Derecho: Welcome to Anthropocene Glossary

Had you ever in your life heard this meteorological term before June 29, 2012? Not me, and I consider myself a bit of a weather-watcher now for years.

Want to bet that derecho is here to stay? I would put money on it.

It was first used to describe a storm back in the 1870s, according to wikipedia. It comes from the Spanish word for direct, because unlike the spinning winds of a tornado, a derecho (duh RAY ko) has straight-line winds that can rival a hurricane. At the front edge of such a consolidated storm system there might be downbursts, as seems to have happened with our recent derecho.

The June 2012 derecho got its very own wikipedia page. Right now, its a modern-day record breaker. But have you noticed, by chance, how many weather and climate records are being broken lately?

Yesterday’s extremes are becoming today’s new and disturbing normal.

Derecho winds gain strength from cells of extremely hot air. I’d be willing to bet that we might even hear again this summer of widespread hurricane-force squall lines related to excessive and prolonged hot weather. We’re only in the third week of summer, after all.

Here’s what the storm looked like not long before it hit Floyd County  the evening of June 29. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Down in our valley, it passed over us, so that I was shocked to see the impact on the rest of the area the next day.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. One good thing about the derecho is that I was able to test my new roof that was the result of the Spring hail storm in Meadows of Dan. I don’t like it when extremes become norm.

  2. Me neither Bill, and the sad fact is that we are starting to become accustomed to it.
    And still there are climate change cynics out there merrily fiddling while the planet burns

    In the UK we had a drought until, two months ago, it began to rain and now we have floods

  3. Wow. The picture is pretty impressive. We were fortunate on this side of the street in downtown Rocky Mount, but the other side, two weeks later, still looks like a war zone.

  4. What I didn’t like about it is that our normally trustworthy weather people were caught so unawares and failed to give us any warning whatsoever. A 10 x 20 foot awning, fully deployed is not compatible with 60 to 70 mph straight-line winds. What a picture three, old people hanging onto it, trying to keep it from being torn loose from its mountings made. All the while, the clouds which were zooming past overhead grew darker and more threatening. Our home is on of the highest lots available in this subdivision. We chose it for exactly that reason. We were concerned with drainage problems. There’s no water to worry about at this time but I’ve never seen the grass burnt so badly by the sun either. All the earth has shrunk back away from the foundation. Now we wait for the other shoes to drop; when rain finally does come at some point and there’s way too much of it as it usually does. Then again, climate change may alter that pattern also.
    Could northern Kentucky become a desert? Who can say these days?

  5. I was at Tuggles Gap when the derecho (the last syllable is soft, not hard – it is Spanish for “straight ahead”) came roaring through. I actually thought it was just higher gusts than normally come through that area. I didn’t find out what had happened until I went to breakfast the next morning. There wasn’t much damage out by the Cannaday School that I saw – just a few branches down and the road littered with small boughs. Seems as though the damage was spotty and concentrated in certain areas – somewhat like the tornadoes embedded in hurricanes that destroy one house and leave the neighboring one intact. And no, I’d never heard of a derecho storm, either.