Stark County tornado reminder of damage twisters can do

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CANTON, Ohio – Kent State University senior Patrick Ayers completed his honors thesis, “Ohio Tornado Climatology from 1951-2000,” on April 26. Two days later, a tornado blew down the trees in his front yard in Jackson Township.

Ayers, a geography major, escaped injury but got a little closer to his subject than he wanted, said Tom Schmidlin, chair of the geography department at Kent State and an expert in tornadoes.

Timely update. Ayers’ research on 50 years of Ohio tornadoes used data from the federal Storm Prediction Center. Schmidlin, a professor of geography and Ayers’ adviser, called the study a “timely update on the risks we face from tornadoes in Ohio.”

Ayers found that there were 725 tornadoes in Ohio from 1951 through 2000, an average of 14.5 per year. This ranged from no tornadoes at all in the drought year of 1988 to 61 tornadoes in 1992.

Tornado numbers. On average, there are about seven days per year with a tornado touchdown in Ohio. June is the month with the most tornadoes, but they have occurred in every month, even in winter.

About 75 percent of tornadoes occur from April through July. Most tornadoes come from the southwest, west, or northwest.

Tornadoes may occur at any time of day but the hour between 7-8 p.m. had the most, and about 80 percent of Ohio tornadoes occur between 2-10 p.m.

Ranking. Tornadoes are ranked on the Fujita damage scale with F0 tornadoes causing only light damage and F5 tornadoes sweeping well-built homes right off their foundation.

About 70 percent of Ohio tornadoes have been ranked F0 or F1, in the ‘weak’ category with winds less than 110 mph.

Another 27 percent are F2 or F3, considered to be ‘strong’ tornadoes. Only 3 percent of Ohio tornadoes have been violent F4 or F5 storms. Although rare, the F4 and F5 tornadoes caused three out of four of the deaths due to tornadoes from 1951 to 2000.

The average path length of all Ohio tornadoes was four miles and the average damage width was 100 yards. The size of the path tends to be larger with stronger tornadoes.

Weak tornadoes, those ranked F0 or F1, had an average path two miles long and 70 yards wide, while violent tornadoes (ranked F4 or F5) had average paths 30 miles long and 330 yards wide.

Ohio deaths. Tornadoes caused 182 deaths in Ohio from 1951 to 2000. A third (62) of those deaths came with the Palm Sunday Outbreak April 11, 1965.

Another 39 deaths occurred in 1974, mostly with the Xenia tornado on April 3. About one in 20 tornadoes cause a death in Ohio.

Tornadoes may occur anywhere in Ohio, and all but two of the 88 counties had a tornado from 1951 to 2000.

Location. Ohio’s urban counties tend to have the most recorded tornadoes, perhaps because there are more eyes to spot them.

The southeastern portion of the state reported the fewest tornadoes, possibly due to the hillier terrain, lower population, or the greater distance from the heart of ‘Tornado Alley’ in the Plains.

Recent tornadoes, including the F2 twister in Stark County, are a reminder that we are in the midst of tornado season in Ohio, said Schmidlin.

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