Your Guide to the Derecho, the Storm That Might Destroy New York City Tonight
Do you like New York City? Or, really, anywhere between Ohio and Connecticut? Because, haha, it might not exist tomorrow. There's a "potential for a widespread damaging wind event/derecho" tonight — and risk of tornadoes around New York City. But what even is a "derecho"? And how can you protect yourself from it?
Am I going to die?
Probably not! I mean, statistically speaking? But I wouldn't go outside if I were you. In 1998, 13 people were killed in New York state in a similar storm; in June, a derecho that eventually hit Washington D.C. killed as many as 23 people. It also left D.C. without power for a week.
What's going to happen?
If you're in New York City, the severe weather is expected to hit around 7:30 p.m. There will probably be heavy winds — possibly as high as, or higher than, 58 m.p.h. — hail, torrential rain, maybe some flash flooding. The power might go out; a few trees might get downed; by dawn people might be fighting each other with rocks over the last scraps of food as society crumbles on the wet asphalt. You know: "the works."
So it's just, like, a big thunderstorm? Why are we saying it might be a "derecho"?
Well, it's more like many big thunderstorms, combined into one huge terrible thunderstorm. Like, you know what a "ratking" is? A derecho is like a ratking made of thunderstorms, charging at you. Sort of.
If a bunch of thunderstorms all get together, in the same place, and form a Voltron storm with a forward-moving, flying-V, bow-shaped front — that's a derecho.
Well, to be a derecho, the storm needs to generate at least 58-mph winds and travel at least 240 miles. It's intense: it moves incredibly quickly and seems to come out of nowhere.
How does it form?
When rain or hail falls through hot air, it cools it down. Because cool air has a higher density than warm air, the rain-cooled air falls (think the opposite of a hot-air ballon); when it hits the ground, it spreads as a strong wind. If those winds are sufficiently strong, the action — which can be as damaging as a tornado — is called a downburst.
Usually, downbursts only cover a few miles. But if enough thunderstorms are gathered together, constantly producing downbursts, they can create downburst clusters that cover hundreds of miles. This is a derecho.
Where does the name come from?
"Derecho" is Spanish for "straight." Downbursts are "straight-line winds," unlike tornados — from the Spanish for "turning" — which are cyclonic.
Okay, but, didn't they say there might be tornados in the New York metro area?
Yes! As it turns out, tornados can form within derechos. In fact, one apparently hit Elmira, N.Y. already.
How can I protect myself?
The big thing to do is stay inside. Look around you: do you see walls and a ceiling? You are doing okay, then. Close your windows. Don't use a landline during the storm. Do you have an outdoor space, like a backyard or balcony? First of all, fuck you. Second of all, secure anything outside, or bring it indoors.
If you are unfortunate enough to be outdoors, don't go around, like, touching flagpoles or trees. In fact, stay away from them. Try to find shelter: you could always try knocking on doors and pretending to be an old crone who will curse the homeowner if he or she turns you away. Maybe sing "Tale as Old as Time" or something, to drop a hint.
Are you driving? Probably you should pull over. Or at least turn on your lights and windshield wipers.
Will New York City actually be destroyed?
How do I pronounce derecho?
Preferably with an exaggerated Spanish accent.
Photo by John Kerstholt/Wikipedia.