16 Year Anniversary Of Damaging Wind Derecho Event

Posted at 5:30 PM, May 31, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-31 17:30:56-04

WEST MICHIGAN (May 31, 2014) — For those of us that remember the date…May 31, 1998 marked a widespread severe weather wind event, especially along the immediate lakeshore. It was the Southern Great Lakes Derecho Event!

While tornadoes were reported across the Northern Plains with this system, it was the bow echo and associated winds that would rip across the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes with at least 80 to 90 mph winds being common and some areas registering more than 100 mph winds. This was especially bad since it hit the lakeshore in the wee hours of the morning around 5:00 AM during the holiday Memorial Day weekend when camping areas were full and most people were asleep.

13 West Michigan counties were declared federal disaster areas. It is said that this particular event produced one of the costliest and most dangerous derecho events in the history of the Great Lakes region. Bow echoes occur when a line of severe thunderstorms form and a very strong wind from behind the line push the storms outward (bowing it out). The strongest winds are typically on the leading edge of the “bow” and can do more damage than a tornado in some cases.

A derecho is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a land-based, fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms. When we see derecho events we generally see these bow echo lines develop and race quickly across states and/or regions. This particular line of storms was clocked at about 60 to 70 mph, producing damaging straight line winds of more than 100 mph. Click here to see how they form.

To get the complete story on the 1998 derecho event as documented by the National Weather Service, click here. You can always get our West Michigan forecast at