Can the Midwest expect more derechos as the climate changes?

Corn plants knocked over by a derecho
Corn plants knocked over by a derecho are seen in a field on Aug. 11 in Tama, Iowa. The state's Gov. Kim Reynolds said that early estimates indicate that 10 million acres, or nearly a third of the state's crop land was damaged in a powerful storm that battered the region a day earlier.
Daniel Acker | Getty Images file

The derecho that swept across Iowa and Illinois Aug. 10 flattened as many as 14 million acres of cropland. Its 70 to 100 mph winds tore down trees and power lines. More than half a million Iowans lost power, some for more than a week.

The word “derecho” means “straight ahead” in Spanish. These massive straight-line wind events can travel more than 250 miles in hot, humid and unstable conditions.

So, can the Midwest expect more of them as the climate changes?

“It’s sort of unknown. W have a lot of error right now in our experiments and models that can project into the future,” said Victor Gensini, a professor at Northern Illinois University who studies severe storms. “Our best guess right now is that the amount of days that we’re going to have in the future that have this extreme heat and humidity is going to increase, but it’s unclear if that’s going to translate to more of these types of derecho windstorms.”

The research available now, however, does suggest such storms could hit farther north as the mid-latitude jet stream shifts north.

Gensini spoke with MPR News chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner. Hit play on the audio player above to hear their conversation.

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