Wild weather pummeled region Wednesday
Sandusky Register Staff
Jul 11, 2013 at 5:34 PM
Give her two hours to prove her might.
That's all Mother Nature needed Wednesday afternoon to brandish her destructive force, ripping roofs off buildings, flooding dozens upon dozens of local roads and low-lying communities and wreaking all manner of havoc on the region.
Trees were uprooted, tree limbs fell on cars and buildings, and power was knocked out to thousands of homes throughout Erie, Huron, Sandusky and Ottawa counties.
The powerful front rolled into the region just after 2 p.m., but the strongest leg didn't kick up until about 3:15 p.m. over Bellevue, said Jim Kosarik, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cleveland.
The front delivered multiple threats, including strong winds, heavy rains, large hail and flash flooding. At the storm's height, winds were about 80 mph, with Doppler radar showing strong rotational wind speeds, Kosarik said.
“The storm was at its peak at this point, unfortunately for Bellevue,” Kosarik said. “The storms kept redeveloping."
About 3 inches of rain fell, with an inch of hail reported in parts of Sandusky, Erie and Huron counties.
Tornado warnings were issued at various times for all these counties. Weather spotters were still assessing the damage late in the evening to determine if a tornado had indeed touched down in the Bellevue area, where roofs were ripped off buildings and trees were downed. Numerous residents in that area reported seeing a funnel cloud.
Click here for photos of storm-related damage in Bellevue.
Power outages, injuries
Thousands of people in Erie, Ottawa, Huron and Sandusky counties were without power Wednesday evening.
Bellevue was particularly hard hit, with nearly 2,000 households without power.
As of 5:30 p.m., 2,200 households in Erie County were without power, including 811 in Milan Township; 469 in Sandusky; 292 in Oxford Township; 181 in Vermilion Township; 151 in the city of Huron; 100 in Groton Township; and 75 in Milan Township, said Gary Mortus, area manager for FirstEnergy.
Huron County had 3,400 residences without power, including 1,916 in Bellevue; 454 in Norwalk; 375 in Lyme Township; 171 in Sherman Township; and 153 in Ridgefield Township.
Sandusky County had 9,600 customers out of service, including 1,261 in Gibsonburg; 1500 in Green Creek Township; 1,100 in York Township; 800 in Washington Township; 600 in Riley Township; and 500 in Sandusky Township.
Power was out over much of Clyde, police there said. Mortus didn't have numbers on Clyde, since the city is served by a municipal power company.
Ottawa County had only 240 customers without power, mostly on the western end.
"We have all of our available personnel out working," Mortus said later in the evening.
There were few reports of injuries, and they were all in Green Springs. One person was injured after driving a car into a tree on Township Road 179, Green Springs firefighters said, and two people were injured in a traffic crash at Ohio 19 and Ohio 101.
They were all taken to Bellevue Hospital. The extent of their injuries wasn't immediately known.
Emergency Management Agency directors and sheriffs in local counties said they were working with county crews and state transportation workers to place barricades at flooded roads and areas where power lines and trees were downed.
There was widespread damage throughout the city of Bellevue, where a funnel cloud reportedly touched down. At one point, county and city officials shut down all roads because of flooding.
On Flat Rock Road, severe winds ripped down a slew of utility poles and power lines.
Residents told the Register they scrambled for cover and took shelter in basements as the storm rolled in. High winds ripped down tree limbs and, at one property, oak trees nearly 50 feet tall were split in half. More than 20 trees at that property were damaged or destroyed.
Bellevue firefighters said they focused on immediate threats to safety before addressing other lingering issues. Their first order of business was assisting a handful of motorists who found themselves trapped in vehicles after downed power lines fell on their cars.
No one was hurt, save for one crash that resulted in minor injuries shortly after the storm had passed.
"It's basically damage all over," one Bellevue firefighter said. "It's pretty bad."
As of 8 p.m., Bellevue officials were waiting for utility workers to fix power lines before cleaning up other debris and assessing the full scope of the damage.
While power outages knocked out traffic lights on State Street in Fremont, it didn't keep motorists from touring the town to rubberneck the storm damage.
Outed lights were turned into four-way stops, with police directing traffic at the busiest intersections. Residents were seen pulling tree limbs off roadways and picking up debris strewn about.
When Sandusky County's tornado alert came, Ball Street resident Lou Bulger said he took shelter indoors. Winds of up to 60 mph tore through, and Bulger said he knew it was a bad when he heard a thump outside and his power went out.
"I was getting ready to go down in the basement," he said, later standing outside his home to inspect a tree branch leaning on power lines and the roof of his home. "If it didn't hit the power lines, it would have caused some damage. I'm sure it would have been worse."
He soon noticed his shed was missing from the backyard.
"It must have ended up swirling around to take that shed down the alley," he said.
He eventually found the shed, mostly intact, flipped upside down about 50 yards away in alley. His mower and other yard tools remained on his property, resting on a concrete pad that had served as the shed's base.
Just to the west, a tree on White Street smashed out the rear window of a Grand Am parked on the street. On Ohio 53, just north of the turnpike, wind tore the roof off a barn, while the courthouse roof in Fremont was also peeled back by winds.
Southern Erie County was rife with downed limbs, flooded roads and electrical outages, with the Milan Township area particularly hard hit.
Damage from heavy rains and high winds left multiple roads impassable throughout Milan, Oxford and Groton townships, keeping road crews and deputies on their toes for much of the afternoon and evening.
Structures in Erie County escaped the damage seen elsewhere in the region, although one business wasn't quite so lucky. Gusting winds pulled back the roof at Chilly Willy's, an ice cream stand at Ohio 113 and 99. The roof was then blown onto the store owner's car, leaving the shop's interior exposed to the elements.
A tree took down an electrical transformer and power lines on Ohio 113 near Huber Road, blocking off the highway for several hours as workers scrambled to untangle lines and pull debris off the pavement. With patches of flooding, Erie County deputies and Highway Patrol troopers closed off all of Ohio 113 between Ohio 99 and U.S. 250 until the road could be cleared.
Drivers trying to circumvent the area were left with few options, as most of the surrounding roads had varying degrees of flooding. Portions of Patten Tract, Mason, Strecker, Ransom, Thomas and Kelley roads were overrun with pools of inches-deep water.
The flooding spilled into yards and fields, turning lawns into lakes and houses into islands. Two Patten Tract Road residents waded through their front yard amid broken tree limbs.
Given the dangerously high waters, deputies and road crews closed off sections of Lover's Lane and Shawmill, Mason and Strecker roads.
Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said Wednesday evening the roads would reopen once the flood waters receded.
Flash flood warnings remained in effect late Wednesday for a number of areas, including along the Huron River and Norwalk Creek.
Reporters Courtney Astolfi, Jessica Cuffman, Tom Jackson, Melissa Topey, Andy Ouriel and Alissa Widman contributed to this story.