20th Anniversary of 1998 Midwest derecho - WNEM TV 5

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20th Anniversary of 1998 Midwest derecho

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Longtime Michigan residents probably remember this storm well. Wednesday and Thursday mark the 20th anniversary of one of the most powerful storms in Michigan history.

The powerful complex of thunderstorms, known as a derecho, originated in South Dakota on the evening of May 30, 1998 and raced eastward across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and into lower Michigan. By the time it reached the lower peninsula around 5:00 AM on May 31, the storm was moving at a ground speed of roughly 70 mph.  That was fast enough to reach the Thumb region about 2 hours after coming ashore on the west side of the state.

Source: National Weather Service

As it came onshore from Lake Michigan, the complex of thunderstorms briefly developed two distinct squall lines. Winds between 60 and 90 mph were reported in numerous locations, and damage surveys found that gusts had reached 130 mph in some areas.

The system killed a total of 6 people, 4 of them in Michigan. Another 146 were injured across the state, accounting for nearly half of the total number of injuries resulting from the storm.

Damage reports were staggering. 250 homes and 34 businesses were completely destroyed here in Michigan, with almost 13,000 more sustaining significant damage.

At the time, Consumers Energy reported close to 860,000 customers lost power, with some going as much as 10 days before it was restored. It still ranks as the most destructive weather event in the history of the company. Amid thousands of power lines and poles, the storm also destroyed several of the system's largest transmission towers.

13 counties were declared federal disaster areas, with total damage estimated at $172 million.

The strong westerly winds associated with the storm also caused water levels on the eastern side of Lake Michigan to rise, in a phenomenon called a seiche (say-sh). This surge, combined with the surge in the opposite direction after the storm passed resulted in the sinking of the Stephen M. Asher tugboat. All crew were able to safely escape the overturned vessel and reach shore.

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