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Published: 4/29/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

It's tornado season in Ohio

April through June prime months for twisters

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

An F2 tornado with an especially mean streak churned along the Lake Erie shoreline, knocking out power, shredding property, and forcing an automatic shutdown at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant.

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Out of all the chaos and destruction, the thing Ardell Wilkins remembers most about her close encounter with that fast-moving storm nearly 14 years ago was the initial silence, and then how quickly the fierce meteorological beast was on top of them.

"There was that moment when everything stopped and it got very quiet," she said. "It was so still it was eerie. And then before you knew it, everything just sort of exploded around us."

The funnel packed winds between 113 and 157 miles per hour and chewed up the three-bedroom ranch house Mrs. Wilkins shared with her husband, Butch, on June Street, just off State Rt. 2, north of Camp Perry. They survived, suffering broken bones and contusions, but their home was basically disassembled in a burst of power from the sky.

"It was like any other summer day, and you never expect to be fearing for your life with something like that bearing down on you," said Mrs. Wilkins. "Fortunately, the warnings are so much better now. People have to listen to the warnings and do what they tell you."

With no basement for shelter, Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins stood tight against the wall between the kitchen and the living room. As the wind hammered apart the house, falling appliances created a small pocket that sheltered the pair from the bulk of the flying debris.

"First, we heard this crushing sound. I know people talk about it sounding like a freight train when a tornado hits, but this was just a crushing noise, and then all of the windows blew out."

Mrs. Wilkins, a former Marine, said the few moments of terror were followed by the dazed examination of a panorama of destruction.

"When we got up off the floor a few moments later, the whole house was gone," she said. "Furniture, lumber, clothes — things were scattered everywhere. The pool had a 10-foot-long slide and we never found it."

Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins rebuilt on the same site, but they’ve paid much closer attention to the weather in the years since that June night. They no longer think of tornadoes as a phenomenon of the notorious "Tornado Alley" of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

"You experience one and live through it, and that image never leaves your mind," Mrs. Wilkins said. "You think differently about storms. You realize a tornado can strike anywhere, especially in the late spring and early summer. Everybody has to pay attention to the weather."

The warning mechanism has improved exponentially in the years since that tornado leveled the Wilkins home. They had been watching the Indians game on a Cleveland station that night, and did not receive the urgent warnings that the Toledo stations were broadcasting.

"Now, we have so many more outlets available to warn people," said meteorologist Kimberly Newman of WTOL-TV, Channel 11.

Ms. Newman said severe weather alerts today are dispatched across a wide array of television outlets, radio stations, social media, and mobile devices. She added that the information meteorologists have to work with today is much more substantial and varied than in the past.

"Not too long ago, there wasn’t a real strong understanding about how a storm could behave," she said. "Now, there is a lot of pattern recognition. We’ve gotten a lot better at understanding these storms."

There are also more active radar sites operating in major storm areas in recent years, and an abundance of cutting-edge equipment that meteorologists can use to analyze these weather phenomena.

"The changes in technology have had a huge impact. When we can scan these storms from four different angles, a much better picture of what is happening out there is coming through for us," Ms. Newman said. "We have a lot of innovative tools and technology we utilize, but it all adds up to the bottom line — saving lives."

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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