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Xenia tornado remembered 46 years later


XENIA — The Shawnee Indians weren’t wrong.

The tribe the occupied many states in the Ohio River Valley — including Ohio — long ago referred to the area that would become Xenia as the land of the devil wind.

Or land of the crazy wind, depending on which source you trust. But nonetheless, the Shawnee nailed it.

On April 3, 1974 — 46 years ago today — much of Xenia was leveled by a powerful F5 tornado.

The twister, part of one of the worst tornado breakouts in US history, injured 1,150 and destroyed around 1,400 buildings, about half of those in Xenia. Nine schools, nine churches and nearly 180 businesses were ripped apart.

It was the second-largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period and was also the most violent outbreak recorded with 30 F4/F5 tornadoes confirmed. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 U.S. states and Ontario, Canada.

Tornadoes struck Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and New York. The entire outbreak caused more than $600 million (in 1974 dollars) in damage in the U.S. alone, and extensively damaged approximately 900 square miles along a total combined path length of 2,600 miles, according to online reports. At one point, 15 separate tornadoes were ongoing at the same time.

According to reports, the tornado formed near Bellbrook at approximately 4:30 p.m. As it moved to the northeast at about 50 miles per hour, it intensified in strength. The multi-vortex structure grew larger as it approached Xenia. It flattened the western part of Xenia. A total of 35 were killed — 33 the day of the tornado and two who died later as a result of the storm. At the time the damage was estimated at $100 million, which would be closer to a half billion in today’s dollars.

While its wrath was unmatched, the F5 wasn’t the only twister to hit Xenia.

A small tornado, spotted in the field along Fairground Road, struck Xenia at 9:35 p.m. April 25, 1989. No warning was sounded; the National Weather Service and public safety agencies had no reason to believe the incoming storm posed a threat to the community. The F-2 tornado spared lives this time but left reportedly $1.22 million of damage to clean up. The fierce 100-123 mile per hour winds damaged 106 houses and 10 businesses, leaving many without power.

“The storm’s human cost was light,” Gazette staff writer Tom Vondruska wrote in the next day’s paper. “One person was injured seriously enough to require hospitalization in the worst storm to strike Xenia since the April 3, 1974 tornado.”

Then disaster struck again on Sept. 20, 2000.

A funnel cloud formed west of the city; the storm hit shortly before 7:30 p.m, following a parallel path just north of the 1974 tornado path. With winds up to 70 miles per hour, the F-4 tornado caused major structural damage throughout the city that night, including at the fairgrounds, churches and businesses like Groceryland (now Grocerylan), which was flattened.

A man who was at the fairgrounds ahead of Old Timers’ Days was killed when a tree fell and crushed his car, trapping him; volunteers and emergency personnel worked to free him. More than 100 were injured.

The storm came with no warning from the National Weather Service, but the Emergency Operating Center issued a tornado warning. Reportedly, only one of the city’s five sirens sounded due to power outages.

Gov. Bob Taft — who now lives in Greene County — and City Manager Jim Percival declared a state of emergency that night.

“It was almost 1974 repeated,” council member Lee Esprit was quoted saying in an article.

Xenia isn’t alone in being struck by twisters. An F-3 tornado hit Cedarville May 14, 2014, tossing silos, lifting cars, badly damaging barns and homes, and destroying one home completely. On the 44th anniversary of the 1974 tornado, an F-1 tornado uprooted trees, damaged homes and leveled barns in Beavercreek, Miami Township and Xenia.

And last May a tornado outbreak caused unbelievable damage in Trotwood, Northridge, Dayton, and Riverside in Montgomery County before twisters wreaked havoc in the Beavercreek area. Residents and businesses are still recovering from that today.

An aerial view of damage caused by the 1989 tornado.
https://www.xeniagazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2020/04/web1_1989Tornado-copy.jpgAn aerial view of damage caused by the 1989 tornado.

A Fairborn medic assists after a tornado hit Xenia in 2000.
https://www.xeniagazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2020/04/web1_2000tornado.jpgA Fairborn medic assists after a tornado hit Xenia in 2000.

File photos The 1974 tornado heads toward Greene Memorial Hospital.
https://www.xeniagazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2020/04/web1_tornado.jpgFile photos The 1974 tornado heads toward Greene Memorial Hospital.

Wreckage from the 1974 Xenia tornado.
https://www.xeniagazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2020/04/web1_tornado2.jpgWreckage from the 1974 Xenia tornado.

Wreckage from the 1974 Xenia tornado.
https://www.xeniagazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2020/04/web1_tornado6.jpgWreckage from the 1974 Xenia tornado.

This is a shot of the tornado taken by H.V. Noble from the family farm on Stone Road near Hook Road.
https://www.xeniagazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2020/04/web1_Xenia-tornado-from-Stone-Hook-Road.jpgThis is a shot of the tornado taken by H.V. Noble from the family farm on Stone Road near Hook Road.

By Scott Halasz

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Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507. Anna Bolton contributed to this story.