2008 was a year of extreme weather events, but aside from the March Blizzard, the biggest story of the year was its severe wind events, particularly from Hurricane Ike. Let’s take a look back.
January 8th-9th Severe Weather
Record warm temperatures in the upper 60s on the 7th-8th of January, 2008 gave way to storms and even a rare January Tornado Watch on the evening of the 8th. Winds had been gusty all during the day of the 8th, but reached their peak with the frontal passage storms. Rain and thunderstorms began moving into Ohio during the late afternoon and increased in intensity through the evening, prompting the NWS to issue a Tornado Watch just after 10pm. Although no tornadoes were reported anywhere in Ohio on the night of the 8th-9th, the storms brought with them rains of 1-2″ and winds of up to 70mph, causing many reports of minor structural damage and scattered power outages.
January 29th-30th Windstorm
The second, more intense wind event for January in Ohio came during the last few days of the month. A very strong low pressure moved north and west of Ohio as strong high pressure moved south into the Plains. The resulting gradient caused winds to increase. Winds were sustained between 30-35mph most of the 29th. When the front arrived during the evening hours, winds ramped up even more. Winds were sustained at 40-45 with gusts between 60-70mph. There was very little precipitation with this front. Damages were widespread.
On a personal note with this event, I witnessed several power poles bent over and large business signs blown out from the force of the January 29th-30th wind event.
Hurricane Ike and Ohio’s Worst Windstorm
On September 1st, 2008, a tropical depression formed in the central Atlantic Ocean. That same day, the depression strengthened enough to gain a name: Ike. No one in Ohio anticipitated that this storm, far out in the Atlantic, would cause the most widespread, destructive windstorm the state had ever seen.
Ike gradually became a hurricane and roared west and then southwest over Cuba before turning back to the northwest and into the Gulf of Mexico. He churned westward growing in size as he went. The windfield of the hurricane was gigantic. Hundreds of miles from the center, tropical storm force winds were pounding parts of the Gulf Coast, giving an indication of the wind and surge potential.
Hurricane Ike made landfall near Galveston, Texas early on Saturday, September 13th with maximum sustained winds of 110mph. After landfall, the system turned to the north and then to the northeast as it hooked up with a frontal boundary that was draped across the Midwest. The system became extratropical by the end of the day on the 13th and gradually accelerated to the north and east towards the Great Lakes.
Now, at this point, that would normally be the end of the story. A dying tropical system far inland tends to produce a lot of rain and flooding, but wind is not usually an issue. And indeed, parts of Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois saw major and disastrous flooding from a combination of the frontal boundary and the remains of Ike. However, a very unusual situation occurred.
Over the Gulf of Mexico and up through landfall, Ike was never quite able to translate upper level high winds down to the surface. The sustained reading of 110mph at landfall never seemed to actually materialize in reports on the ground, and the vast majority of the damage along the Texas coastline was due to significant storm surge brought in by the massive size of the storm. However, Ike’s inability to translate the highest winds to the surface was about to change.
Ike maintained a very low pressure of between 986 and 990 throughout the journey through the OV and Great Lakes, and as he transitioned from tropical to extratropical, the remains actually intensified and Ike retained a large amount of his original wind field, particularly on the eastern side.
No one forecasted this. The NWS, as late as Saturday evening, had forecast winds of 25mph in gusts for much of Ohio.
On the morning of Sunday, September 14th, 2008, the National Weather Service in Wilmington had issued a Wind Advisory for its forecast area calling for gusty winds of 20-30mph with gusts up to 50mph. However, things began to rapidly change. Kentucky was already getting rocked with high winds of over 50mph, and the winds seemed to intensify even more as the core began to move into Ohio through Cincinnati.
By late morning, winds in Cincinnati had reached a *sustained* speed of 54mph with gusts to hurricane force! These heavy winds began to ride up the I-71 corridor, reaching Wilmington by noon and Columbus by 2pm. For several hours, high winds pounded the area. Sustained winds over 50mph were common, and gusts of 70-80mph were widespread. The winds did not begin to die down until after 6pm, and by 8pm, the area had gone almost completely calm.
When the storm was over, over 1/10th of the entire state’s population was without power, including more than 55% of Columbus. Tens of thousands of trees had fallen, and debris of all kinds was everywhere. Power lines had been snapped, signs had been blown down, billboards had been destroyed, and thousands of homes and buildings had sustained damage. Power remained out for thousands for up to two weeks after the storm passed.
The story was the same up and down I-71 up through Cleveland, although damage there was less than that in central and southern parts of Ohio. The severe wind field was about 100 miles across and centered through the major cities on I-71. Insured losses from this storm totaled well over a billion dollars, and total damage likely exceeded two billion. This made the storm one of the most damaging natural disasters in Ohio history, exceeding those like the Blizzard of 1978 and perhaps even the Great Flood of 1913 in adjusted dollars.
Highest Wind Gusts in Ohio on 9/14/2008
Highest measured wind gusts — official observations
75 mph — Port Columbus International Airport (Franklin County, OH)
74 mph — Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Int’l Airport (Boone County, KY)
74 mph — Airborne Airpark, Wilmington, OH (Clinton County, OH)
69 mph — Bolton Field (Franklin County, OH)
69 mph — Rickenbacker Airport (Franklin County, OH)
68 mph — Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport (Montgomery County, OH)
63 mph — OSU Airport (Franklin County, OH)
61 mph — Cincinnati Lunken Municipal Airport (Hamilton County, OH)
60 mph — Dayton International Airport (Montgomery County, OH)
59 mph — Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (Greene County, OH)
Highest measured wind gusts — unofficial observations
84 mph — West Chester, OH (Butler County)
78 mph — Lebanon, OH (Warren County)
77 mph — Wilmington, OH (Clinton County)
73 mph — Anna, OH (Shelby County)
66 mph — St. Mary’s, OH (Auglaize County)
65 mph — Baltimore, OH (Fairfield County)
65 mph — Trenton, OH (Butler County)
63 mph — Beavercreek, OH (Greene County)
61 mph — Springfield, OH (Clark County)
60 mph — Cleves, OH (Hamilton County
58 mph — Hamilton, OH (Butler County)
56 mph — Cincinnati, OH (Hamilton County)
49 mph — Greenville, OH (Darke County)
In general, the highest wind gusts and sustained wind were not the highest ever record in Columbus and other places, but they were generally in the top 5. However, previous events had generally been record in thunderstorms, and so were rather brief in duration. The multi-hour event of September 14, 2008, therefore, stands as one of the worst wind events in Ohio history.
Videos from around Ohio on 9/14/2008