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Published: Sunday, 7/1/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Thunderstorm warnings issued for NW Ohio

65,000 in northwest Ohio still without power Sunday

BY SOPHIE BROACH AND DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Dave Marshall assesses the damage to his home in Findlay. The former church lost its roof Friday. Dave Marshall assesses the damage to his home in Findlay. The former church lost its roof Friday.
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Severe thunderstorm warnings were posted for Lucas and Wood counties as well as western Lake Erie late this afternoon as storms flared over southern Michigan and moved southeast.

A severe thunderstorm watch is in effect for most of the Toledo area.

The watches and warnings follow by two days a round of thunderstorms from which power failures persisted in a broad area of the region south of Toledo.

More than 65,000 northwest Ohio residents remained without electricity as of midday today, nearly two days after severe thunderstorms snapped trees and felled power lines across the region.

That figure represents more than half of all American Electric Power and Hancock Wood Electric Cooperative customers in Allen, Defiance, Hancock, Hardin, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert, and Wyandot counties.

Overall, AEP Ohio said 450,000 of its customers throughout the state were still in the dark. The power outages persist as sweltering heat continues to blanket Ohio.

In northwest Ohio, Putnam County had the worst blackout problem, with AEP reporting that 81.5% of its 10,569 customers there still lack power. In neighboring, more populous Hancock County, nearly 18,000 residents remained without electricity.

Phone numbers provided to report power outages were busy at both AEP and Hancock Wood. Utility officials have estimated it could be a week before all downed lines are repaired.

Sunny skies prevailed over most of the region at midday, but the National Weather Service predicted a return of thunderstorms by evening, starting in the westernmost counties. Temperatures were expected to peak in the low 90s today.

Dozens of fallen trees littered city streets and power lines dangled limply to the ground as Findlay residents fanned out on a sunny Saturday. They were cleaning up the mess from a line of intense thunderstorms that pummeled Hancock and neighboring northwest Ohio counties Friday afternoon.

The storms' strong winds, with gusts measured up to 84 mph in Findlay and Paulding, tore boats off trailers, ripped shingles from roofs, and blew huge tree branches into farm fields and graveyards.

Photos: Northwest Ohio wind storm damage

Related story: Storm damage kills 13 in eastern U.S.

But the storms' broadest impact was the loss of electricity to an estimated 1 million utility customers across Ohio, including tens of thousands in the northwestern part of the state, after tree branches tore down wires and high winds felled transmission lines.

Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency for all of Ohio to mobilize state resources to assist with the cleanup while noting estimates of up to a week to restore power during the height of an expected heat wave.

Mr. Kasich said the biggest urgency after the storm was assisting the elderly, young children, and those with medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to heat.

Findlay sounded tornado sirens after a funnel cloud was sighted, but no tornado touchdowns were reported in the region. All of the damage was from straight-line winds, National Weather Service meteorologists said.

"The sky was green, and the clouds were twisting around. Then the windows started to bow," said Jeremy Horne, who watched the funnel develop from his office in Findlay's municipal building. "I keep replaying it in my mind over and over. It's not something I'll soon forget."

Stefanie Gabel was in the Findlay Mall getting her hair done when she heard the sirens.

"That's why my hair is really bleached right now -- I was there so long," she said with a laugh.

The salon's manager ushered her and other clients to the relative safety of a bathroom until the storm passed, after which her normal 15-minute drive home was stretched to more than an hour because of blocked roads.

Loud popping and cracking sounds alerted Casey Essinger and his mother, Patricia Essinger, who relies on an oxygen machine to breathe, to possible danger. The pair hunkered down in a hot, windowless bathroom for half an hour while a massive tree blown over by the wind tore a gaping hole in the roof of their Byal Avenue home.

A tree-cutting contractor removes a branch from utility lines in southern Findlay. A tree-cutting contractor removes a branch from utility lines in southern Findlay.
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"It felt like an earthquake when it hit," said Mr. Essinger. Rainwater soon flooded into Mrs. Essinger's bedroom.

Mr. Essinger planned to buy an emergency generator from a local Lowes store, which brought in extra supplies from a Toledo branch to meet storm-related demand.

