1985 United States–Canada tornado outbreak
|Fujita scale survey reports across eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania May 31, 1985 tornado outbreak|
|Date of tornado outbreak:||May 31, 1985|
|Maximum rated tornado2:||F5 tornado|
|Tornadoes caused:||41 confirmed|
|Damages:||$980 million (2005 USD)or in (CND)=$1 134 839 790.49 billion (2005 CND)|
|Areas affected:||Southern Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Western New York New York|
1Time from first tornado to last tornado
The 1985 United States – Canada tornado outbreak was a major tornado outbreak that occurred in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, on May 31, 1985. Forty-one tornadoes were counted including 13 in Ontario, Canada. It is the largest and most intense tornado outbreak ever to hit this region, and the worst tornado outbreak in Pennsylvania history in terms of deaths and destruction.
At daybreak on May 31, 1985, a strong area of low pressure was centered near Duluth, Minnesota. A cold front extended south from the low across the western Great Lakes and then through Illinois and Missouri. The low tracked across the northern Great Lakes during the afternoon, while the cold front progressed eastward across Indiana and western Ohio. By late afternoon, temperatures had reached 87 degrees at Cleveland, 82 degrees at Youngstown, and 85 degrees at Erie, Pennsylvania. At the same time, conditions in the upper atmosphere continued to become more favorable for an outbreak of severe weather. By early afternoon, thunderstorms developed in Ontario, Canada just ahead of the cold front.
Despite a forecast for severe thunderstorms, though, the sun shone relentlessly for most of that Friday because of a fourth element: a stable air mass at about 2,000 feet, which served as a "lid" on the brew beneath. Then, at 2:50 p.m., the "lid" moved, and huge cumulonimbus clouds—anvil-topped thunderheads—seemingly appeared out of nowhere all along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. The storms quickly grew into powerful tornadic supercells.
Storm timeline and aftermath
The outbreak lasted roughly from just before 3 PM EDT, when the first tornado touched down in Wiarton, Ontario, until around 12 AM EDT when the last reported tornado struck Tobyhanna, PA. The peak of the outbreak took place during the early evening hours where the strongest and deadliest tornadoes formed across western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.
The first of two F4 tornadoes to affect Erie County touched down just west of the Pennsylvania state line around 5 p.m. The tornado moved across the northwestern tip of Crawford County and then entered Erie County near Pennside. After causing considerable damage there, the tornado slammed into Albion leveling the town. A ten-block area was completely destroyed with nine people losing their lives. The tornado killed three more people in Cranesville before finally lifting. There were also 82 injuries with a total of 309 buildings destroyed. The second F4 to affect Erie County touched down between Wattsburg and Corry in eastern Erie County. This tornado stayed on the ground for 45 miles but fortunately didn't kill anyone.
The most famous tornado of this outbreak touched down in Portage County near the Ravenna, OH National Guard Amory at about 6:30 PM and cut a 47 mile path through Newton Falls, Niles, and Hubbard, OH before entering Pennsylvania. This was a violent F5 tornado; the only F5 in the United States in 1985, and became the deadliest Ohio tornado since the Xenia F5 during the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974 .
76 people were killed in the United States in the outbreak—the most for an outbreak since the April 3, 1974 Super Outbreak, and a mark that stood until the 2011 Super Outbreak. It was the third costliest tornado outbreak in the history of the U.S., where it caused $600 million (2010 U.S. dollars) damage in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. It was also one of the costliest in Canada: damage in Ontario totaled an estimated $400 million USD. The damage would total nearly $1.0 billion in 2010 US dollars.
|All deaths were tornado-related|
The Newton Falls/Niles/Hubbard/Wheatland Tornado
This extremely violent multiple-vortex tornado began in eastern Ohio, and tore directly through the towns of Niles, Ohio and Wheatland, Pennsylvania, producing F5 damage at both locations. The tornado killed 18 people and injured 310, and was the most violent and deadly of the 43 recorded that day. Registering F5 on the Fujita scale, it remains the only F5 in Pennsylvania history, and was also the most violent tornado reported in the United States in 1985.
It first touched down in Ohio near the Ravenna Arsenal in Portage County around 6:30 PM EDT. Gathering strength, it moved quickly into Newton Falls in Trumbull County causing F3 and F4 damage through Newton Falls and Lordstown. While nearly 400 homes were heavily damaged or destroyed, no fatalities were recorded in Newton Falls, due to storm preparedness of local authorities and its tornado siren.
