A number of buildings were damaged or destroyed in the Feb. 28 tornado that hit Ohio State's Molly Caren Agricultural Center--home to Ohio State's annual Farm Science Review.

Ohio’s farms continue to rebuild after tornado damage

Ohio farms are known for their resilience, which also holds true for The Ohio State University Molly Caren Agricultural Center, home to the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) annual Farm Science Review (FSR), after it was damaged by an EF2 tornado in the early morning hours of Feb. 28.

The aftermath of the storm left 46 of the 62 buildings on the grounds damaged or destroyed. This included 13 university-owned buildings and 33 privately-owned buildings. 

Like other local farmers impacted by the storm, the focus of the FSR and CFAES teams has been on recovery and rebuilding to ensure the show will continue as scheduled.

“We are fully committed to hosting this year’s show and coming back stronger than ever, which is in our nature as a farmer-focused facility and event. This is real life for farmers, and we’re right here experiencing it, too,” said Nick Zachrich, FSR manager.

Aaron Wilson, CFAES assistant professor and Ohio’s state climatologist, surveyed the damage at Molly Caren Ag Center.

“The reports indicate the path was over 21 miles long and 500 yards wide,” Wilson said. “Of course, damage along the path and across its width varies based on whether a structure takes a direct hit or not, building materials, or whether debris and other projectiles hit neighboring buildings. All of these variations in damage were present at Molly Caren Ag Center.”

Before hitting Madison County, the tornado ravaged South Charleston, Ohio, known for its vast farmland. Charlie Troxell, of Troxell Family Farms, farms 1,800 acres with his father, Tom, and brother, Jeffrey, lost multiple buildings. Despite this setback, the Troxells remain optimistic.

“We were fortunate. We lost the two oldest barns on the property; our original shop, which was built in the 70s and not in great repair, and the concrete containment facility,” said Charlie Troxell. “The lucky part is that we didn’t really have anything spring-related in the shop; however, the corn head was in there and damaged.”

The Troxells have spent days since the tornado surveying damage, working on insurance claims, and taking inventory of the equipment, products and supplies that are salvageable, while focusing on the silver lining.

“We always thought it would be nice to have one big barn and one big complex for conveniences, but this made us realize that having things spread out made a difference,” he said. “Our quality-built barns withstood the storm.”

Preparing for the Next Severe Weather 

Three weeks after this storm impacted many area farmers and facilities, another set of tornadoes devastated areas in western Ohio on March 14. To help offer practical steps to mitigate the effects of such natural disasters, Ohio is promoting Severe Weather Awareness Week from March 17-23.

“Limiting tornado damage can be challenging, of course, especially when you think of the barns and other shelters found on farms,” said Wilson. “There is ongoing research and innovation around building assets – like grain bins and barns – with materials that may better withstand extreme weather, like high wind or hail events.”

Wilson pointed out that severe weather can happen any time of the year in Ohio. Peak activity is from April-June and again in the fall, but severe weather can occur in the winter, too, like the Feb. 28 tornado. When the forecast calls for the potential of severe weather, Wilson suggests having multiple means of receiving warnings, even at night. Individuals should not rely on hearing tornado sirens. Those are only meant for individuals who are outdoors and are often only in municipalities. 

Wilson said it is important to know the difference between Tornado Watches and Tornado Warnings. A Watch means conditions are suitable for the development of severe weather. A Warning means severe weather conditions are imminent and individuals should seek shelter immediately. Individuals should know their geographic location and be able to locate their home and farm on a map. A phone map application may not be accessible at a moment’s notice. 

In addition, he recommends that farmers should take the following steps to prepare for severe weather:

  • Secure unstable materials. Keep unstable materials, like lumber, fuel tanks and other equipment, secured to limit dangerous flying debris. 
  • Keep a list of assets and equipment. Secure an inventory list of assets including equipment, tools, livestock, buildings and building materials. 
  • Review insurance coverage annually. Be sure to have adequate insurance coverage for buildings and equipment and work with a reputable insurance company that understands the unique attributes of farm businesses. 

Most of the damage to farms in the wake of severe weather are physical assets, but there are some things that can’t be replaced no matter how much preparation one takes, and responding to these events takes a physical, mental and emotional toll on the families affected. 

“You can’t replace nostalgia and history; those things mean something. The barn we lost used to be host to 4-H meetings and other community events back in (my dad’s) heyday,” Troxell said. “Mentally, I was young enough to weather this, but I can’t imagine having to go through something like this again.” 

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