Southwest Ohio could easily see a tornado as ferocious as Monday’s that leveled much of Moore, Okla., and has with similar sized storms last year and in 2000, according to weather experts.
The Moore storm, which killed at least 24 people, has been ranked as an EF-5, the highest level on what is known as the Enhanced Fujita Scale. EF-5 is considered “incredible,” according to Rich Wirdzek, meteorologist with News Center 7.
Last year, Henryville, Ind., which is less than two hours from the Ohio border, was hit by an EF-4 tornado, Wirdzek said. The tornado that hit Xenia in 2000 and destroyed hundreds of homes was an F4 and would still rank as an EF-4 if it happened today.
The scale’s criteria has changed considerably since the original Fujita scale was developed in the 1970s. But the famous Xenia tornado which killed 33 people on April 3, 1974 would call for an EF-5 rating had it happened today, Wirdzek said.
The 1974 tornado was part of a super-outbreak, during which 315 people died during a two-day period when 148 tornadoes were reported across 13 states.
Jennifer Earley was eight when that tornado destroyed her family’s home, and she said that the news reports from Oklahoma brought the experience back to her.
“When I see the piles of rubble, that’s what I remember,” said Earley, who now lives in Springfield. “It’s a memory and a connection I think you’ll always have.”
The Fujita Scale uses information about several types of storm damage to estimate the force of the storm. The more recent enhanced scale shows that an EF-5 can have winds over 200 mph.
The 2000 Xenia tornado killed one person. Four died in an April 1999 tornado in Blue Ash near Cincinnati that was measured at EF-4.
This is tornado season for Ohio, which opens in May and ends in July, and tornadoes are not uncommon here. According to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, the state averaged 19 tornadoes annually between 1991 and 2010, though it only averaged one fatality per year. That puts the state midway on the list — with 23 other states averaging more tornadoes during that period. Texas is by far the highest, with 155 per year. Second highest is Kansas, with 96. Oklahoma averaged 62.
Each year, the nation sees 1,300 tornadoes, which happen in every state. Under certain conditions, tornadoes can grow to more than a mile wide and travel up to 70 mph, though the largest on record is the May 22, 2004 tornado in Hallam, Neb., which was nearly 2.5 miles wide. They can last from several seconds to more than one hour, though rarely last more than 10 minutes.
The deadliest tornado in U.S. history was the March 18, 1925 “Tri-State” tornado that killed 695 people across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. This tornado was an EF-5, according to the National Weather Service. The most recent on the list of 25 deadliest tornadoes is the May 22, 2011 storm in Joplin, Mo., which killed 158.
Technological advances have helped considerably, according to the NWS, with the average warning lead time increasing from five minutes in the 1990s to 14 minutes in 2010.
Jeff Jordan, director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management, said that gives people more time to find shelter.
“If you hear a siren, the first thing you need to do is get inside,” Jordan said, advising people to go to the lowest level in the house, to go to an interior room, to cover up with a mattress or heavy blanket and to stay there until the storm passes. Jordan also recommended having emergency preparedness kits, including weather radios and spare batteries.
Earley said she remembered hiding in a neighbor’s garage while they sang church songs. When the tornado hit, “I was thrown from the garage out into the driveway,” she said.
The experience left her frightened of fire truck sirens. One time, when a tornado siren went off during her father’s softball game, she panicked and ran out into the middle of the game. But years later, she said, she thinks of the children who were in school when the tornado struck Monday.
“When Xenia’s hit, school was out,” she said. “The difference an hour makes.”
Top Ohio wind-related catastrophes
Storm estimates in 2012 dollar amounts
2008 Hurricane Ike $1.33 billion
1974 Xenia tornado $1.06 billion
June 28-July 2, 2012 wind storms $845 million
May 20-26, 2011 wind storm $329 million
Oct. 29-30, 2012 Superstorm Sandy $292 million
Source: Ohio Insurance Institute