The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News September 8, 2006

Technical non-tornado

This semester may seem to be off to a crazy start, but thirty years ago the school year really went off with a bang. We’ll be succinct and let the story speak for itself, starting with the headline: “A Little Bit of Kansas Crashes Into Oberlin.”

September 7, 1976

A good many people were still in bed after a hard Friday night. Others, like Jack Wood, rental properties manager for the College, were just finishing their second cup of coffee. Then, as Wood put it, “All of a sudden: whamo.” A tornado-strength wind pounded Oberlin.

When it was all over, dozens of trees were toppled, rooftops were lifted and a house was on fire. Power lines were down, affecting more than half of the city, and telephone lines lay in tangles. Streets all over town were blocked by fallen trees, which made the firemen wonder how in the world they were going to get to that fire.

A dog was the only fatality. It was electrocuted when it stepped on a fallen power line.

“It came so fast,” said Wood, of the July 10 storm which started at 8:55 p.m. “I would say that the main blast was all over in less than a minute.” Others estimated that the more than 90 miles an hour winds lasted for as long as a minute and a half.

“Tappan Square looked like a disaster area,” said Wayne Streator, grounds foreman for Buildings and Grounds. Streator said the B&G crew spent two weeks cleaning up the mess the storm made. Two professional tree services assisted with some of the work. The damage to the campus, Streator said, probably cost “between $25,000 and $30,000.”

The National Weather Service called the disaster only a “severe storm,” not a tornado, but some townspeople say they saw funnel-shaped clouds.

“They don’t call a storm a tornado unless it touches the ground,” said Bill Van Ausdale, chief of the Oberlin fire department. “I think that’s getting pretty damned technical. Maybe it was a little tornado,” he said. “It did lift some pretty big roofs.”


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