Examining storms in the Midwest

Examining storms in the Midwest

Lightning flashes in the middle of a storm.

Credit: Getty Images

As an Ohio resident, you know from experience that the Midwest region of the United States undergoes a wide variety of severe storms year-round. What is less commonly known is how much havoc this weather wrecks on the region — more than $3 billion on average is lost each year to storms in the Midwest with over $2.4 billion of that in property damages, according to the Illinois State Water Survey Report.

It’s during these storms, especially when power outages occur, that electric cooperatives must unite to keep members safe.

The Midwest — defined in the report as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, and Wisconsin — faces frequent passages of inconsistent air masses and unstable atmospheric conditions, resulting in extremes of both temperature and precipitation. Warmer months, typically March through October, see convective storms like thunderstorms and lightning, flood-producing rainstorms, hail, and even tornadoes. Meanwhile, winter months can witness incapacitating snow or ice storms with sleet and freezing temperatures that often hold co-op members prisoners inside their homes.

“Situations under 32 degrees or with more than eight inches of snow can be dangerous for electric co-ops,” says Dwight Miller, who’s seen his fair share of winter storms as director of safety and loss control at Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, the statewide support organization for 24 Ohio electric co-ops and one in West Virginia. “Even summer storms with high winds sometimes knock trees down onto power lines.”

One event Miller remembers was 2014’s “polar vortex,” which Fox News reported led to subzero temperatures with wind chills 40 degrees below and colder, shattering century-old records in some regions. The dense, frigid air was also blamed for at least 21 exposure-related deaths across the county, including six in Indiana and two in Ohio.

But just two years prior in June, one of the deadliest, fast-moving thunderstorm complexes — a “super derecho” — ravaged a 700-mile trail from the Ohio Valley into the mid-Atlantic states in roughly 12 hours, causing 13 wind-related deaths by falling trees and an estimated four million power outages, according to an assessment by the National Weather Service (NWS).

The brutal statistics don’t stop there. AccuWeather compared the derecho’s destruction to that of Hurricane Irene, reporting that wind gusts reached 91 mph at the Fort Wayne International Airport in Indiana during the storm. In the midst of a heat wave, the NWS said another 34 people perished due to heat in areas without power.

Miller, who helps cooperatives coordinate aid for power restoration after major outages, says that derecho stands out in his mind as one of the most powerful instances of cooperative teamwork he’s seen in his position — sheer manpower from various communities and co-ops coming together to help one another and members in need.

That said, it’s important to note that storms aren’t all doom and gloom. Though the Midwest’s business activities are highly climate sensitive, like agricultural yields and commercial transportation, storms can also have surprising benefits. For example, thunderstorm rainfall produces between 40 to 60 percent of the total annual precipitation in the Midwest, according to the Illinois State Water Survey Report. Farmers would likely face higher-than-average crop losses without this consistent source of thunderstorm rainfall, occurring on average 25 to 55 days per year.

Your electric cooperative understands the Midwest’s unpredictable weather patterns, and we stick it out through the same tough times you do. Our aim is to keep you safe and to keep the power on — no matter the level of standing water, temperature outside, cost of damages, or severity of the storm.