National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Introduction to Derechos

Many thanks to Stephen F. Corfidi of the Storm Prediction Center for the use of his material "About Derechos" in the creation of this section.

Derechos are widespread, long-lived windstorms associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. Coined by Dr. Gustavus Hinrichs in 1888, "derechos", a Spanish word which means "direct" or "straight ahead".

Although a derecho's strength can produce destruction similar to tornadoes, the damage pattern produced by these events will occur along relatively straight lines. Thus, the term straight-line wind damage.

Derechos are produced by a family of downbursts clusters. Downburst clusters have overall lengths of 50 to 60 miles (80 to 100 kilometers).

A downburst cluster itself is made up of several downbursts. A downburst is an area of strong, often damaging wind produced by a convective downdraft with the overall size of the downburst varying from 4 to 6 miles (8 to 10 kilometers).

Within the downbursts are microbursts; smaller pockets of more intense wind.

While not shown in the illustration (below), within the microbursts are even smaller pockets of extreme wind called burst swaths. Burst swaths can range from 50 to 150 yards (45 to 140 meters) long. The damage pattern from burst swaths can often resemble a path of a tornado.

Due to this nature of the derecho, damage produced by these wind storms is highly variable along its path. Damage surveys following derecho events have shown that within large areas of overall damage are much smaller pockets of intense damage.

It is not uncommon for one house to be nearly destroyed while adjacent houses have relatively minor damage.

Derechos are produced by long-lived thunderstorm complexes that produce bow echoes.