Remembering the Derecho – Five Years Later

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) June 29, 2012 is a day that many in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio won’t soon forget. A powerful line of storms, known as a “derecho,”  developed just south of Chicago and traveled all the way to the East Coast over the course of 12 hours, leaving a path of destruction more than 600 miles long. The storm was responsible for 22 deaths, close to $3 billion in damage, and left 4-5 million people without power. And our area was one of the hardest hit.

It all began with a very warm and dry spring. March of 2012 was one of the warmest on record, and over the course of April, May, and June, just 3″ of rain was reported in Fort Wayne. Our area should typically see closer to 12″ over the course of those 3 months. With such a persistent hot and dry pattern, it became increasingly more difficult for forecasters to pick up on the typical signals for severe weather.

Visible satellite imagery from 12:25p June 29, 2012. Remnant storms to our northwest began to intensify. Image: NOAA.

On the morning of June 29, 2012, a remnant batch of storms was passing through northern Illinois. This line of storms wasn’t expected to intensify due to the lack of moisture. But, a difference in temperature between the land and Lake Michigan had an impact. The cooler air over the waters of Lake Michigan rushed inland (what is known as a lake breeze), and displaced the warm air over land. That warm air began to quickly rise with extreme instability, and without a cap of warmer air overhead, storms quickly formed and strengthened. An intense line of winds was racing through northwest Indiana by 1:30 that afternoon. This would be classified as a derecho, which is Spanish for “direct” or “straight ahead.” This line rapidly raced southeast at speeds of 50 to 65 mph. The Northern Indiana National Weather Service Office in North Webster began quickly issuing severe thunderstorm warnings for the winds, which were estimated to be up to 60 mph. By 2:50pm, Fort Wayne International Airport recorded a wind gust of 91 mph, which is the equivalent of an EF-1 tornado. That’s also the strongest wind gust reported throughout the entire duration of the event (from northern Illinois to the Eastern Seaboard). The line of storms continued to maintain itself and managed to travel through the Appalachians and all the way to the Nation’s capital. With winds this strong, many trees, some large, came down. Power, and in some cases, water, was out for over 80,000 people in the Fort Wayne area and would not be restored for several days. Some places were left without power for over a week.

If the aftermath of the derecho wasn’t bad enough, it happened to occur during one of the hottest stretches on record in Fort Wayne. Just one day before the storm, Fort Wayne reached 106°, which ties for the all-time warmest thermometer reading on record. The heatwave continued well after the storm, too. In fact, from June 27th through July 18th (22 days), Fort Wayne had temperatures of 90° or above. That’s the longest stretch of consecutive 90° or higher days on record in The Summit City. Four of those days – July 4-7, had temperatures over 100°, which is the most consecutive 100°-days in a row. During this stretch we beat or tied 6 record highs. We also ended up tying 1988 and 1936 for 2nd-most 100°-days in a year because of this stretch. Interestingly enough, we also broke the record for most consecutive days of 80° or warmer that summer – 56 days ending on August 8th. The heatwave made it difficult for people to keep cool. Cooling centers were opened throughout the area and several businesses gave out free ice.

A storm of this magnitude can stay with you for years.  Elissa McGauley said it best about living through the April 3, 1974, tornadoes at a very young age.  She said, “It took me a few years to get over when you hear the wind blowing, ‘is something coming?'” Then her daughter lived through this derecho also at a very young age, creating a bit of a fear of weather.  There are many weather-related phobias, including Lilasophobia (fear of tornadoes and hurricanes).

Parkview Health has some advice for managing anxiety that can come along with storms, which we have included below.

It’s important to have strategies in place to help you cope with your anxiety. These strategies can help soothe anxiety mentally and physically by training your mind and relaxing your body.

Here are a few things you can try:

  • Practice deep breathing. Deep, mindful breathing can result in a sense of relaxation. Natural breathing involves your diaphragm, a large muscle in your abdomen. When you breathe in, your stomach should expand. When you breathe out, your stomach should get smaller. Over time, people forget how to breathe this way and use their shoulders and chest instead. This causes short, shallow breaths, which can increase stress and anxiety.

  • Use progressive muscle relaxation. It’s not as complex as it sounds. Simply focus on alternating between tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout your body. In this way, relaxation is viewed like pendulum. Additionally, by tensing your muscles – a common symptom of anxiety – and immediately relaxing them, the symptom of muscle tension may become a signal to relax over time.

  • Make mindfulness a habit. Using mindfulness to cope with anxiety can be very helpful. Mindfulness is all about being in touch with, and aware of, the present moment. Find a comfortable position in a comfortable environment and close your eyes. Focus your attention on your deep breathing, and pay attention to what it feels like to breathe in and out using your diaphragm. Anytime you notice your mind has wandered away from your breathing, simply identify what took your attention away, then bring your attention back to the present moment. Continue this as long as you like.

  • Reach out to trusted family and friends. Research consistently finds that receiving support from loved ones can help you overcome stress and anxiety. Having someone you trust, and whom you can talk to, can assist you in working through stressful situations and validate your emotions. Your loved ones can also offer support, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, or a joke to boost your mood.

  • Write it down. Using journaling to cope with, and express, your thoughts and feelings can be an effective way to manage your anxiety. It’s been found to improve your physical and psychological health. Simply dedicate 20 minutes each day to writing down your deepest thoughts, feelings and worries. Then, read over what you wrote and pay attention to how you feel. Write about the same few topics several days in a row – this can help you organize and improve the clarity of your thoughts and feelings.

  • Distract yourself. Purposeful use of distraction can help you cope with anxiety. Sometimes, focusing on a strong emotion can make it feel even stronger and more out of control. But, buy distracting yourself, you may give the emotion some time to decrease in intensity, making it easier to manage. You can distract yourself by talking a walk, counting backward from 100, reading a book, doing household chores or focusing on your environment by naming all the colors in the room.

If you daily practice these strategies to manage anxiety and find they’re not working as well as you hoped, it might be time to seek professional help. Call the Parkview Behavioral Health Help Line at (260) 373-7500 or (800) 284-8439, anytime 24 hours a day. Our dedicated assessment specialists are available to guide you to the appropriate level of care – or resources – for your situation.

Or you can click here for a list of local anxiety therapists.