High winds wreaked havoc across parts of Ohio on Wednesday, downing trees and causing property damage.
Wind speeds of 67 miles per hour were recorded at Lorain County Airport, said county Emergency Management Agency director Tom Kelley.
That falls just short of the threshold for hurricane-force winds.
“I’ve been in this position for 27 years. Other than a tornadic event or when Hurricane Sandy came through in 2012, this is the busiest wind event that I’ve seen,” Kelley said. “Listening to the radio yesterday was just nuts, and as a former dispatcher and volunteer firefighter, I’ve been a part of many crazy days. As far as wires and trees down, this was the busiest day we’ve had for a long time.”
Across the northern part of the state, winds knocked out power lines, leaving some customers without electricity for as little as 30 minutes and others days. According to Ohio Edison, hundreds of customers were left without power, with a handful expected to be in the dark until Saturday.
Oberlin Municipal Light and Power System customers saw some outages but, according to interim electric director Doug McMillan, things could have been much worse.
“We had four (outages); really all of them were fairly minor, as far as the cause,” McMillan said. “We were able to get three of them repaired within 30 minutes. One of those was a tree that came down and took out just one customer.”
The largest of the outages in the city had customers on the west side of Oberlin without power for a little more than 30 minutes.
“The west side of Oberlin, which included the hospital, a lot of the college buildings, and ran all the way out to Sterk’s, had an outage as well. We think it was a case where the wires hit together, but it was an older style of cable that we’re in the process of updating our system to get rid of that cable,” he said. “That happened during the day, so our guys got out and did some switching and the area was back on in around 35 minutes.”
Another outage in Oberlin occurred in the evening and affected Grafton, South Park, and Sumner streets. Since it was after normal business hours, it took a bit longer to get electricity restored, according to McMillan, who estimated the outage lasted 60 minutes.
In Amherst, firefighters responded to eight calls in a four-hour span involving downed power lines, according to assistant chief Jim Wilhelm.
“Basically, they were calls for trees being down, taking down wires, and we would go check on it and make sure everything was safe,” he said.
In one instance, a fallen tree took out a primary power line, which caused a fire.
“We had one in Hidden Valley (in Amherst Township) where it took down a primary wire. That’s 7,000 volts,” he said. “It laid on the ground and burned for a while before it finally blew the fuse. It set a nearby tree and bush on fire, so we had to extinguish all of that.”
In another case, a falling tree crushed a car parked near the Nordson Corporation.
Amherst mayor Mark Costilow said the city’s aggressive tree-trimming program helped limit the damage, preemptively clearing away limbs that could have snapped and caused chaos.
Things weren’t as bad in the southern part of the county, but there was still some damage.
“We had a few calls in Pittsfield with trees down across the road. It was pretty minor all things considered,” Wellington assistant fire chief Bill Brown said. “Things seem like they were a lot worse up north. We had three calls: one with a tree stuck in wires and two with trees across the road. They were all on Hallauer Road between Hughes Road and Rt. 20 within a mile of each other. We came across one on the way back from another call.”
Wellington electric superintendent Dave Bealer reported a similar experience.
“We had a pole break on Pitts Road. A couple trees came down across low-voltage wires but nothing huge,” he said. “I don’t think we had any serious problems. Considering the wind, I think we weathered it pretty well. It was strange. The sun was shining and there were all those nice, pretty clouds, but that wind was wicked.”
Oberlin assistant fire chief Susan Hiesser said the her department had just one call related to wind damage, for a low-hanging power line.
The Lorain County Metro Parks’ Splash Zone facility had to close its pools after the roof was damaged by the high winds.
“The corner right above our indoor pool has multiple layers, and a part of the top layer was torn off,” facility coordinator Chris Lewis said. “Right now we just have a tarp on it. It was around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. when it got really bad. We all started hearing banging. I walked outside and saw a big flap of the roof blowing back and forth.”
The pools will remain closed for the next few days, according to Lewis.
“A structural engineer came out today (Thursday) and looked at it,” Lewis said. “The front pool is going to be closed for the weekend and the back pool will be reopened Saturday. Both pools were closed immediately as a precaution. We’re hoping the front pool will reopen next week but there’s no definite date yet.”
Additionally, a tree a Langston Middle School came down, but there was no damage to the building nor any injuries.
“It didn’t do any damage to the building,” Langston principal Chris Frank said. “The tree had been previously damaged, so I think this just a furthering of what had already happened. It just broke off. It’s leaning against the building, but we’ve got some people coming in to take it down.”
Elsewhere, the gales caused more problems. They felled a tree at Ely Elementary School in Elyria, which toppled on an 11-year-old boy and caused serious injuries.
The winds also caused issues for travelers, as 60 miles per hour winds caused some flights to be diverted from Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Additionally, the Ohio Turnpike imposed a limited travel ban for five hours for certain types of vehicles.
Scott Mahoney can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @sm_mahoney on Twitter. Jonathan Delozier contributed to this story.