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OARDC sees second tornado in seven years, on the same path

Mother Nature, or Lady Luck, might seem to have it in for the historic Barnhart Rice Homestead in northeast Ohio.

The restored two-story sandstone block home, built in the 1820s and located on the Wooster campus of The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), bore the brunt of the damage when a small tornado briefly touched down on the campus just before 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 5.

The house, used for campus events and unoccupied at the time, lost half its roof and suffered extensive water damage inside. CFAES officials said several other buildings and greenhouses on the campus suffered moderate to light damage in the storm. Nearly 80 trees are down in the campus’s Secrest Arboretum. No injuries were reported.

“We’re thankful there was no damage to our residence halls and that all of our undergraduate and graduate students are safe,” said Cathann A. Kress, Ohio State’s vice president for agricultural administration and CFAES dean.

Located about 60 miles south of Cleveland, the campus was never closed because of the storm, and on Monday, classes and work resumed as normal. Brian Hanna, CFAES’s capital planning director, said the total cost of the damage remains to be determined. Damage assessments are still underway.

The campus is home to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), which supports scientific studies by more than 600 faculty, staff, graduate students and visiting scholars, and the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (Ohio State ATI), a two-year degree-granting unit within CFAES with about 725 undergraduate students and 120 faculty and staff.

A little more than seven years ago, in September 2010, an EF-2 tornado struck and caused major damage to the northern, OARDC portion of the campus. Among other things, it damaged the Agricultural Engineering Building beyond repair and toppled about 2,000 trees, most of them in the arboretum. But it likewise caused no injuries. In that storm, the Barnhart Rice home lost most of its roof and saw major interior damage, but was repaired.

The National Weather Service said Sunday’s tornado, spawned by a strong storm front that sped across northern Ohio, was an EF-1, the second weakest type of tornado on the Fujita scale. It was about 50 yards wide, had winds of 100 miles per hour and was on the ground for a quarter of a mile. It was one of at least 10 tornadoes touching down that evening across northern Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania.

Dave Benfield, Ohio State’s associate vice president for agricultural administration and director of the Wooster campus, said rain fell inside the partly deroofed Barnhart Rice home for about 12 hours after the twister, with some walls, floors and furnishings damaged because of it.

Hanna said Wooster-based Bogner Construction Company was mobilized early Monday morning to put a temporary frame and cover over the damaged roof, to prevent further damage to the interior.

“We’ve also engaged an emergency response crew to draw the moisture out of the building,” he said. “We’ll evaluate the interior as soon as it’s dry.”

“Our plans are to restore the house back to its original condition before the tornado,” Benfield said.

Elsewhere, the campus saw scattered damage from wind and wind-blown debris, Hanna said. He reported:

  • Several buildings had broken windows, lost their vent covers or some of their fascia trim, or had punctures in the membranes that seal their flat roofs.
  • Several large greenhouses had broken panes and damaged fans.
  • Several small, plastic-covered, semi-permanent greenhouses — ironically, first built as stopgaps to replace large greenhouses wrecked by the 2010 tornado — suffered moderate structural damage.
  • The Ralph Regula Plant and Animal Agrosecurity Research Facility, a highly secure biocontainment building on the campus, came through the storm fine, suffering no damage.

Hanna said that with cleanup underway, “our No. 1 priority is keeping people safe.” Repairs will begin “as soon as possible.”

“Our faculty and staff are conducting important research,” he said. “We want to minimize any and all disruptions to their work.”

Secrest Arboretum Curator Joe Cochran said most of the nearly 80 downed trees in the 115-acre plant collection were tall pines, spruces and hemlocks on the east side of Green Drive.

“Many of them, with the ground being so saturated, were just blown over, roots and all,” he said. “But we probably had 12 or 15 that were snapped by the wind and their tops went flying.”

Included in the total were 12 downed trees on arboretum land just east of state Route 83, which runs through the arboretum’s east side, he said.

All the arboretum’s buildings, however, escaped damage. That includes the Jack and Deb Miller Pavilion, which was leveled by the 2010 tornado and then was rebuilt.

“Thankfully, it was left unscathed this time,” Cochran said. “A piece of sheet metal got awfully close to the windows, but didn’t make connections.”

Ken Scaife, CFAES’s assistant to the director for field operations, said about 30 acres of conventionally grown corn, 10 acres of organic corn and 5 acres of corn in an experimental plot — in fields near OARDC’s Krauss Dairy and also a few miles farther east at OARDC’s Badger Farm near Apple Creek — suffered severe lodging, or breakage of stalks, from the winds.

Scaife said yield losses in those fields should be about 10%, mainly due to the harvesting combine not being able to pick up all the lodged corn. With yields in those fields predicted to be a “very good” 200 bushels per acre or more, the loss should translate to about 20 bushels per acre.

“Harvesting operations in the wind-damaged fields will be slow, but our staff have been making good progress this week,” he said.

Plastic sheeting and a temporary frame cover the missing part of the roof of the 1820s-built Barnhart Rice Homestead in Wooster, hit by a small tornado on Nov. 5. (Photo: Brian Hanna, CFAES.)
Plastic sheeting and a temporary frame cover the missing part of the roof of the 1820s-built Barnhart Rice Homestead in Wooster, hit by a small tornado on Nov. 5. (Photo: Brian Hanna, CFAES.)

Benfield said Sunday’s tornado followed almost the same path as the tornado in 2010, although Sunday’s touched down halfway onto the campus, not to the west of the campus as 2010’s did, and was on the ground for a much shorter distance. Both tornadoes approached the campus from the west near the top of the hill on Madison Avenue, and traveled east over the campus and toward and into the arboretum.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Cochran said with a laugh. “The same path! I wouldn’t have guessed that in a hundred years. But after the one seven years ago, this one seems like a piece of cake.”

Benfield said he heard Wooster’s tornado sirens go off, worried about damage to the campus, but suspected it wouldn’t be severe after he got the first reports.

“Fortunately, the damage was relatively moderate,” he said. “I do remember thinking, ‘Surely, not two tornadoes in seven years!’ ”

Few of OARDC’s faculty, staff and graduate students were working on the campus when the tornado hit late on the weekend. About 30 graduate students live in Ohio State-owned houses on the campus, none of which were damaged in the storm.

Almost all the Ohio State ATI students on the campus during the storm were those who live in the 460-resident Applewood Village apartment complex, located about a quarter of a mile south of the tornado’s path, and which also suffered no damage.

“Fortunately, this happened on a Sunday evening,” Hanna said. “We’re truly thankful no one was hurt.”

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