ST. MARYS — A wind storm that blew through the region two weeks ago may have had some local residents reminiscing about a tornado that toppled a water tower, downed trees and blew roofs off structures two decades ago.
On July 12, 1992, an EF 2 tornado ripped through St. Marys and caused extensive damage throughout the city. The tornado, coupled with more than 7 inches of rain in a 12-hour period, kept city crews and power companies busy for days after the winds and rains passed.
“I remember the roof on Denny Vogel’s Insurance blew off and was in the intersection of Main and Spring streets,” St. Marys Police Sgt. Mark Ernst told The Evening Leader. “There were a lot of downed trees and we were running from call to call to determine if power lines were down and if anyone was in the vehicles that got hit with limbs and debris.”
In addition to toppling trees, the tornado knocked out power to a significant portion of the region. The tornado also lifted the water tower on McKinley Road — which was under construction at the time — off its base and tossed it across the railroad tracks along the road.
“I remember it was raining so heavy that all the debris was flowing into the sewers and plugged the drains,” Ernst said. “A lot of the guys from general services were out pulling all the debris out of the drains because the roads all over town were flooded because the water had no place to go.”
Ernst said he also recalled another aspect of the storm — the dispatcher was flooded with calls inquiring about the power and its restoration.
“As with any power outage, I think a bulk of our time was spent here assisting the dispatcher because we got so many calls from people asking about the power situation,” Ernst said. “We appreciate knowing which parts are out of power but about 90 percent of our calls were regarding the power and when it was going to come back on.”
Ernst also recounted an image that illustrated the sheer force of the storm that day.
“During the bulk of the storm, I was driving on 703 and where the school bus garage is, the glass on the front was vibrating so much that I thought those panels were going to break,” Ernst said. “They didn’t break, but those things were bouncing back and forth.”
The Wilker Chicken Farm on County Road 33A also sustained severe damage from the storm. According to an account in the July 13, 1992, edition of The Evening Leader, the storm ripped the roof off the 260-foot chicken barn.
Auglaize County Engineer Doug Reinhart recounted how his office ran out of road closed signs because of the torrential rains and flooding that followed the storm.
“I remember that storm because the corn was mature and tasseled and you couldn’t see the corn that was next to the river,” Reinhart said, noting the flood waters reached seven feet tall. “It was that deep into the flood plain areas.”
In his year-end report for 1992, Reinhart noted the storm proved too much for many of the area’s culverts and bridges.
“That 7.25 inches in a 12-hour period is close to a 50-year event and at least a 25-year event,” Reinhart said. “It’s just more than our bridges and culverts were designed for in most cases.”
Bob Warren recalled the amateur radio traffic during the brunt of the storm. He noted storm chasers were broadcasting updates as the storm trekked across Indiana and into Ohio.
“I was in Spencerville when the storm was coming in, and I remember coming into town and seeing the wall and funnel cloud,” Warren said. “As I came into town, I was amazed at the damage that was done. It was a miracle no one got killed.”
Auglaize County EMA Director Troy Anderson was a member of the St. Marys Township Fire Department in 1992. During the storm’s aftermath, Anderson recounted how emergency responders started the process of assessing the damage and adjusting their response.
“I remember the fire departments setting up commands to determine which areas had been impacted and trying to get the manpower out to see if anyone was injured,” Anderson said. “It took some time to go through that process.”
Another aspect that stood out was the strength of the tornado. The EF 2 classification made it the strongest on record in the county since the Enhanced Fujita scale started.
The tornado that struck Cridersville in 2010 also was classified as an EF 2 tornado. An EF 2 tornado packs wind speeds between 111 and 135 mph.
“It’s rare — most of what we see are EF 0 and EF 1 tornadoes,” Anderson said. “In 1929 on Palm Sunday, there was what would have been an EF 4 or 5 that hit Moulton.”
An EF 4 packs wind speeds of 166 to 200 mph and an EF 5 has wind speeds of more than 200 mph.
“Moulton used to be a pretty big village and it pretty much wiped it out,” Anderson said.
Since 1992, Anderson said technology and communications have improved and have provided emergency responders more tools to help keep the public informed during severe weather.
“If you look at the radar back then and now, with some of the digitally enhanced notifications, we are much more prepared now,” Anderson said. “We have some radars within the last couple of years that bring up the Dayton International radar and some other airports and we get to see that. People can now see those and we are getting more warnings and communications from an IT standpoint.”
The way fire departments receive weather notification also has improved.
“We have more warning sirens than we did back then as well as better radar enhancements,” Anderson said. “Another change is that during that day in 1992 to actually page out for the weather the dispatcher had to drop each fire department’s tone. That would take several minutes. Now we have a weather page and by setting that up, now the county just has to push the weather page tone and it goes out to all the departments and we can make that announcement in a matter of seconds. We get a quicker response that way.”
St. Marys City Council President Dan Hoelscher was a few months into his first term on council when the tornado hit. Hoelscher said he knew the storm would be severe once he looked outside.
“It took most of the roof off my house,” Hoelscher said. “It blew most of the shingles off, and it rained that night and we ended up with buckets everywhere.”
Hoelscher praised the work of city crews in the aftermath of the tornado for restoring power relatively quickly to the city. He likened the event to the wind storm two weeks ago.
“The city crews in both instances did a fantastic job in the fact that they were able to get power back up so quickly,” Hoelscher said. “It was remarkable because it wasn’t out all that long. I don’t exactly remember when it came back when the tornado came through, but I know we weren’t out very long ... There wasn’t as much widespread damage with the tornado. The system itself wasn’t as taxed because it wasn’t as hot back then.”