More than 1,000 tornadoes have touched down in Ohio since 1950, including 38 events that rated at least an F4 on the Fujita scale, meaning major damage with winds reaching speeds above 207 mph.
Summer is typically when most tornadoes form because severe storms need warm, moist, unstable air to form, but history shows many of the most destructive ones have occurred in the spring. Here is a look at the five most destructive tornadoes in Ohio history:
1. April 3, 1974
The most destruction came on this date, as 16 tornadoes touched down, including F5 strength storms in Greene, Clark and Hamilton counties that led to 39 deaths and 1,340 injuries and caused more than $250 million in property damage.
An F5 tornado in Xenia, with winds estimated between 261 and 318 mph, touched down around 2:30 p.m. According to the National Weather Service storm survey, “Much of the city was damaged with nearly half the city completely decimated. Nearly 30,000 structures were damaged or destroyed in Xenia where 32 people were killed." There was only one local hospital left standing “jammed with nearly 2,000 injured people.”
After ravaging Xenia, the tornado continued through Greene County, killing four more and pushing through Clark County before it finally weakened. A second F5 tornado destroyed Sayler Park in west Cincinnati around 5:30 p.m., killing three people and tearing many homes out of their foundations.
2. April 23, 1968
Strong winds and swift temperature shifts produced 11 tornadoes within a three-hour time period, causing $13 million in damage as estimated by the National Weather Service storm surveys.
The F5 tornadoes swept through Scioto, Lawrence and Gallia counties between 4:05 and 4:40 p.m. with the most damage hitting Portsmouth, where seven people were killed and another 75 injured. Hail the size of baseballs within the vicinity of the tornadoes also was reported.
3. May 31, 1985
Sixteen tornadoes touched down in Ohio on this day, including two F5 tornadoes that hit Portage and Trumbull counties, causing more than $250 million in property damage.
The biggest of the storms began at 5:30 p.m. in Portage near the Mahoning River and continued through Trumbull, where it seemed to pick up steam. Ten people were killed and another 250 injured. When that tornado dissipated, it still wasn’t over. Another F5 hit at 6:11 p.m.
4. April 11, 1968
Known as the “Palm Sunday tornadoes” by the National Severe Storms Laboratory, this outbreak included 37 tornadoes stretching across six Midwestern states: Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. At the time, it was considered the largest single-day tornado disaster in history of recorded data, with 258 deaths and 3,148 people injured, according to the American Red Cross.
In Ohio, 17 tornadoes were reported on April 11, with two more occurring just after midnight on April 12, all within a four-hour period, totaling an estimated $42.5 million in property damage. Two F4 tornadoes went through Lucas and Lorain counties around 9:30 and 11 p.m., respectively, killing 33 people and injuring 307.
5. June 8, 1953
A swath of severe thunderstorms pushed across Ohio, producing eight tornadoes within two hours, including six F4 tornadoes in Henry, Wood, Sandusky, Erie, Lorain and Cuyahoga counties.
Seventeen people were killed and 379 injured. Unofficial damage estimates were in the range of $13.4 million in crop damage and $19.3 in property damage, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Cuyahoga received the worst of the storms with 300 of the injuries and six deaths occurring there after the last of the F4 swells went through around 9 p.m. In the aftermath, Ohio National Guard troops were posted in Cleveland, where looting was feared in at least 100 demolished homes.
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