CLEVELAND - With much attention focused on the deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma this past week, I thought I would take a look back at Ohio's deadliest twister.
Lorain, Ohio seems far removed from Tornado Alley in the Great Plains. But, on June 28, 1924, Lorain made history when one of the deadliest tornadoes of the 20th Century blasted through town.
At 4:35 p.m., the deadly tornado touched down near Sandusky in Erie County. According to Weather Bureau reports, the storm seriously damaged nine blocks on the east side of town. Several office buildings and factories were damaged. But, since it was a Saturday, few folks were inside. However, three people were killed in one office building and there were 2 fatalities elsewhere in the city. The damage was estimated at about $1.5 million 1924 dollars.
Storm reports state: "The storm center passed about 1,000 feet north of the Weather Bureau office at approximately 4:35, the barometer falling abruptly by 0.20 inch and within five minutes regaining its former height; the rain, which had been light since it started at 4:15, became heavy and so continued till 8:15, the total fall being 1.41 inches. The wind register indicated the quickest mile at the rate of 77 miles per hour."
The twister then continued east out over Lake Erie where it passed just off shore of the city of Huron. Still, the high winds were close enough to town to cause damage to many homes and businesses.
The storm continued east according to Weather Bureau reports: "The displayman at Vermilion, about 9 miles east of Huron, reports a strong gale, shifting gradually from south to west and northwest, as the large black cloud, seemingly a mile and a half in diameter, passed eastward over Lake Erie at a distance of perhaps 4 miles. Heavy rain and lightening prevailed for a long time and fragments of roofing were deposited, but there was no damage of consequence at Vermilion."
Just offshore of Vermilion, the 95-foot gasoline yacht Oswichee, enroute to Put-In-Bay, came face to face with the twister. Here's how the passengers described the experience:
"It became evident (about 4:30) that an unusual storm was ahead of us. We saw a very black cloud, one-half mile wide at the water line and much wider at the top. It traveled very fast and was full of lightning, with a peculiar, dirty, yellowish amber glare around it. It was a little north of west and came toward us, traveling southeast. We turned south under full speed until 4:45, at which time a waterspout shot out of it and then down to the water. It was funnel-shaped, base up, and the water seemed to rise to meet it, cone shape. This was about 5 p.m. The pressure was terrific, but we had passed the center of the storm and were caught half way to the outer edge. The water boiled and seemed to flatten into innumerable whirling or circling eddies, anticlockwise. The fury lasted for 20 minutes, with continuous streak lightning; the roar was so great that we could not hear the thunder. Then the waterspout went across our stern, drenching us with water, followed by heavy spray and a very decided suction, which lifted the pipe from our furnace as the air rushed up into the vacuum formed. It also pulled up the canvas which covered the top deck and was nailed down around the edges. We were in complete darkness for 20 minutes, followed by a dirty, yellowish, amber glare. The waterspout passed southeast in a direct line to Lorain, and was followed by a terrible rainstorm and high sea."
The tornado then strengthened as it moved onshore into the City of Lorain around 5:10 pm. The first structure demolished was the bath house right next to shore. Eight people lost their lives as the bath house disintegrated around them.
The tornado then traveled down Broadway Avenue, through the heart of the business district. Mrs. Hattie Hale saw the storm coming from the third floor of the Lorain Opera House.
"The trees were all bending toward the north," she reported. "Then I noticed the perfectly formed, funnel-shaped cloud, with its tail flowing or waving gracefully from it, while the larger part of the cloud was revolving very fast and increasing as it grew nearer."
Fifteen people were killed when the nearby State Theatre collapsed. In all, 73 people lost their lives in Lorain, and 200 people were injured.
Charles J. Meek was just a boy at the time. His neighborhood was destroyed by the tornado. Years later, he described the experience in great detail:
"The people who owned the house on the corner of 5th and Hamilton, a half block away, were just sitting down to eat supper. The tornado lifted up the whole house and blew it away, leaving them all sitting at the table, wet but otherwise not disturbed."
The Van Deusen family, my father’s lawyer who lived on 5th about a block away, was entertaining a group of visitors and relatives. They decided to run for the basement, and lined up against the wall when the house caved in on them. It killed every other one as they stood against the wall.