"We are blessed to be surviving, especially with my mom's condition," he said.

Trees also crashed into Rudy Ochoa's two-story house across the street. He was relieved that his pickup truck remained unscathed and no one had been hurt.

"The rain was sideways, and I couldn't see the tree 10 feet from my window. My niece and nephew were crying," he said.

"All the fruits fell off our trees," piped in Wesley Mincey, his 9-year old nephew.

The three picked up debris Saturday morning while waiting to borrow a chainsaw they would use to cut up the two fallen trees leaning against the house.

"He's happy because now he's got a lot of timber," Mr. Ochoa teased his neighbor, Richard Williams, who was busy sawing apart a toppled maple.

The storms that struck northwest Ohio on Friday afternoon were part of a squall line known as a derecho that originated in northern Illinois earlier in the day and intensified in northeast Indiana.

Derechos are fast-moving thunderstorm clusters featuring extraordinarily high winds that travel over long distances.

Although they spawn tornadoes only rarely, their straight-line winds can cause extensive damage over a broad area, said Nick Greenawalt, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in North Webster, Ind.

As this one did, such storm complexes typically form along stationary weather fronts, with warmer air on one side and cooler air on the other, and are fueled by moisture and atmospheric instability near such boundaries.

On Friday, the temperature difference on either side of the front was only about 10 degrees, but the warmer side, in central Indiana and central Ohio, was close to 100 degrees while the air to the north provided moisture.

A tornado can have much higher winds, but its path is usually no wider than half-mile to a mile, whereas a derecho's damage can span entire counties.

"It's equivalent to a giant EF-1 tornado," he said of the damage path and winds exceeding 80 mph. "There is incredible power with this storm."

U.S. 30 was more or less the center line of the storms' path in northeast Indiana and northern Ohio, Mr. Greenawalt said.

Along with the gust from Findlay, an 84-mph gust was reported by the Paulding Emergency Management Agency, while 76 to 78 mph winds were reported in Columbus Grove and Antwerp, Ohio, Mr. Greenawalt said. Penny-sized hail was reported in some areas.

Tree damage also was reported in Putnam, Crawford, Seneca, and Wyandot counties.

In Wyandot County's Jackson Township, roofs were stripped from several barns and siding was blown off houses.

In Galion, Ohio, the wall of an attached garage was blown out.

Along with a half-dozen tractor-trailers flipped over on I-75 between Findlay and Bluffton, railroad traffic was disrupted on several northwest Ohio lines by trees blocking the tracks and power outages disabling signals.

Rudy Ochoa, left, says he took shelter with his niece and nephew in a bathroom. The children's grandfather Jerry Eiseman, right, was not home during the storm. Rudy Ochoa, left, says he took shelter with his niece and nephew in a bathroom. The children's grandfather Jerry Eiseman, right, was not home during the storm.
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Railroad employees deployed portable generators to restore signal power in areas where the power was still out Saturday.

Dave Marshall, at work at his Findlay restaurant called Coolinary Brothers when the storm hit, called the sous-chef with whom he shares living quarters in a renovated 1875-vintage church, to inquire about the status of his restored Volkswagen bus.

The reply, he said: "The car's fine. It was the house that got destroyed."

Wind had peeled off the metal roof, blowing pieces nearly 500 feet away into a soybean field.

The lime green walls were streaked with dirt, and compact discs from his music collection were strewn across sodden carpets.

Only the building's massive hand-hewn wooden beams kept it from collapsing, Mr. Marshall said.

"I had all the original rafters inside here. Everyone who came in here would always comment on them, 'Oh wow,' " he said. "I didn't even see the storm coming really. I guess I'd heard something on the radio."

Mr. Marshall said it was "a little eerie" to sleep in the roofless home Friday night, but he planned to start with repairs right away, using a tarp for temporary protection from the elements. "It'll be nice again one day," he said.

The National Weather Service forecasts for Toledo and Findlay on Saturday evening called for daily high temperatures in the low to mid 90s through Saturday, with a chance of showers and thunderstorms through Wednesday.

Contact Sophie Broach at: sbroach@theblade.com or 419-724-6210.



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