Severe Weather Awareness Week: remembering the 1998 derecho
The National Weather Service (NWS) has declared March 21st - 25th "Severe Weather Awareness Week." Fittingly scheduled the day after the first day of spring, Severe Weather Week is the NWS' reminder to try and take a proactive approach to potentially inclement weather.
It can also been seen as the opportune time to go over your household's emergency plan and first aid kits, and assess where you obtain your weather updates.
Being a lifelong Midwesterner, I've never known life without the threat of tornadoes. The sound of a tornado siren is something I can't unhear, having overheard several drills, and more than a few times heard it for its intended purpose: to alert people that tornadic activity is underway.
For some in the area, Severe Weather Week might be a time to recall the famous "Corn Belt derecho," a massive storm that occurred on June 29th, 1998. A derecho is a straight-line wind-storm, also boasting a cluster of thunderstorms within it. The one that occurred in 1998 developed over South Dakota and tracked into central Iowa.
After having developed over South Dakota in the morning, the storm traveled to Iowa by midday. When it finally touched down, the NWS Weather Office in Dubuque reported wind gusts ranging from 80 to 100 mph. Washington, IA's reported wind gust of 123 mph was the highest unofficial recorded wind gust in the history of the state up until the 2020 Midwest derecho.
The storm lasted approximately ten hours, lessening in impact after blowing through Illinois and tapering off significantly by the time it reached Kentucky. When all was said and done, 20 tornadoes were reported and 85 people were injured in central Iowa alone. Over eight states, the derecho and accompanying tornadoes killed one person and injured 174.
Most likely, we all remember a storm or two that scared us or caused us to rethink the threat of severe weather as a whole. On Severe Weather Week, the importance to stay "weather aware" remains more than just significant; it could ultimately be a life-saver.