Regions of South Jersey and South Eastern Pennsylvania experienced a series of storms on Wednesday afternoon and night that caused some serious damage. Many were referring to it as a "mini-hurricane" or a tornado. The type of storm to hit those areas actually has a name and you've probably never heard of it. It's called a "derecho".

The name is so unrecognizable that spellcheck doesn't even register that "derecho" is a real word. So, what exactly is a derecho?

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identifies a derecho as a windstorm combined with thunderstorms and heavy rain that causes damage in a straight line. Basically, contrary to that of a tornado or hurricane, the damage left behind by a derecho can normally be traced by a straight line leaving experts to conclude that the specific wind pattern of this type of storm is, in fact, a straight path.

That's what South Jersey experienced yesterday. The storms were moving so fast and, if you paid attention to the radar, it looked like it basically traveled in a straight line down the both pikes and the AC Expressway.

The NOAA says that "falling debris" and "cloud-to-ground lightening" are what you most need to worry about if you're caught outside during a derecho:

"Falling debris is the most serious hazard posed by a derecho to those without shelter; cloud-to-ground lightning strikes are an additional hazard. Lie flat and face-down on low ground, protecting the back of your head with your arms. If possible, avoid trees; even relatively small branches can become lethal when blown by storm winds."

- NOAA

They also offer an explanation as to why so many South Jersey residents lost power and why it may take a while for it to be restored:

 

"...It is the vulnerability of overhead electric and communication lines to high winds and falling trees that makes derecho winds especially problematic in urban areas. In addition to posing a direct hazard to anyone caught below the falling lines, derecho damage to overhead electrical facilities sometimes results in massive, long-lasting power outages that can affect hundreds of thousands of people; in the worst events, power may not be restored for days. The complex and dense networks of overhead distribution lines --- and their proximity to large trees --- make urban and suburban areas especially vulnerable to significant derecho-induced electrical and communication outages. In addition, unlike the localized damage produced by a tornado, derecho damage may be widespread, with repairs requiring considerably more time and effort to accomplish." - NOAA

 

The best way to be prepared for this fast-moving storm is to, quite plainly, pay attention to warnings and weather reports.

Source: SPC.NOAA.GOV