MAHONING VALLEY, Ohio and SHENANGO VALLEY, Pa. (WKBN) – The 1985 tornado outbreak was the deadliest outbreak in Pennsylvania history.
This was also the worst outbreak in Ohio since the super outbreak in 1974 Near Xenia. To this date, we have had weaker tornadoes such as the F-2 Clark tornado in 2002 and then smaller tornadoes scattered throughout the region. But, the 1985 outbreak has not been matched to this point.
“I remember where I was on that evening of 1985. I was 10 years old and I was in Hubbard. That actually sparked my interest in weather, changing my life forever,” WKBN Chief Meteorologist Paul Wetzl said. “Now I am approaching 40 years old and the scars from 1985 still live on across the region.”
These scars are more than visual. They run deep within the memories of Valley families.
The stories are amazing. Just ask a friend or family member that lived through this event.
On May 31, 1985, 41 tornadoes swept through the U.S. And Canada. There were 21 in northeast Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania. There was one F-5 and six F-4s. The F-5 was the storm that went from Newton Falls to Niles and then to Hubbard and Wheatland. At the time, radar was not nearly as detailed.
That was 30 years ago. In a once devastated Hubbard Township neighborhood, the houses have been rebuilt, trees have returned, most injuries have recovered, and some stories have even been lost through the years.
As the communities began healing, technological advancements have been booming. Weather forecast models in 1985 were not as precise. There were only a few to choose from and they only updated a few times a day.
But in 30 years time, advancements continue propelling forecasting forward. Today’s computing power has drastically improved the precision of these models. There are many models to choose from, most are updated four times a day, with some updating hourly.
So what has changed in 30 years? The capability to pinpoint tornadic development within a storm has improved tremendously.
We can not only detect rotation, but also debris within a storm. Radar can pinpoint intense rain, large hail and even severe winds with pinpoint accuracy.
Just within the past five years, upgrades have given forecasters the capability to look into storm structure in more detail. This has helped give even more lead time for warnings.
In 1985, you were lucky if you had a few minutes notice when a tornado approached. Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates a lead time of 13 minutes.
The way you receive these alerts also has improved. In 1985, you only had TV and radio. Today, your Storm Team 27 Meteorologists are always tracking storms down to street level and ready to break into programming at any moment.
Radio alerts sound the instant tornadoes are spotted or detected. Social media and cell phones also have accelerated warning time for storms. The storms have not changed, but these faster alerts provide crucial time that continues to save lives.
We are are dedicated to keeping you and your family safe. Storm Team 27 will alert through multiple platforms including TV, online at wkbn.com and through your phone with our Storm team 27 app.