A derecho (from Spanish: "derecho" meaning "right") is a widespread and long-lived, violent convectively induced straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms usually taking the form of a bow echo. Derechos blow in the direction of movement of their associated storms, similar to a gust front, except that the wind is sustained and generally increases in strength behind the "gust" front. A warm weather phenomenon, derechos occur mostly in summer, especially 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.

The traditional criteria that distinguish a derecho from a severe thunderstorm are sustained winds of 58 mph/92 km/h during the storm as opposed to gusts, high and/or rapidly increasing forward speed, and geographic extent (typically in length. ) In addition, they have a distinctive appearance on radar (bow echo); several unique features, such as the rear inflow notch and bookend vortex, and usually manifest two or more downbursts.

Although these storms most commonly occur in North America, derechos may infrequently occur elsewhere in the world. Outside North America they may be called by different names. For example, in Bangladesh and adjacent portions of India, a type of storm known as a "Nor'wester" may be a progressive derecho.


Derecho comes from the Spanish word for "right". The word was first used in the American Meteorological Journal in 1888 by Gustavus Hinrichs. The word "tornado" derives from the Spanish word tornar meaning "to turn".


Derechos come from a band of thunderstorms that are bow- or spearhead-shaped, and hence are also called a bow echo or spearhead radar echo. The size of the bow may vary and the storms may die and redevelop. Winds in a derecho can be enhanced by downburst clusters embedded inside the storm. These straight-line winds can exceed 100 mph (160 km/h) (in some cases, sustained wind) in these clusters and straight-line wind gusts of up to 200 mph (250 km/h) are possible in the most extreme cases. Tornadoes sometimes form within derecho events, although such are often difficult to confirm due to the additional damage caused by straight-line winds in the immediate area.

On the other hand, with the average tornado in the United States and Canada rating in the low end of the F/EF1 classification at 85-100 mph peak winds and most or all of the rest of the world even lower, derechoes tend to deliver the vast majority of extreme wind over much of the territory in which they occur. Data compiled by the United States' National Weather Service and other organisations shows that a large swath of the North Central United States and presumably at least the adjacent sections of Canada and much of the surface of the Great Lakes can expect winds above to as high as over a significant area at least once in any 50-year period, including both convective events and extra-tropical cyclones and other events deriving power from baroclinic sources. Only in 40-65 per cent or so of the United States resting on the coast of the Atlantic basin and a fraction of the Everglades are derechoes surpassed in this respect -- by landfalling hurricanes which can be understood from all practical standpoints as being F1 to F3 tornadoes 10 to 100+ miles across.

Certain derecho situations are the most common instances of severe weather outbreaks which can become less favourable to tornado production as they become more violent; the height of the 30-31 May 1998 upper Middle West-Canada-New York State derecho and the latter stages of significant tornado and severe weather outbreaks in 2003 and 2004 are but only three examples of this. Some upper-air measurements used for severe-weather forecasting can reflect this point of diminishing returns for tornado formation, and the mentioned three situations were instances during which the rare but quite possible particularly dangerous situation severe thunderstorm variety of severe weather watches were issued from the Storm Prediction Center of the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

An example of a PDS Severe Thunderstorm Watch is Severe Thunderstorm Watch No. 807, issued on 04. August 2008 during the Chicago derecho:

Downbursts in general are extremely common in derechoes and the rotor variety can also cause damage in a circular pattern.


Derechos in North America form from May to August, peaking in frequency during July. During this time of year, derechos are mostly found in the Ohio Valley, Upper Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes region including southern Canada, mostly in Southwestern Ontario. During mid-summer if a hot and muggy airmass covers most of the north-central US they will often develop in Manitoba or Northwestern Ontario, near or just north of the US-Canadian border. North Dakota, Minnesota and upper Michigan are also vulnerable to derecho storms when such conditions are in place. They often occur during periods of extreme heat along stationary fronts on the northern side of where the most intense heat and humidity is occurring. Late-year derechos are confined to Texas and the deep south, although a late-summer derecho struck upper New York State after midnight on September 7, 1998.

