The Columbus area is being targeted by a massive storm complex with damaging straight-line winds that could exceed 60 mph, the National Weather Service says. Central Ohio faces two threats, several hours apart, from a potentially violent weather system advancing into the Midwest.
Whether it’s a full-fledged derecho, or not, matters little.
The warnings that severe weather is approaching, particularly northwest of Columbus, are starting to fly this evening.
The Columbus area remains targeted by a massive storm complex with damaging straight-line winds that could reach 70 mph, the National Weather Service says.
Central Ohio faces two threats from a potentially violent weather system advancing into the Midwest that was forming late this afternoon in southern Wisconsin.
Isolated thunderstorms are expected to pop up in the heat and humidity this evening ahead of the most-worrisome storm front, said Myron Padgett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Wilmington.
The storms could turn violent, producing large hail and high winds, Padgett said.
Isolated tornadoes are possible, with the worst of the evening weather expected north of the Columbus area. A flash-flood watch was posted for counties north of Union, Delaware and Licking counties.
At 5 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a seldom-seen "particularly dangerous situation" severe-thunderstorm watch for counties north and west of Columbus, including Union, Champaign and Logan counties, until 2 a.m. Thursday.
The unusual storm-watch represents an enhanced chance of very severe and possibly life-threatening weather.
The violent storms forming northwest of Ohio will race through the Columbus area with damaging winds between 11 p.m. and midnight, forecasters said.
“We’re not sure if it’s going to be a derecho or not, but you’re splitting hairs” when winds could exceed 60 mph, said Jeff Sites, another weather-service meteorologist.
Early this afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center placed northern Illinois, northern Indiana and a sliver of northwest Ohio at "high" risk for severe weather. The threat in the Columbus area is rated as "moderate."
Slide show: Severe weather damage, 2012
A derecho is a widespread, long-lasting windstorm borne by a line of fast-moving thunderstorms that track across at least 250 miles while spewing out winds in excess of 58 mph.
The Columbus area dreads the “D” word following a derecho with 80 mph winds last year that wrecked trees and power lines and left more than 300,000 people without electricity in central Ohio. Some waited more than a week for power to return in the wake of hurricane-force winds.
The June 29 storm left more than 1 million Ohioans without power amid a heat wave in the 90s and, when coupled with another line of storms that followed the derecho, caused at least $845 million in damage.
Nationally, the derecho interrupted electricity to more than 5 million from the Chicago area to the mid-Atlantic coast and contributed to 22 deaths. Another 34 deaths followed from the heat wave baking areas without power.
The gigantic line of powerful thunderstorms could affect one in five Americans today as it rumbles from Iowa to Maryland packing hail, lightning and tree-toppling winds.
All told, the area the weather service considers to be under heightened risk of dangerous weather includes 64 million people in 10 states.
“It's a pretty high threat,” said Bill Bunting, operations chief at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., who also warned that the storms will produce large hail and dangerous lightning. “We don't want to scare people, but we want them to be aware.”
Today “might be the worst severe weather outbreak for this part of the country for the year,” said Jeff Masters, meteorology director at Weather Underground.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.