For many years, meteorologists who gather together will share stories about what they hear from people regarding tornadoes or bad storms.

“Time and time again, the main thing we hear from people about tornadoes is that we are protected from the hills so we never see them,” says Stormtracker 13 chief meteorologist SpencerAdkins.

The fact is, that while the area doesn’t experience as many bad, or large tornadoes, the region has seen it’s share including the very largest type of tornado exactly 50 years ago.

Despite a recent “tornado drought” in places such as Oklahoma, known as the traditional tornado alley, we have entered the traditional tornado season from the Plains through our part of the country.  During this time, meteorologists, and public safety planners try to raise awareness and people to think safety.

As evidence that the area does see large tornadoes, meteorologists point to storms such as the March 2012 outbreak and the West Liberty Kentucky tornado that crossed into West Virginia killing 10 people. There were two EF 3 rated tornadoes that day in the WOWK-TV viewing area.  An EF 3 is rated as having winds of 136 to 165 miles per hour.  The EF stands for Enhanced Fujita scale, named after the late tornado researcher Ted Fujita.  It’s a scale that is based on the types of damage left behind a storm, not on how a tornado looks during an event. 

Other examples of strong to severe tornadoes include the September 2010 tornado that went from Athens to Meigs counties in Ohio across the Ohio River into Wood County West Virginia were a man died when his home was struck by the storm.  

In May of 2002, Gallia County, Ohio took a direct hit from an EF-2  tornado, hitting drivers at a roadside rest on U.S. Route 35.  That storm also damaged homes from near Rio Grande through the Bidwell area until it lifted heading toward the Ohio River.

“I can recall the recent July 4th tornado that ran through Louisa Kentucky all the way to Alum Creek and lifted before it could hit Charleston, and one that hit Kanawha City in the 1990s and one that took off the roof of the then Ramada Inn in South Charleston and one that hit Lesage, West Virginia and many other smaller tornadoes, ” said Adkins.  

According to the Storm Prediction Center the ingredients for tornadoes to form do vary and are not entirely the same every time but meteorologists believe there needs to be a twisting of the wind with height, a balance of heat and humidity in the air close to the ground clashing with nearby cold air, and strong winds in the upper levels of the atmosphere.  They do note that not every setup like this will produce tornadoes and there are other times with some recognizable ingredients that appear to be missing when a tornado forms in a storm. 

A map of all tornado tracks from 1950 to 2016 makes it clear that West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio do not see as many tornadoes as some parts of the nation. One speculation is that low level winds flowing into a mesocyclone which can generate a  tornado,  suffer from turbulence and friction as those winds scrape against the rugged hills of Appalachia. Plus any south east wind coming down the mountains into the lowlands near the Ohio River can have a drying affect on the air getting sucked into the parent storm which can choke the updraft. Dry air doesn’t rise as easily as humid air.  

But videos of large tornadoes like the West Liberty tornado prove they can exist in our region.  The largest storm locally in the historic record was an F5 – the largest type –  that traveled from Wheelersburg Ohio to Gallipolis killing seven people in 1968 and traveling more and 34 miles.  There is a debate among local witnesses as to where the tornado first touched down.  Some claim that the storm started in South Shore, Kentucky, crossing the Ohio River before motoring into Wheelersburg.  The Wheelersburg tornado as it is known was recently commemorated by area residents with a memorial and an exhibit sharing the history of that fateful day, April 23, 1968 is open at the Portsmouth Ohio public library.

More historic proof that large tornadoes occur here include photos and accounts of the great Shinnston tornado in Harrison County, West Virginia in June 1944 killed 103 people and traveled 40 miles.  Of course this was well before the technology to be able to track tornadoes and alert residents beforehand.  

Knowing where to go and what to do when a tornado warning is issued is critical to your safety. Meteorologists and safety experts say first, if you’re in a mobile home you need to get out and find a sturdier shelter. Secondly, if you are in a car you need to do the same thing and head for a sturdy shelter immediately.  A car is not a safe tornado shelter.  If there is no sturdy building available in either case, then get outside and into a low spot or ditch, as low as possible.  Inside a house, get to the lowest level, preferably a basement, but if there is no basement get into the middle of the house, away from windows with as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Cover yourself with pillows or cushions, grab a bike or sports helmet, and have on decent shoes especially if you need to escape once the storm passes.

The StormTracker 13 weather app will alert you of any storm with dangerous twisting of wind often times even before a tornado warning is issued.  You can get that at www.
wowktv.com/weatherapp for free.

Tornado warnings for the WOWK-TV viewing area will appear not only in crawl form but the meteorologists will cut in to programming to alert people in potential harm’s way as part of our duty as licensed broadcasters to keep viewers safe and alerted to public safety dangers.