Media outlets made full use of the thesaurus to describe the unprecedented storm system, known as a derecho, that swept across large swaths of the country Wednesday night. At least five people are dead and more than 438,000 homes and businesses were without power after unseasonable heat fueled hurricane-force winds, tornadoes, dust storms, snow squalls, and wildfires.
“I’ve been a meteorologist for 40 years, and I’ve seen things that have floored me and boggled my mind,” extreme weather expert Jeff Masters told the Washington Post. “But I would have never thought I would see extremity of the weather I saw last night. The winds were unbelievable.”
The storms came less than a week after tornadoes ripped through eight states last Friday night. The storms, which originated from an atmospheric river that dumped massive amounts of snow and flood-inducing rain on California earlier in the week, produced 500 severe wind reports, including gusts over 100 mph in Colorado, and at least 61 hurricane-force (75+mph) wind gusts across the system, the most ever on record. At some points, the thunderstorms themselves moved as fast as 110 mph.
Climate change, primarily caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, exacerbates some of the atmospheric conditions that fuel severe thunderstorms – such as warm temperatures, and high dew points. Ahead of the derecho, high temperatures smashed daily and monthly records from Texas to Wisconsin. “In the middle of December, it’s obviously extraordinary, unprecedented,” Mike Fowle, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told the New York Times. (Washington Post $, Washington Post $, New York Times $, The Guardian, ABC, NBC, CBS, AP, Axios, Yale Climate Connections, NPR, Bloomberg $, The Hill, Axios, Democracy Now, The Hill; Photos: Gizmodo; Climate Signals background: Air mass temperature increase, Atmospheric moisture increase, December 2021 tornado outbreak)