves of the 1930s Dust Bowl era set new all-time heat records for at least ten major cities Friday. According to wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt, fifteen of the 303 major cities he maintains records for on the wunderground extremes page have set all-time heat records in the past four days. The only year with more all-time heat records is 1936, when 61 cities set all-time heat records. In 2011, which had the 2nd warmest summer in U.S. history, only ten of the 303 cities set all-time heat records during the entire summer. With the the hottest month of the year (July) still to come, 2012 threatens to rival the great Dust Bowl summer of 1936 for extreme heat.

All-time records for any date tied or broken on Friday:

109° Nashville, TN (old record 107° 7/28/1952
109° Columbia, SC (old record 107° on two previous occasions)
109° Cairo, IL (old record 106° on 8/9/1930)
108° Paducah, KY (ties same on 7/17/1942
106° Chattanooga, TN (ties same on 7/28/1952)
105° Raleigh, NC (ties same on 8/21/2007 and 8/18/1988)
105° Greenville, SC (old record 104° 8/10/2007 although 106° was recorded by the Signal Service in July 1887)
104° Charlotte, NC (ties same on 8/9 and 10/2007 and 9/6/1954)
102° Bristol, TN (ties same on 7/28/1952-this site now known as `Tri-State Airport')
109° Athens, GA. This is just 1° shy of the Georgia state record for June of 110° set at Warrenton in 1959.

All-time state June heat records set Friday:

113° Smyrna, TN (old record 110° in Etowah in June 1936)
109° Cairo, IL (old record 108° in Palestine in June 1954)

Also of note: Atlanta, GA hit 104° (its all-time June record), and just 1° shy of its all-time record of 105° set on 7/17/1980. The forecast for Atlanta on Saturday calls for a high of 105°F, which would tie for the hottest day in the city's history.

Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt has a new post called The Amazing June Heat Wave of 2012 Part 1: The West and Plains June 23 - 27 summarizing the early portion of this week's historic heat wave. He plans to make a follow-up post on Sunday summarizing the records set on Friday and Saturday.

Relatively quiet in the Atlantic
An area of heavy thunderstorms, associated with an upper level low pressure system, has developed in the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas coast. This disturbance will probably move ashore over Texas before development into a tropical depression can occur, and NHC is giving it a 0% chance of development. The tropical wave approaching the Lesser Antilles (Invest 97L) has dissipated due to dry air, and is no longer a threat. None of the reliable computer models are developing anything during the next seven days.

Jeff Masters

Chicago Shelf (LarrySmit)
Chicago Shelf, by LarrySmit
Summer Heat (gardner48197)
Summer Heat, by gardner48197
Smokey Clouds (LarrySmit)
Asperatus Clouds
Smokey Clouds, by LarrySmit
And the Sky Opened Up! (webgal)
Much needed thunderstorms came through west-central Illinois late this evening. The lightning was absolutely incredible!
And the Sky Opened Up!, by webgal
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About The Author
Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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Extreme storms and extreme heat hit the U.S.

A violent line of organized severe thunderstorms called a derecho swept across the U.S. from Illinois to Virginia on Friday, damaging houses, toppling trees, bringing down power lines. The storms killed six people in Virginia, two in New Jersey, and one in Maryland, and left at least 3.4 million people without power. The thunderstorms in a derecho (from the Spanish phrase for "straight ahead") create violent winds that blow in a straight line. The traditional defini...

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