A violent weather phenomenon that swept across eastern U.S. states, including Ohio, killed 13 and is expected to leave a million in the state and hundreds of thousands in the Miami Valley without power for days.
The rare storm system, fueled by extreme heat and humidity, produced hurricane- and tornado-like winds in the region Friday, toppling power lines and trees and causing severe property damage, fatally injuring some in its wake.
“I would call it a derecho, or a very high straight-line wind event. It happens more in the plains. It occurs in the summertime in Minnesota. It sometimes makes it into Ohio. But it’s a rare event. Those kinds of winds are stronger than a low-end hurricane,” National Weather Service meteorologist Allen Randall said.
The storm stretched about 700 miles and affected 10 states from Iowa to the mid-Atlantic, an area that sees a derecho only once a year.
“This happens when you have that extreme heat. The way it keeps going is when you get rain that cools the air and warm air that rises, and it keeps on fueling it,” Storm Center 7 meteorologist Erica Collura said.
There’s a chance of severe, isolated storms today. The main threat is damaging winds and pea-sized hail, she said.
The concerns are trees or branches already weakened by Friday’s storm, she said.
One utility said the storm that hit Friday was the worst Ohio has seen since the remnants of Hurricane Ike in 2008 did more than $1 billion in damage.
The storm came after a week of scorching heat when temperatures reached 102 degrees on Thursday — tying the record for hottest day in the region set in 1944. Temperatures reached 99 degrees the day of the storm, National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Hatzos said.
Authorities have confirmed at least 13 deaths related to the storms that swept across the eastern U.S. Deaths have been reported in Virginia; Maryland; Washington, D.C.; New Jersey and Ohio.
The thunderstorms began in Chicago early Friday afternoon and grew as it went across Indiana and into Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia, Hatzos said.
“It’s rare to have something that has that size and longevity. To have something that develops in Chicago and goes to Virginia and to last as long as it did is rare. It doesn’t happen that often,” Hatzos said.
Wind gusts reached 91 mph in Fort Wayne, Ind., and reached 82 mph at the Dayton International Airport at about 4:18 p.m., meteorologists said.
The storms hit much of the state during Friday evening’s rush hour, causing multiple accidents and leaving several motorists trapped in their vehicles by downed power lines. Winds toppled three tractor-trailers off Interstate 75 near Findlay, in northwest Ohio, but no injuries were reported.
Extreme weather is expected to continue, forcing Gov. John Kasich to declare a state of emergency early Saturday.
“In this case we’ve got two-thirds of the state impacted ...This is a different kind of disaster. It covers so much of the state that we feel strongly we need to do this,” Kasich said.
To prepare, Kasich was granted federal emergency assistance and he activated 200 members of the National Guard.
The Guard is expected to be deployed in urban areas in central Ohio and Cincinnati. Guardsmen will provide water and other resources to senior citizens, the state’s most vulnerable population, Kasich said.
Emergencies also were declared in Maryland, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and Virginia.
In some Virginia suburbs of Washington, emergency 911 call centers were out of service; residents were told to call local police and fire departments. Huge trees fell across streets in Washington, leaving cars crunched, and onto the fairway at the AT&T National golf tournament in Maryland. Cellphone and Internet service was spotty, gas stations shut down and residents were urged to conserve water until sewage plants returned to power.
Ohio Department of Health director Dr. Theodore E. Wymyslo urged residents, especially the elderly, to drink plenty of water, lower exertion levels and stay in cool places.
Frank Strait, an Accuweather meteorologist, said Ohioans can expect a cluster of thunderstorms for the next couple of days, though they are not expected to be as destructive as Friday’s storm.
Temperatures are expected to remain in the high 90s on Sunday and then drop to about 93 on Monday and remain in the low 90s on Tuesday.
“We don’t expect anything like what we saw (Friday). Some (thunderstorms) will reach a severe level and while it will remain hot, it won’t be as hot as we’ve been seeing,” Strait said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.