As it neared the PA border in Niles and Hubbard townships of eastern Trumbull County, it created its first area of F5 damage. Well-built homes in the Niles area were completely swept away from their foundations. The Niles Park Plaza shopping center was completely leveled and partially swept away, along with a nearby skating rink. Steel girders were buckled at the shopping center. As the tornado struck a nearby industrial area, large 30 foot tall metal storage tanks (each weighing 75,000 pounds) were torn from where they were anchored and thrown. One tank was found 60 yards away, and was badly crumpled and torn. When the tornado reached Mercer County, PA, it was a half-mile (0.8 km) wide funnel with winds estimated at 300 mph (480 km). A steel frame trucking plant in Wheatland was completely obliterated and partially swept away. All that was left of the structure was a pile of twisted and broken steel beams. At Wheatland Sheet and Tube, the asphalt was scoured off the parking lot, and shards of sheet metal and routing slips were left wedged beneath the remaining asphalt. Ninety-five percent of Wheatland's business and residential area were destroyed. According to Storm Data from the National Weather Service, the destruction of the town "resembled that of a bombed-out battle field." The tornado finally lifted near the city of Mercer, 47 miles (75 km) from where it began its trek, leaving 18 people dead (10 in Ohio) and 310 injured.
Other U.S. tornadoes
What may have been what was described as "one of the most impressive tornadic events of the 20th century" by meteorologist and researcher Thomas Grazulis also occurred during this outbreak. Later rated at F4, this massive tornado tracked over 69 miles (110 kilometers) of mainly dense forest and wilderness in central Pennsylvania (some outbuildings were either damaged or destroyed early in its life). The maximum width of the damage path from this storm was estimated to be at least 2.5 miles; and it was also estimated that at least 90,000 trees were obliterated in the Moshannon/Sproul State Forest. This storm generated tremors, subsequently picked up by seismometers in the area, and a reflectivity spike (known as a debris ball, when the storm tracked through dense, old-growth forests in a rugged part of Pennsylvania) later became visible in the hook-echo on the more primitive weather radar of the time (a WSR-57 unit located in State College, Pennsylvania). The radar was picking up the hundreds of trees flying through the air at any given moment.
The second-deadliest tornado (also rated at F4) in Pennsylvania's history tracked through southern Crawford and northern Venango Counties where 16 were killed. In total, 65 people were killed in Pennsylvania alone, by far the highest death toll in a tornado outbreak, and in a single day for that state. Later in the evening, some of these tornadoes crossed into New York affecting southern Chautauqua County, New York and Cattaraugus County, New York. One was an F4 and the other was an F3; nobody was killed but over 20 were injured in New York state.
Some of the more notable tornadoes that day struck near Barrie, Ontario, about an hour north of Toronto. Killing 12 and injuring 281, the pair of F4's were some of the most powerful in Canada's history. 8 of the deaths occurred in the city of Barrie alone. Another tornado to the south had tracked 65 miles (105 km) from near Arthur to just north of Newmarket. It was first deadly tornado outbreak to hit Ontario since the Windsor Tornado during the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974 which killed 8 people.
The storm produced a total of 13 tornadoes across southern Ontario, one of the largest number of tornadoes recorded ever in the province in a single day.
|F#||Location||County/Regional Municipality||Time (UTC)||Path length||Damage|
|F2||N of Wiarton||Bruce||1850||1 mile (1.6 km)|
|F3||S of Hopeville||Grey||1945–2000||10.6 miles (17 km)|
|F3||Mansfield area||Dufferin, Simcoe||2000-2030||25 miles (40 km)||Multiple homes were damaged.|
|F0||N of Alliston||Simcoe||2030||0.6 miles (1 km)|
|F4||N of Arthur to W of Mount Albert||Wellington, Dufferin, Simcoe, York||2015-2125||66.8 miles (107 km)||6 deaths-Tornado devastated the town of Grand Valley, where numerous homes and three churches were completely destroyed. The roof of the local library was torn off and thrown 200 meters. A shopping center on the north side of Orangeville partially collapsed. Severe damage occurred in rural areas as well, including to hydro towers which were toppled by the tornado.|
