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Severe Weather in Ohio

1974 Xenia Tornado

The 25 extreme weather events in this online exhibit were chosen from more than two hundred extreme weather events described in the book Thunder in the Heartland: A Chronicle of Outstanding Weather Events in Ohio, by Dr. Thomas Schmidlin and Jeanne Appelhans Schmidlin. Dr. Schmidlin is a meteorologist and a professor in the department of Geography at Kent State University. Jeanne Appelhans Schmidlin is a technical writer and editor who holds degrees from Miami University and Syracuse University.

The 25 events presented in this exhibit were chosen because they were the most extreme or the most unusual in Ohio's history. In this exhibit you will read about Ohio's worst snowstorms, blizzards, floods, windstorms, tornadoes, and extremes of heat and cold. Even the unusual and deadly mystery waves on Lake Erie are described.

Some of these events affected only a small part of Ohio, but were extreme in their devastating impacts on local areas. These localized disasters include the Lorain Tornado of 1924, the Xenia Tornado in 1974, and the Shadyside Flood in 1990. Whole communities were destroyed by these storms.

Other events were extreme because such a large area of Ohio was stricken. The Blizzards of 1918 and 1978, Cold Wave of 1977, and Flood of 1913 affected the entire state, disrupting the lives of millions of Ohioans.

Some events were judged to be extreme because they were so unusual. The Mystery Wave at Cleveland in 1882, the 113° heat in 1934, and Fourth of July Flood of 1969 fit this category of unusual and deadly Ohio weather.

Many of the extreme weather events described in this exhibit became landmark events in Ohio history, legendary storms that people talked about for generations. Adults today remember the Blizzard of 1978 and Xenia Tornado. Older residents still talk about the July 4th storms of 1969, Palm Sunday Tornadoes of 1965, and the Thanksgiving Blizzard in 1950. Our grandparents recalled, with exaggeration in some cases, the Floods of 1913 and 1937 and the legendary heat and drought of the 1930's.

Each extreme weather event is described meteorologically, describing why it occurred, and is accompanied by statistics on the event, such as how much snow fell, or how high the flood reached, or the path of the tornado. In addition to these facts and figures for each event, the impacts on people and contemporary society are described. The occurrence of injuries and deaths is noted along with the extent of disruption - to work, school, business, communication, and transportation - in the daily pace of life. These elements associated with day-to-day life changed dramatically as Ohio evolved from an agricultural society in the nineteenth century to an industrial leader in the twentieth century.

We can speculate about whether Ohioans are more vulnerable to extreme weather today than earlier residents were in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today we have sturdy buildings, widely available education, strict zoning laws, and rapid communication. We also have many sources from which we can obtain weather forecasts and warnings. These factors protect us or make us more aware of extreme weather and should reduce our vulnerability.

However, modern society is very dependent on electricity and highway travel, both of which can be disrupted for hours or days by extreme weather. Our modern urban society may actually be more vulnerable than the rural and independent farmers of nineteenth century Ohio.

The good news is that the weather in Ohio is usually not stormy! In fact, our skies are sunny for much of the year, winds are usually light, and temperatures are moderate. Outdoor activities are comfortable on most days. Even rainy and snowy days are good. The wet days fill Lake Erie and our many streams, lakes, and reservoirs. They provide water for our gardens, farms, and forests.

This exhibit is about the most extreme and unusual weather that Ohioans have seen in the past 200 years. But we should remember that our ancestors found Ohio weather allowed them to feed their families and later the world, enabled them to provide water transportation on canals, rivers, and Lake Erie, and led to a prosperous industrial-agricultural society of 11 million residents in the 21st century.

Examining how Ohioans reacted to and were affected by extreme weather events of the past may provide insight to our adaptability to future storms. Each of the extreme weather events described in this exhibit could occur again, perhaps in an even more severe form. We should be prepared for extreme weather in Ohio, because it will come again.