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What is a derecho? Is it different from a tornado? Get to know these South Dakota weather terms

·2 min read

The term derecho (duh-RAY'-choh) was coined in 1888, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The word is Spanish for "direct" or "straight." The term was used for a short time during the late 19th century, but it disappeared from use for nearly 100 years, when meteorologists starting using the term in the mid-1980s.

The national Storm Prediction Center determines whether a storm is officially a derecho.

The structure of a derecho-producing storm looks distinctive in radar and satellite imagery, Ken Pryor, a research meteorologist at the Center for Satellite Applications and Research at NOAA told the Des Moines Register in 2013.

More: Sioux Falls' sky turned green amid severe weather. See the strange phenomenon in photos

"The systems are very large and have signatures that are very extreme," he told the Register. "You get large areas of very cold cloud tops that you typically wouldn't see with an ordinary thunderstorm complex. The storms take on a comma or a bow shape that's very distinctive."

What is a derecho?

NOAA defines a derecho as "a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms."

Derechos can pack lethal gusts in excess of 100 mph — hurricane strength — across a front stretching for many miles, and last for hours. Storms that have sustained winds of at least 58 mph and leave a path of damage at least 250 miles long qualify as derechos, according to the National Weather Service.

More: NWS: Wind speeds up to 100 mph caused damage in southeastern South Dakota

What's the difference between a derecho and a tornado?

According to NOAA, tornadoes are cyclonic and usually are tightly packed. A derecho, on the other hand, is a straight-line windstorm. A derecho may produce tornadoes.

More: Castlewood school badly damaged by tornado

What is a Haboob?

The approaching storm in southeastern South Dakota as taken from a plane on Thursday, May 12.
The approaching storm in southeastern South Dakota as taken from a plane on Thursday, May 12.

A haboob is a wall of dust that is pushed out along the ground from a thunderstorm downdraft at high speeds, according to NOAA. Haboobs can occur anywhere in the United States, NOAA reports, but they are most common in the Southwest.

The term haboob, which was first used in 1897, is most commonly associated with the infamous dust storms in Sudan. However, in 1971, a group of scientists witnessed an Arizona dust storm so huge that they proposed calling it a haboob, the Arizona Republic reports.

More: How to report a power outage in South Dakota to Xcel Energy or Sioux Valley Energy

In an article printed in the October 1972 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the scientists argued that the dust storms in Phoenix were similar to those around Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

Information from the USA TODAY Network contributed to this report. 

Ben Yoder is a digital producer for the USA TODAY network.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Is that Sioux Falls storm a derecho? Here are weather terms defined