|F4||Barrie area||Simcoe||2100||6.2 miles (10 km)||8 deaths-Major damage in Barrie with many homes and businesses completely destroyed. A few poorly constructed homes were swept away. Vehicles and boats were tossed by the tornado, and highway guard rails were torn away and wrapped around telephone poles. An industrial park was devastated as well, with many factory buildings completely leveled. Apartment buildings sustained major damage, and wooden splinters were found speared into concrete walls at some locations.|
|F1||Wagner Lake area||Durham||2140||unknown|
|F3||Alma to Hilsburgh||Wellington||2215-2230||20.6 miles (33 km)||Damage was mostly confined to outbuildings.|
|F3||Rice Lake area||Northumberland||2225||unknown|
|F4||NE of Monroe Center to NE of Ivarea, PA||Ashtabula, OH, Erie, PA||2059||14 miles (22.4 km)||12 deaths-In Ohio, trees and power poles were downed and 10 mobile homes were destroyed. Tornado crossed the state border and struck Albion, Pennsylvania, where an area up to 2 blocks wide and 10 blocks long was devastated. Many homes in town were completely leveled and 9 people were killed. Tornado struck two trailer parks in Cranesville, Pennsylvania, where three other people died.|
|F3||SE of Bundysburg to NE of Colebrooke||Trumbull, Ashtabula||2105||15 miles (24 km)||40 homes were destroyed, along with multiple trucks, cars, and trailers. Numerous other structures were damaged.|
|F4||SE of Cornelion to SE of Eagle Rock, PA||Trumbull, OH, Mercer, PA, Crawford, Venango, Forest||2117||56.2 miles (89.9 km)||16 deaths-Long track tornado touched down near the Ohio/Pennsylvania border and caused major damage in and around Jamestown, Atlantic, Cochranton, Cooperstown, Cherry Tree, and Hannasville. Atlantic was particularly hard hit, where a grain mill, a chair factory, a communications tower, a post office, a school building, and multiple homes were destroyed. Five people were killed there. Two homes and 11 trailers were destroyed at a trailer park in the Cherry Tree area, where five additional fatalities occurred. A poultry farm lost 160,000 birds. Numerous other structures including churches, mobile homes, a motel, and two taverns were damaged or destroyed along the path. Tornado caused a total of $5,000,000 in damage.|
|F2||NE of Dorset to W of Steamburg, PA||Ashtabula, OH, Crawford, PA||2128||10 miles (16 km)||Several homes and farm buildings were torn apart along the path.|
|F5||W of Newton Falls to W of Mercer, PA||Portage, OH, Trumbull, Mercer, PA||2230||47 miles (75.2 km)||18 deaths-See section above.|
|F1||SW of London||Madison||2306||0.5 miles (0.8 km)|
|F3||N of Johnstown to W of West Carlisle||Licking, Coshocton||2315||29 miles (46.4 km)||1 death-Several homes and buildings were destroyed, and one person was killed near Fallsburg. Caused $5,000,000 in damage.|
|F2||S of Salem to W of East Palestine||Columbiana||2335||15 miles (24 km)||Many homes and farm buildings were destroyed.|
|F1||NE of Frazeysburg||Muskingum, Coshocton||2350||11 miles (17.6 km)|
|F1||W of East Sparta||Stark||0045||0.2 miles (0.32 km)|
|F1||SW of Cedar Mills||Adams||0105||2 miles (3.2 km)|
|F2||SE of Linesville||Crawford||2110||4 miles (6.4 km)||1 death-Touched town over the Pymatuning Reservoir and moved ashore, damaging numerous homes and campgrounds. The fatality occurred when a woman was crushed underneath a travel trailer. Two trailer homes were swept away, and a barn, a garage, and other structures were damaged.|
|F3||S of Saegertown to NE of Centerville||Crawford||2123||23 miles (36.8 km)||2 deaths-Tornado struck a ranger's home at the Army Corps of Engineers Station. A car was rolled 100 feet at this location. The fatalities occurred at Centerville.|
|F4||SE of Waterford to SE of Panama, NY||Erie, PA, Warren, Chautauqua, NY||2125||28 miles (44.8 km)||In Pennsylvania, over 50 buildings were destroyed in the Corry and Elgin areas. One farm was completely leveled in the area, with nothing but a silo left standing. The farmhouse was seen airborne by eyewitnesses. A dump truck was tossed over a house and a wagon was thrown over a mile. 30 head of cattle were killed in the area. Tornado crossed into New York and traversed rural areas before dissipating.|
|F3||S of Centerville||Crawford||2212||8 miles (12.8 km)||Ten homes, a trailer, and several barns were destroyed. A $500,000 state transportation building was destroyed as well.|
