First Alert Weather In-Depth: Labor Day storm of 1998 – A storm to remember

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – We have all seen a strong thunderstorm from time to time, but this time the intensity of the storm was a little different.

This storm was intense by anyone standards. It was Labor Day weekend, 1998, when a line of thunderstorms rolled into Western New York. Many communities had some degree of impact, but the main concentration of severe damage seemed to be at a small village on the east side of Monroe County called Bushnell Basin.

Todd Dunn was the fire chief for the Bushnell Basin Fire Department between 1997 and 1999. He stated that during the storm, “It was very windy, very violent and there were trees down all over the place.” In addition, “There were several neighborhoods that were just plain cut-off.  All you hear were chainsaws because that was the only way you were going to get in (to the neighborhood).”

But what kind of storm could have produced this amount of damage? It was not a tornado because the signature or the pattern to wind damage proves otherwise. You probably already know what a single thunderstorm looks like. This however is known as a derecho (deh-REY-cho), which is Spanish for, “To look straight.”  These intense straight-line winds were the likely to blame for the horrific damage produced on that holiday weekend.

Almost like a group of batteries strung together, a solid line of storms can intensify the winds in excess of hurricane force. In just a matter of hours, almost like a snowplow, this line of storms produced widespread damage along its path across New York State. This long lasting windstorm recorded a wind speed of 77 miles per hour at the Rochester Airport, but some areas may have had winds gusting in excess of 100 miles per hour. In addition, tens of thousands of trees were blown down, and it was estimated that New York State had damage in excess of $130M.

The Labor Day storm of 1998 may have been almost 25 years ago, but the damage it caused will not soon forgotten.