Public misunderstood severity of June 2012 storm

Authored by Jim Langham on Feb 22, 2013

National Weather Service officials issued a report a few days ago indicating a self-study review of their handling of the June 29, 2012 derecho event that felled trees, damaged buildings and left wide spread power outages across northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio.
The report, which was issued by the local NWS service in North Webster, stated that although weather officials did a good job of issuing warnings, the warnings did not communicate the eminent danger of the severe storm to much of the public.
The self-evaluation review noted that although the local agency carried out its responsibilities on a short-term basis, there was no warning given of possible conditions that could create such a storm 24 hours in advance as is often the case with anticipated tornado and severe weather outbreaks.
Michael Lewis, warning coordinator for the National Weather Service in northern Indiana, said that the rare storm formed over northern Illinois with winds of 60 mph but by the time it reached Columbia City, the winds had increased to 75 miles per hour. However, wind gusts at the Fort Wayne International Airport were reported to be 91 miles per hour, the wind strength of category one hurricane.
Weather specialist Rick McCoy agreed that the weather assessment indicated that there were some things to be ironed out about reporting such a storm and noted that the rarity of such an event made reporting difficult for both weather service officials and the general public, who didn’t know how to interpret what was coming.
Another big factor in the confused reporting said McCoy was the fact that the area had been under several weeks of severe drought conditions. For several weeks, storms had formed over northern Illinois and moved toward the local area, hit the dry air in the drought, and died out before they reached the Fort Wayne area.
“Weather service officials knew that they were taking a chance either way, but they were speculating that the pattern that had been established might also apply to this event. Quite obviously the derecho storm defied all speculation and became its own weather maker,” said McCoy.
“In spite of all of the damage, for many areas, the rain associated with the storm had been the first that had fallen in weeks,” said McCoy. “In most cases, however, the storm was moving across the area so fast that it didn’t have the time to drop large amounts of rain.”
McCoy said that not only did the pattern in place from the drought confuse weather officials, local residents had become so used to watching storms form to the west of us and then dry up, they assumed that the same would happen again, so they didn’t take weather alerts real seriously.
As it turned out, the storm traveled 700 miles over 12 hours, racing from northern Indiana to the southern Mid-Atlantic coast. More than 600 damage reports were received by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center.
The storm held its violent nature together so much that an 81 mph wind gust was still reported at Tuckertown, New Jersey, the next morning.
Weather service officials said that the rare storm had been caused by a ripple in the jet stream fueled by the intense heat wave settled over the eastern half of the nation at time.
McCoy added that it is too early to tell, but the lack of moisture this winter would seemingly indicate that drought conditions could continue this summer. He noted that severe drought remains through much of the country’s mid-section and could expand into the Midwest again this summer.


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