|F4||SE of Shamburg to SW of Owls Nest||Venango, Forest||2230||29 miles (46.4 km)||7 deaths-700 structures were damaged along the path, 125 of which were destroyed. 14 of 17 trailers were destroyed at a drug and alcohol rehab center. The fatalities took place near German Hill, three of which occurred when a car was thrown 100 yards from Hwy-36.|
|F1||S of Pittsfield||Warren||2230||5 miles (8 km)|
|F2||SW of Chaffee to E of Halsey||Forest, Elk, McKean||2250||19 miles (30.4 km)||Damage was mostly limited to trees.|
|F3||S of Tidioute||Warren||2330||17 miles (27.2 km)||32 buildings were damaged or destroyed.|
|F4||N of Sabula to NW of Jersey Shore||Clearfield, Clinton, Centre||2335||69 miles (110.4 km)||Tornado carved a massive path through Moshannon State Forest, downing thousands of trees. 13 homes were destroyed, mostly near the beginning of the path.|
|F2||SW of Dotter||Venango||2354||6 miles (9.6 km)||A trailer and five homes were destroyed or badly damaged. A man and his son were badly injured when another trailer was destroyed. Caused $243,000 in damage.|
|F0||S of Emlenton||Venango, Clarion||2356||5 miles (8 km)|
|F4||NW of Brookston to E of Glen Hazel||Warren, McKean, Elk||0000||29 miles (46.4 km)||4 deaths-Severe damage along the path, especially in the Kane area, where three businesses were destroyed, the schools sustained $3,000,000 in damage, and 99 homes were left uninhabitable. A church in the area had only steps left, and many vehicles were crushed under collapsed garages. Caused a total of $15,000,000 in damage.|
|F3||NW of Darlington to E of Sarverville||Beaver, Butler||0010||39 miles (62.4 km)||9 deaths-The Big Beaver Borough Shopping Plaza was destroyed near Beaver Falls. Two people were killed at this location, and over 100 cars were damaged or destroyed in the parking lot. 16 antique cars were destroyed in a garage nearby. At the intersection of Hwys-588 and 65, the tornado destroyed three homes, a drive-in theater, a service station, and two other businesses. A van was picked up from I-79 and tossed a quarter-mile by the tornado. The family inside was ejected from the vehicle but survived. A trailer park was leveled in the Evans City area, and 40 homes were destroyed between Callery and Mars. Witnesses in the area reported pink insulation and sheet metal falling from the sky prior to the tornado.|
|F3||NW of Bastress to NE of Springton||Lycoming, Union, Northumberland||0125||19 miles (30.4 km)||6 deaths-At the Hidden Creek Campground, 48 of the 60 trailers were destroyed, with the rest being damaged. An 83 year-old woman survived the tornado when it threw her mobile home off an 80-foot cliff and into a tree. In Union County, the tornado destroyed three mobile homes, 8 permanent homes, and 18 vehicles. Five other homes were damaged in the area. In Northumberland County, the tornado damaged or destroyed two businesses, 140 mobile homes, 77 permanent homes, a church, 9 silos, and 28 barns. Thousands of trees were snapped along the path.|
|F0||W of Manor||Indiana||0153||6 miles (9.6 km)|
|F1||NW of Freeland||Luzerne||0245||11 miles (17.6 km)|
|F1||NW of Tobyhanna||Monroe||0405||0.2 miles (0.32 km)|
|F3||E of Jamestown||Chautauqua||2225||13 miles (20.8 km)||Homes near Busti, Harmony, Carroll, and Kiantone were torn apart or destroyed.|
|F1||N of Norfolk||St. Lawrence||0230||5 miles (8 km)|
- "May 31 - Pennsylvania's Deadliest Day". Weather.com. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- "weather.com - Storms of the Century: 1985 Ohio/Pennsylvania Tornado Outbreak". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2008-07-25. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- "07 Clayton Reakes". May311985tornadoes.com. 1985-05-31. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- "1985: Northeastern Tornadoes". Ohiohistory.org. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- Grazulis, Thomas P. 2001. The Tornado. Norman; University of Oklahoma Press; p. 203
- Carpenter, Mackenzie (2005-05-29). "The day the twisters came". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Retrieved 2010-06-07.
- Fuller, John G. (1987). "Tornado Watch #211"
- Witten, Donald E. (1985). "May 31, 1985 - A Deadly Tornado Outbreak". Weatherwise magazine, 38 (4).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to 1985 United States – Canadian tornado outbreak.|
- NWS Storm Data
- Website on the May 31, 1985 tornado outbreak
- NWS Cleveland outbreak page
- Map of the 1985 United States - Canadian outbreak (U.S. tornadoes only) Tornado History Project
- NOAA tornado event map including Ontario tornadoes
- Analysis of the Moshannon State Park tornado
- PAHighways.com May 31, 1985 Tornado Outbreak
- May 31, 1985: Northeastern Tornadoes