This week in history: The Great Derecho of 2017

By Brandi Makuski

The night of June 12, 2017, began like many spring days, with the threat of storm activity, and weather alerts posted by the National Weather Service.

The storm lasted less than 30 minutes but left a mark on the community beyond what anyone expected.

Shortly after 6 p.m., the rain started, bringing over three inches of water in about 27 minutes. Within moments visibility had reduced to almost zero, with winds topping out over 70 miles an hour, toppling hundreds of trees and damaging several homes. Power lines were knocked down, causing a number of fires and knocking out electricity for more than 13,000 residents, some of who waited weeks for restoration.

Portage Co. was later declared a disaster area, making it eligible for federal funding to help repair damages to infrastructure and some tree replacement.

Emergency crews had a tough time reaching those in need and many roads had become flooded and impassable. Sheriff Mike Lukas said Portage Co. dispatchers took 600 calls to the 911 line that night, and Stevens Point Fire Chief Robert Finn said SPFD had responded to 31 calls through 7 a.m. the next morning, including the deployment of department watercraft to rescue one individual who attempted to traverse the Michigan Ave. underpass despite six-to-eight feet of standing water and several warning signs.

Off-duty personnel in all local emergency agencies and street departments made their way into work to lend a hand during the storm, and countless citizens helped direct traffic on residential streets that were flooded or littered with downed power lines and trees.

Social media was also flooded with offers of help. Facebook groups like “You Know You’re From Stevens Point If…” had several residents offering hot showers, power for charging electronic devices, and freezer space for those without electricity.

Thousands of trees were uprooted, cored, or knocked over and an unknown number of motorists were stranded on flooded roadways—some, reportedly, for several hours.

A lack of street lights made it difficult to spot safety issues, Plover Police Chief Dan Ault said, but “once we realized how much damage there was—just the stuff we could see, it was just…unreal.”

No deaths or serious injuries were reported during the storm, something Park Ridge Fire Chief Brian Lepper later called “remarkable”.

Officials from Stevens Point would later refer to the event as a “100-year storm”, a term used to describe a rainfall event that statistically has a one-percent chance of occurring in any given year.

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