Severe Weather: What happened during the Great Ohio Fireworks Derecho of July 4, 1969

CLEVELAND - Fireworks are a normal part  of our Fourth of July traditions. But, back on July 4, 1969, Mother Nature put on a fireworks show that still stands as one of the deadliest severe weather events in Ohio history.

So, why was this storm so memorable?

Of course, the line of storms was absolutely ferocious. But, it was also the element of surprise. Think about  the year was 1969. No cell phones. No Doppler Radar. Literally thousands of people outside away from their TV sets, celebrating our Nations birthday...with no way to know something deadly was headed their way.

It is known as the Ohio Fireworks Derecho of 1969. A line of storms so massive and strong they lasted for hours and traveled across several states. The worst of these storms impacted every city and county in Northern Ohio from Toledo to Conneaut south to Wooster, Canton & Youngstown. 

The line of storms formed across Southern Lower Michigan late that Friday afternoon and exploded in strength as it moved southeast over Lake Erie. The storms slammed the Lake Erie Shoreline from Sandusky to Cleveland to Ashtabula between 7:30 and 8:30 pm that warm evening. All of this, just as thousands of spectators gathered outside for picnics and parties. Hundreds were aboard pleasure boats anchored just off shore awaiting holiday fireworks displays.

As the storms reached shore, they produced winds between 80 and 100 mph. Several tornadoes grew from this massive squall line as well, including one that injured 40 people in the Lake County Community of Perry. Wind damage was massive all across the region. Thousands of trees were downed. Damage was heaviest in Lakewood, and other western suburbs of Cleveland.  Lakewood park was filled with spectators. Many were injured due to falling trees. Two were even killed.

But, the carnage was not over. The storms moved south producing more wind damage as they moved toward the Ohio River overnight. A portion of the squall line from Sandusky to Wooster stalled. An astounding 10 to 14 inches of rain accumulated from these stalled storms from Erie to Wayne Counties. The result was historic flooding dozens more dead and high water records that still stand today.

In all, 41 people died in Ohio during the storms, 25 due to drowning. 500 other people were injured. More than 10,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Damage in today's dollars would be well over $1 billion.

Share your memories of this epic storm in the comments below.

Print this article Back to Top