Are There Land Hurricanes? Do They Happen in Michigan?
In Michigan, we get a wide variety of weather. Sprinkles to thunderstorms, blizzards to tornados, and floods to droughts, we get it all in the Mitten State. With one exception. No hurricanes. Right? Wrong? Kinda both.
While not a hurricane in the traditional sense, Michigan does experience 'land hurricanes'. You see, in order to be classified as a hurricane, a tropical cyclone must develop in the Atlantic or northeast Pacific oceans, and, according to Merriam-Webster, have:
winds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour or greater that is usually accompanied by rain, thunder, and lightning, and that sometimes moves into temperate latitudes
So Michigan will never experience the full brunt of a traditional hurricane, just the remnants of the tropical storm working its way north after making landfall days earlier in a southern or easter coastal state.
What is a 'Land Hurricane'?
A 'land hurricane', known as a Derecho, is a long-lasting wind storm that is a part of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms with a wind damage path of at least 240 miles and with winds greater than 57 mph.
Derechos, as you can see above, are rare enough to only happen every 4-years for some parts of Michigan, and as little as 1 or 2-years for others. According to Weather.gov, 70% of derechos happen between May and August, and the remainder happens in the cooler seasons.
What Makes a Derecho Different Than a Tornado
Size and direction are the 2 main differences between a derecho and a tornado. While a tornado, a rotating storm in the shape of an inverted cone, is small in comparison to the wall of severe weather that is a derecho. While both storm systems contain a large amount of damaging rain and hail, a tornado can produce winds in excess of 300 mph. While derechos in Michigan have had wind speeds as high as 130 mph (see the weather map animation below of the 1998 Mid-West Derecho), they fall far short of the blistering momentum of a tornado.
A tornado's path is also difficult to predict and may change direction very quickly. Derecho's path is straightforward. Both words are of Spanish origin, with tornado meaning turned, and derecho meaning straight.
You can see just how quickly derechos move in, destroy neighborhoods and crops, and move out just as quickly. The video below captured just that on August 1st, 2020, as one of these dangerous storms tore through Iowa.