Jeff Haniewich reflects on the Derecho of 2012

Along its entire path, more than 4 million people lost power

By Jeff Haniewich - Chief Meteorologist

Credit: US National Weather Service Blacksburg VA

ROANOKE, Va. - What were you doing on June 29, 2012? I'll bet you may remember. 

In late April of that year, we welcomed our beautiful little girl, MIllie Grace, into the world. I took some time off when she was born, then went back to work and, on that infamous day in late June, I decided to stay home and enjoy a vacation day with my wife and little baby. 

I remember we ate at a Greek restaurant that day, one of our first little jaunts out and about with Millie.

I remember trying to get her inside as quickly as possible because it was SOOO incredibly hot that day. 

We then went home and I looked at the radar around dinnertime and while we had been calling for storms that day, what I saw on the radar up near Illinois was not your average storm complex. 

I told my wife I might need to go in to work because of the nasty storms headed our way. In our job, you’re always on call. 

After a conversation with our former meteorologist, Alyssa Corfont, I decided to get ready for work. 

By the time I was ready to go -- and it didn't take me long -- the storm had already hit our house, literally taking our patio furniture and throwing it into our shrubs.  The storms were moving that fast. 

We had no electricity and we had a 2-month old baby.

Getting into work was nearly impossible. All roads leading from our house to the TV station in downtown Roanoke were closed because of trees and other fallen debris.

I finally got in to cover a little bit of the storm, but the story of this infamous derecho had just begun.

As mentioned earlier, that day was one of the hottest we’ve ever had. As a matter of fact, it was tied for the hottest June day ever.  The low for the day was 84 degrees, while the high was 104. 

We have talked many times about how, the more heat and humidity there is, the more unstable the atmosphere becomes. 

Well, this storm didn’t need any additional fuel to add to the fire. It had more than enough energy on its own. 

But unfortunately, because of the heat and humidity around, even in the early evening, the storm did not weaken much at all as it crossed over the mountains. It hit our area from between 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. that Friday. 

White Sulphur Springs recorded a wind gust of 88 mph, while at the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, an 81 mph wind gust was recorded a little after 9 p.m.  Those were the two strongest wind gusts I could find. 

As the storm moved east towards the coast, it finally started to weaken a bit, but it left behind a mess.

Along its entire path, more than 4 million people lost power.  This was the largest non-hurricane-related power outage ever. 

Locally, many folks, my family included, were without electricity for more than a week.

Along the storm's path, more than a dozen people died from the storm itself, mostly from having trees or other debris fall on them or their homes or vehicles.

It is important to note that not all derechos are this strong.  This storm was the kind that comes once in 50 to 75 years.

Believe it or not, since that late June day five years ago, we've been hit by a few storms that have been considered derechos.

We will not use that term, however, unless we feel as though the storm complex could be as strong as what we once saw. 

It is our policy to not scare you.  Derechos are not uncommon, but a derecho as strong as the one that hit us on June 29, 2012, is, and it will not be forgotten anytime soon. 

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