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Lorain Tornado - June 28, 1924 (page #1)

The following is a reprint from an article found on the Lorain tornado. As more facts are discovered, those will be added. If you know of any personal stories surrounding the tornado, I would be more than happy to add them.

The Deadliest Tornado in Ohio History Struck Lorain and Sandusky on Saturday, June 28th, 1924. This was not the largest or the strongest tornado to occur in Ohio, but like the 1974 Xenia Tornado that killed thirty-two people, this violent storm struck an urban center where thousands of people were put at risk. The number of fatalities will never be known with certainty, but an accepted figure is eighty-five dead (Grazulis 1990) seventy-two of whom were killed at Lorain, a city of thirty- seven thousand. A detailed account of the storms is given in the June 1924 and July 1924 issues of Climatological Data-Ohio section and by Hunter (1924) At the time of the storm, this was the second greatest loss of life reported from a tornado so far north in the United States, exceeded only by the New Richmond, Wisconsin, tornado that killed 117 in June 1899. Since 1924, only the Flint, Michigan and Worcester, Massachusetts, tornadoes of June 1953 killed more at such a northern latitude (Grazulis 1990).

On this day of several tornadoes, high winds, and heavy rains across northern Ohio, at least four tornadoes touched down and wind and flood damage were widespread. Low pressure was passing eastward from northern Iowa through southern Michigan and into Ontario during the day. Temperatures were warm, near 80 degrees, but not unusual for June. Showers had passed through the lakeshore counties during the morning, but there seems to have been no indication that severe weather was coming later in the afternoon.

The place of first touchdown of the Lorain Tornado is uncertain. It was first observed just north of Sandusky, a city of twenty-three thousand, but Grazulis (1990) placed the beginning point to the west over Sandusky Bay. In any case, the first damage occurred as the tornado struck the northern edge of Sandusky at 4:35 PM. Damage at Sandusky was greatest along nine city blocks, an area about one-quarter mile wide and one-half mile long. The damaged area was bounded by Market Street, Adams Street, Washington Park, and the waterfront.

The U.S. Weather Bureau had an office in downtown Sandusky in 1924, and meteorologist C. C. Cooper reported large cumulus clouds were visible to the west and southwest soon after 3:00 PM. Light rain began to fall at 4:15 PM and by 4:30 PM streams of clouds from the southwest and northwest seemed to be meeting over the lake north of Sandusky. Where they met, clouds presented a "bluish-black appearance and a cloud-whirl was plainly seen." The barometer has been falling rapidly all afternoon, but it plunged .2 inch in five minutes and then rose .2 inch again as the tornado passed one thousand feet north of the Weather Bureau office. Winds had been from the southeast at the Weather Bureau as the storm approached but swung around to the northwest and increased to storm force. From 4:15 P.M. to 4:40 P.M. the wind averaged 72 mph and reached a maximum of 77 mph. rain fall from 4:45 pm to 8:15 pm totaled 1.31 inches, and the temperature fell from 83 to 69 degrees.

The history of the tornado over the twenty five miles of Lake Erie between Cedar Point and Lorain is not known. It is possible the tornado that came ashore in Lorain at 5:08 pm was not the same funnel that left Sandusky twenty-five minutes earlier. It is clear from reports along the shore and from boats offshore that a severe storm continued over the lake between the two cities. Gale force winds occurred at Vermilion as the storm passed, first from the south, then west, and then northwest. Large waves damaged cottages along the shore.

The massive funnel came ashore at the Lorain Municipal Bath House in Lakeview park and tore a three-mile path through downtown Lorain in about three minutes. Its width varied from four thousand to five hundred feet, apparently becoming narrower as it progressed eastward. The tornado lifted east of the city and set down again at Sheffield and Avon. Damage in Lorain was greatest from West Erie Avenue south to Seventh Street and along Broadway, and at least two hundred automobiles sat buried in bricks and other debris. A smashed Ford found on Broadway had apparently been blown against the fourth story of a building where oil and paint were found on the bricks above the wreckage. More than one thousand homes were damaged and five hundred destroyed at Lorain (DeWeese 1924). All downtown businesses sustained some damage, and two hundred businesses were destroyed. Most of the destroyed buildings were not of modern construction, as reported by E. H. Emery, Weather Bureau meteorologist in Cleveland. For example, the modern Antlers Hotel, of steel construction, had only a corner of its roof damaged, although it was directly in the path of the tornado.

Initial reports in the 29 June Cleveland Plain dealer listed "300 dead in Lorain" but this was gradually revised downward to seventy- two by 1 July. The State theater collapsed onto about eighty patrons viewing a Saturday matinee musical. Initial reports from Lorain in the 29 June plain dealer indicated that eighty bodies were taken from the theater but the final tally was fifteen dead in the theater, many of them teenagers. This is the largest tornado death toll in one building known in Ohio. Most of the other deaths were in collapsed buildings. Seven or eight persons were killed in the collapse of the Bath house as bathers scrambled for shelter. Five people died at the home of attorney C.E. van Duesen on West Fifth Street, two died in the Crystal Restaurant on Broadway, two in the Dinery Restaurant on Erie Avenue, and one died in the Mills Seed Store on Broadway (DeWeese 1924). Others were killed in their homes or in crushed cars.

Beginning that night as news of the disaster spread via amateur radio, teams of news reporters and photographers descended on the crippled city. The following are some examples of photos captured and distributed world-wide.

Broadway Avenue, near Fourth Street

Mangled sheet metal and street car cables adourn this automobile that came to rest here. The tornado struck so quickly that many were killed in their cars. As was stated in the article above, the tops of many of the buildings along Broadway Avenue had paint and oil staining, evidence of cars being tossed around like toys. Many of these buildings are five and six stories in height.

Broadway Avenue, looking toward the State Theater

Many patrons, mostly teenagers were taking in a movie on a late Saturday afternoon when the tornado struck. Several teenagers were killed in the devastation when the roof to this large theater caved in with little or no notice of what was unfolding outside.

West Erie Avenue and Lakeview Blvd.

The still stunned Lakeview community, search for belongings and examine the aftermath of this deadly tornado. In the 1990's I lived near this very spot and today there is virtually no evidence left of this violent storm.