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.
More than 4.2 million homes and businesses lost power in the wake of a violent squall line that raced southeast from northern Illinois across Indiana, Ohio, and across the Appalachians to the Virginia coast, a distance of more than 700 miles.
Swaying trees snapped and toppled and brought down power lines. Blinding rain reduced the visibility to near zero.
This was the first time most people would hear the term “derecho” used 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.
The massive bow-shaped squall line, which formed in northern Illinois around 10 a.m., was propelled by exceptionally strong winds that moved the system at forward speeds in excess of 60 mph across the Ohio Valley region in six hours.
Wind gusts at airport weather stations reached 82 mph in the Columbus area, 87 mph in northwestern Ohio, and 91 mph at Fort Wayne, Indiana, causing widespread damage. The storm uprooted and toppled thousands of trees and transmission lines, knocking out power to more than a million customers.
Storm losses totaled $2.8 billion in Ohio. One person was killed by a falling tree. A total of 22 fatalities were attributed to the strong winds, and others died after being without power in the midst of a prolonged heat wave for a week or more.
Some homes in and businesses were without power for up to a week in the blistering heat, forcing residents to cast out food that spoiled while suffering without air conditioning.
Donald Berman, now in Las Vegas, was living in Upper Arlington when the storm blew through the Columbus area, knocking out power on his street for 8 days in scorching heat and humidity.
“We had to use flashlights to use bathrooms,” said Berman. He had 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.
Another violent derecho swept across the Midwest on Aug. 10, 2020, with wind gusts of 120 mph or higher around Cedar Rapids, Ia., resulting in historic losses totaling $11 billion–the greatest in U.S. history for a non-tropical system.