‘Derecho’ Storm System Leaves Millions without Power as Heat Wave Persists

A massive system of thunderstorms downed hundreds of trees up and down the East coast and left 14 people dead.

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REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

A child looks at a house struck by a tree after a violent thunderstorm ripped through the area on Saturday evening, in Falls Church, Virginia June 30, 2012.

Three million storm-ravaged residents across the eastern U.S. are still without electricity as they deal with the aftermath of last week’s devastating storms, and they could be in for a long wait.

The storms, known as ‘derecho’ – Spanish for ‘straight’ – are a phenomenon in which massive bands of thunderstorms sweep in, bringing  high winds and torrential rain. With winds gusting up to 58 miles an hour, the storm downed hundreds of trees from North Carolina to New Jersey and left 14 people dead.

With the high temperatures that set the scene for Friday’s storm expected to last for another week, some meteorologists are warning that another derecho is not out of the question, though it would be difficult to repeat the exact conditions, says meteorologist Tom Kines at AccuWeather.com:

“There were a few ingredients that fell into place at the some time. First off the record heat – it was around 100F on Friday. Then there was the humidity. On top of that there was also a small piece of energy in the upper atmosphere.”

For areas such as Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and the District of Columbia and Virginia, where states of emergency have already been declared, this comes as unwelcome news.

Maryland’s Governor, Martin O’Malley, said: “Unlike a polite hurricane that gives you three days of warning, this storm gave us all the impact of a hurricane without the warning of a hurricane.”

Due to the sheer scale of destruction wrought, utility officials claim it could take days to restore power to all customers, leaving many without crucial air conditioning as the mercury is set to approach 100 degrees. Many are flocking to malls and movie theatres to escape the heat.

Other services have also gone down – in Washington’s northern Virginia suburbs, 911 calls were out of service and cellphone and internet service was also intermittent. Gas stations have been shut down and residents have been ordered to conserve water.

Sites such as Netflix, Instagram and Pinterest were also affected – subscribers were kept up to date through Twitter and Facebook on the outages instead. These sites are connected to Amazon’s servers based in Northern Virginia, and went down following the power outage. All three are back in action now.