Oberlin was buffeted for about a minute last Friday at 6 p.m., by 85 mile per hour winds moving from the northwest to the southeast. The winds uprooted trees, left many without power for up to 14 hours and left a few others without chimneys. The winds were immediately followed by a temperature drop of 35 degrees.
The Office of Security is calling the wind-storm a "micro-burst." A micro-burst forms when a series of clouds form a shelf and propel the wind beneath it.
Professor of Geology Steven Wojtal said that the warm moist air that preceded last Friday's windy onslaught "gave a high degree of instability." This instability was caused by warm air hitting cold air to produce a linear storm. If there had also been a thunderstorm in the air, a funnel cloud could have formed. And had a funnel cloud touched down, Oberlin would have experienced a tornado - an event which certainly would not have been a first.
Between 1990 and 1994, 123 tornadoes have occurred in Ohio and between 1950 and 1994, 22 have struck Lorain County.
On June 28, 1924, a severe tornado formed in Lake Erie north of Sandusky and came ashore in Lorain, causing 83 deaths, more than 200 injuries and over $11 million in damages.
Friday's storm, however, merely roughed up some houses, tore up some trees, ripped up a soccer goal and disrupted a track meet. Meet participants, as well as members of the men's lacrosse, baseball, Ultimate Frisbee and women's rugby teams were in various phases of their practices and games when the winds hit. Most people converged in the concrete tunnel beneath the stands attached to Jones Field House and the locker rooms. After the winds died down, students located shoes, clothes and other possessions that had been blown into the east fence surrounding the track field.
First-year April Davies was in Stevenson Dining Hall when the storm began and said she saw people getting under tables. "[Stevenson] is not the best place to be. The whole building is almost all glass." Others went downstairs to ensure their safety from a possible window or even roof shattering.
Davies is from Oklahoma and remembers a similar experience involving a real tornado that struck while she was in a restaurant in her home state. She said that last week's incident was different from her previous experience because everything happened so fast and the temperature drop was so sudden. "Tornadoes usually build up more gradually," she said.
Davies also said the effects of the micro-burst were a lot different from a tornado's. "Tornadoes do weird things. They move houses but can leave houses built of cards still standing," she said.
Davies is still impressed by this natural phenomenon, even though she has seen a lot worse. "I was surprised that just straight wind could do so much," she said.
Top: Fast Fall: The hand-drawn line in the above graphic shows the temperature dropping from above 80 to below 50 degrees in the space of around three minutes last Friday. The temperature fall was associated with atmospheric changes during the windstorm shortly after 6 p.m. (graphic courtesy of Gene Matthews)
Bottom: Micro-burst storms through: A tree suffered the wrath of Friday's high-speed winds. (photo by Allison Hales)
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 21; April 19, 1996
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