Thousands still in dark after massive storm causes third largest outage in Memphis

Thousands still in dark after massive storm causes third largest outage in Memphis

Nearly 190 000 customers have lost power after a massive and extremely dangerous windstorm hit Memphis, Tennessee late Saturday and early Sunday, May 28, 2017, downing numerous trees and power lines. As of late Tuesday, May 30, 59 000 customers are still in dark. It was the third largest outage in the city's history, officials said.

The storm passed through Arkansas and then swept through Memphis area with winds exceeding 97 km/h (60 mph), the National Weather Service said, adding that gusts from the downburst reached 169 km/h (105 mph). The storm did not prompt the activation of emergency sirens, because there was no tornado-like circulation, just straight-line winds, local authorities said. Although the event was fierce, there were no deaths reported and only two people were injured.

The onslaught began with the collision and merger of two thunderstorm systems ahead of a frontal system that was approaching Memphis from the north-northwest. The combined systems produced a radar image of a huge "bow echo," or arc of high winds in advance of the storms, that covered hundreds of miles, said NWS meteorologist Marlene Mickelson. "When we see that, it means a lot of wind," Mickelson said.

Although severe thunderstorm warning was issued and a very dangerous storm was moving into the area, forecasters say the intensity and breadth came as something of a surprise. "We knew it was going to be bad and we knew there was going to be 60 mph winds, but it was the way it came in," Mickelson explained.

As was the case with Hurricane "Elvis," the event was primarily a fast-moving straight-line windstorm known as a derecho. Wind speeds of about 105 km/h (65 mph) were measured at Memphis International Airport. 

In one area, located just off North Watkins in Frayser, a downburst occurred in which strong winds from the upper atmosphere plummeted to the ground and spread out. Had it occurred in a residential neighborhood, the damage could have been catastrophic, but since it was in a wooded area, the event just flattened trees for hundreds of feet in all directions.

Shelby County, which includes Memphis, and other Tennessee counties farther east suffered significant damage, prompting authorities to request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has received preliminary approval to spend up to $6 million in city funds on recovery and cleanup.

Featured image: Tree damage from above on HWY 51 at Watkins. Credit: Brittney Bryant via Casey Kirby (Twitter)

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