Derechos have been known to occur in other parts of the world. One such event occurred on July 10, 2002 in Germany. A serial derecho killed eight people and injured 39 near Berlin. They have been seen in Argentina and South Africa as well, in addition to Canada in rare occasions to or above the 60th parallel.


There are three types of derechos:

  • Serial derecho - Multiple bow echoes embedded in a massive squall line typically around 250 miles (400 km) long. This type of derecho is usually associated with a very deep low. One example of the serial type is a derecho that occurred during the Storm of the Century (1993) in Florida. Also because of embedded supercells, tornadoes can easily spin out of these types of derechos.
  • Progressive derecho - A small line of thunderstorms take the bow-shape and can travel for hundreds of miles. An example of this is the Boundary Waters-Canadian Derecho of July 4 and July 5, 1999.
  • Hybrid derecho - Has characteristics of a serial and progressive derecho. These types of derechos are associated with a deep low like serial derechos, but are relatively small in size like progressive derechos. An example is the one that moved through the central Northern Plains and the Southern Great Lakes on May 30/May 31, 1998.

According to the National Weather Service criterion, a derecho is classified as a band of storms that have winds of at least 50 knots (58 mph or 93 km/h) along the entire span of the derecho.

Damage risk

Since derechos occur during warm months and often in places with cold winter climates, people who are most at risk are those involved in outdoor activities. Campers, hikers, and motorists are most at risk because of falling trees toppled over by straight line winds. Most casualties in derechos come from trees falling on cars. People who live in mobile homes are also at risk. Mobile homes that are not anchored to the ground can be overturned from the high winds.

See also


World Wide Web

Printed Media

  • Ashley, Walker S., et al (2004). "Derecho Families". Proceedings of the 22nd Conference on Severe Local Storms , American Meteorological Society, Hyannis, MA.
  • Ashley, Walker S., et al (2005). "Derecho Hazards in the United States" Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 86 (11), pp. 1577–92.
  • Ashley, Walker S., et al (2005). "On the episodic nature of derecho-producing convective systems in the United States" International Journal of Climatology, 25 (14), pp 1915-32.
  • Bentley, Mace L., and Thomas L. Mote (1998). "A Climatology of Derecho-Producing Mesoscale Convective Systems in the Central and Eastern United States, 1986–95. Part I: Temporal and Spatial Distribution" Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 79 (11), pp. 2527–40.
  • Bentley, Mace L., et al (2000). "A synoptic climatology of derecho producing mesoscale convective systems in the North-Central Plains" International Journal of Climatology, 20 (11), pp 1329-49.
  • Burke, Patrick C., and David M. Schultz (2004). "A 4-Yr Climatology of Cold-Season Bow Echoes over the Continental United States" Weather and Forecasting, 19 (6), pp. 1061–74.
  • Coniglio, Michael C., et al (2004). "An Observational Study of Derecho-Producing Convective Systems" Weather and Forecasting, 19 (2), pp. 320–37.
  • Coniglio, Michael C. and David J. Stensrud (2004). "Interpreting the Climatology of Derechos" Weather and Forecasting, 19 (3), pp. 595–605.
  • Extreme Convective Windstorms: Current Understanding and Research (Report of the Proceedings (1994) of the U.S.-Spain Workshop on Natural Hazards (Barcelona, Spain, 8-11 June 1993), J. Corominas and K.P. Georgakakos, Eds., pp. 44-55)
  • Doswell, Charles A., and Jeffry S. Evans (2003). "Proximity sounding analysis for derechos and supercells: an assessment of similarities and differences" Atmospheric Research, 67–68, pp. 117–33.
  • Evans, Jeffry S., and Charles A Doswell III (2001). "Examination of Derecho Environments Using Proximity Soundings" Weather and Forecasting, 16 (3), pp. 329–42.
  • Johns, Robert H., and W. D. Hirt, W. (1987). "Derechos: Widespread Convectively Induced Windstorms" Weather and Forecasting, 2 (1), pp 32-49.
  • Przybylinski, Ron W. (1995). "The Bow Echo: Observations, Numerical Simulations, and Severe Weather Detection Methods" Weather and Forecasting, 10 (2), pp. 203–18.

External links

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