What is a 'derecho'? Climatologist explains Saturday's powerful storm
The storm that moved across Ontario and Quebec Saturday is known as a “derecho”, a powerful kind of windstorm that is long lasting and far-reaching.
The derecho storm that slashed across southern Ontario and Quebec before moving into Maine left a path of destruction in its wake, and was responsible for at least eight deaths, including three in eastern Ontario.
Environment Canada Senior Climatologist David Phillips explains that a derecho is not a common term.
“It’s not a word we use very often because they don’t occur that often,” he told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s ‘CFRA Live with Andrew Pinsent’ on Sunday. “It’s sort of like a microburst or a thunderstorm but you get a whole army of those. Imagine soldiers lined up and just mowing down the front lines as they move along. Meteorologically, that’s essentially what happens.”
The storm moved into Canada from Michigan at around 11 a.m. Saturday, hitting London, Ont., Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, Kingston, and Ottawa, before moving up into Quebec and then to Maine.
“This storm was almost about 1,000 kilometres from Michigan to Maine as it went across Ontario and Quebec. That’s what a derecho is, it’s a long line of very active thunderstorms or microburst kind of situations. Nothing can deter it. It just marches along,” said Phillips.
Phillips said a derecho often has tornado-like or even hurricane-force winds. Ottawa saw wind gusts of up to 120 km/h and other locations saw even stronger winds.
But tornadoes, which are rotational storms, can still be embedded in the generally straight line of a derecho.
“There could be tornadoes embedded in that kind of derecho. I haven’t heard of a tornado report, but it doesn’t mean it can’t produce it,” he explained.
Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project says it is investigating in the Uxbridge, Ont. area and just south of Ottawa, for evidence of possible tornadoes.
Just last week, the Northern Tornadoes Project confirmed an EF0 landspout tornado in the Casselman area, Ontario’s first tornado of the 2022 season.
Phillips says May can be a fickle month when it comes to the weather.
“You have that combination of warm, humid air that’s possible,” he said, noting the storm moved in when it was 30 degrees with a humidex of 38 on Saturday. “There is always that possibility of warm air in May, but the cold air in May is never too far away.”
It’s when cold, dry air hits warm, moist air that powerful storms can be produced, Phillips said.
“You can get air mass thunderstorms in July, but what you’re getting in May is that combination of the warm air duking it out with the cold air. In the springtime, this is why you can get some violent weather,” Phillips said.
“When you get that kind of one atmosphere changing to another, it’s usually heralded by some wild weather, and there it was.”