COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – During the height of the afternoon rush hour on June 29, 2012, the skies darkened suddenly in Columbus, followed by violent, swirling gusts of wind and torrential downpours beginning around 5 p.m.

Swaying trees snapped and toppled, knocking down power lines. Blinding rain reduced the visibility to near zero in swirling winds gusting more than 70 mph in central Ohio.

This was the first time many people would be introduced to the term “derecho” in a weather report, which designates a long-lived thunderstorm system tracking at least 400 miles, and causing a nearly unbroken trail of damaging winds in excess of 58 mph over a minimum of 240 miles.

More than 4.2 million homes and businesses lost power in the wake of the intense squall line that raced southeast from northern Illinois across Indiana, Ohio, and later through the Appalachians to the Virginia coast early on June 30, a distance of more than 700 miles.

A large tree blocking the road in Hilliard, Ohio, after the June 29, 2012, windstorm. (Ben Gelber)

The powerful storm system that formed near Chicago around 10 a.m. from a small cluster of storms, fed by exceptional heat and moisture (humidity) would be propelled by exceptionally strong winds that drove the system at a forward speed of more than 60 mph for 10 hours. The most rapid movement occurred through northern Indiana and central Ohio near the apex of the bowing squall line.

A total of 22 deaths were directly attributed to the intense winds along the path of the derecho, and the damage totaled $2.9 billion.

Wind gusts reached 82 mph at the Ohio State University Airport in northwest Columbus, 87 mph in northwestern Ohio, and 91 mph at Fort Wayne, Indiana, causing widespread damage. The storm uprooted and toppled thousands of trees and blew down transmission lines, knocking out power to more than a million customers in Ohio.

Physical stress brought on by unrelenting heat and humidity duriing the days that followed when many lost power resulted in additional deaths. Some households and businesses in central Ohio were without power for up to a week, forcing residents to cast out food that spoiled without air-conditioning.

Donald Berman, now residing n Las Vegas, Nevada, lived in Upper Arlington when the storm blew through the Columbus area. He said his power was out for 8 days in the midst of scorching heat and humidity.

“We had to use flashlights to use bathrooms,” said Berman. He used a small Igloo cooler and made daily trips to purchase ice, “so we could have something cold to drink or eat.” Without power, the basics from hot water to charging cell phones were not options.

More recently, a massive derecho swept across the Midwest on Aug. 10, 2020, with wind gusts reaching at least 120 mph at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, resulting in historic losses from a summer thunderstorm system of $11 billion