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Xenia Lives: 40th Anniversary of the 1974 Xenia Tornado

In Books, history, Local News, Uncategorized on March 4, 2014 at 1:35 pm

tornado poster finalXenia, Ohio – This year marks the 40th anniversary of a tragic event that changed the course of history for the Xenia community. The 1974 tornado that devastated Xenia was a reminder of both the power of nature and the resiliency of our people. In recognition of this, the City of Xenia, the Greene County Historical Society, Xenia City Schools, and the Greene County Libraries, Xenia Branch are proud to present a month of remembrance and education.

Photo after the tornado of the main intersection of US 35 and SR 68, looking southwest from the lawn of the Greene County Courthouse

Photo after the tornado of the main intersection of US 35 and SR 68, looking southwest from the lawn of the Greene County Courthouse

Beginning in March 2014, special programming and events will be offered to the general public to learn about weather phenomena and severe weather preparedness, to understand the history of the 1974 tornado and its aftermath, and to recognize the efforts and leadership displayed in the recovery and rebuilding of our community. A memorial service will be held at the 1974 Tornado Memorial in front of Xenia City Hall, 101 N. Detroit Street, at 4:15 p.m. with a reception immediately following at the Xenia Branch of the Greene County Public Library.

Possibly the most famous (and ominous) photos of the 1974 Xenia Tornado.

Possibly the most famous (and ominous) photos of the 1974 Xenia Tornado.

“The April 3, 1974 event, while tragic, does not the define Xenia. What defines this community is our ability to rise from tragedy. It is our ability to overcome, to withstand these hardships, to transform destruction into a thriving community, to embrace friendship, and to be greater than our suffering, that makes us truly great,” stated City
Manager Brent Merriman. “We remember this day, and those we have lost; but reflecting on this event allows us to see how far we have come and how much farther we can go.”

More information and a complete schedule of events are available on the City of Xenia website, www.ci.xenia.oh.us.

Science and the public benefit from storm chasers

In Education, Local News, Media, National News, Opinion, Science, Technology, Uncategorized on June 3, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Deer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

WHIO-TV's weather radar as it appeared on April 3, 1974 approximately 4:20PM as the Xenia Tornado touched down. Notice the "hook" echo indicating the twister.

WHIO-TV’s weather radar as it appeared on April 3, 1974 approximately 4:20PM as the Xenia Tornado touched down. Notice the “hook” echo indicating the twister.

In the 48 hour period between April 3rd and 4th, 1974, the Midwestern United States experienced one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in history. Known as a “super outbreak,” 148 confirmed tornadoes touched down from Michigan to Alabama and Illinois to West Virginia, with 30 of them in the F4-F5 categories and resulting in the deaths of 300.

One of the most devastated towns was Xenia, Ohio, where a massive F5 funnel tore through the city leaving a mile-wide path of destruction, killing 33 and injuring more than 1,100. The low death toll is attributed to advanced warning provided by WHIO-TV weatherman, Gil Whitney using the first local weather radar system in the Dayton area.

Satellite, GPS and advanced warning networks, along with modern Doppler radar have all helped increase early warnings for tornado victims from less than 3 minutes to more than 15 minutes. Much advancement in severe weather detection might never have happened, however, without the work of the brave men and women who call themselves, storm chasers.

Storm chasers are serious scientists working to increase our knowledge of tornadoes and how they behave. Unlike those depicted in the 1996 movie, “Twister,” however, chasers experience little glory instead spending days and weeks in preparation that may result only in a few moments of tornado spotting.

As you might expect, purposely trying to outmaneuver the proverbial “finger of God” carries with it some inherent danger. Unfortunately, that danger can turn deadly at any moment.

On May 31st, revered storm chaser Tim Samaras, 55; his son, Paul, 24; and meteorologist Carl Young, 45, were killed near El Reno, Oklahoma as they tried to document one of several tornadoes moving through the area. Since their deaths, many have asked, “Is the data gathered from storm chasing worth the risk?” In my opinion, yes, it is.

I’ve always been fascinated by tornadoes. The day after the Xenia tornado of ’74, my parents took me along as they assisted with the cleanup efforts by using our grain trucks to help haul away debris. I never forgot what I saw there. Nor will I ever forget the darkened, green sky and the strange, coldness of the air as the monster storm was passing through. It marked my psyche for years to come.

Possibly the most famous photo of the Xenia Ohio 1974 Tornado. Taken from Greene Memorial Hospital by Fred Stewart.

Possibly the most famous photo of the Xenia Ohio 1974 Tornado. Taken from Greene Memorial Hospital by Fred Stewart.

The experience left me nearly terrified of storms, until one day in 1988, when I was alone at our family farm and stepped outside after hearing tree branches break during a storm. I stood on our front porch, paralyzed, as I watched a small funnel cloud worm its way across the pasture in front of me, parallel to our house.

My ears popped as I stood motionless, surrounded by completely still air except for the slim tube descending from the sky into a swirling mass of dust. With almost no sound at all, it smashed the wooden sideboards of one of our old trucks, crossed the field about a half mile away and totally demolished a neighbor’s barn.

As quickly as it came, it was gone. That day, my fear gave way to a new respect for one of nature’s most dangerous, ephemeral phenomena. Since then, I’ve been within eye-shot of two more tornadoes and educated myself about them as best I could without taking to the road as a chaser.

But, I have the utmost respect – not to mention appreciation – for those who have. While there are probably some storm chasers who are just thrill-seekers, I have no doubt that most are in it for the science and the potential benefit that comes from the effort.

Early warning systems now broadcast through TV, Internet and cell phones, and most air raid sirens have been re-purposed for use as tornado warning systems. Everyone in and around Tornado Alley should remain diligent when severe weather approaches and heed warnings when they are issued.

It’s doubtful we’ll ever be able to fully predict when and where a tornado will strike but, thanks to the work done by storm chasers, scientists can give people a fighting chance to be better prepared.


Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown, Ohio. More at http://www.gerydeer.com.

Future of Jamestown Depends on Creativity and Business Savvy

In Business, Economy, Local News, Opinion, Politics, Uncategorized on March 20, 2012 at 9:25 am

Is the sun setting on the historic past of Jamestown, Ohio? (Photo by Gery L. Deer)

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines

As the last shovel full of bricks was removed from the site of the old Powers Marine building after its demolition, residents have been staring at yet another vacant lot in the downtown and wondering about Jamestown’s future. Founded on the southeastern edge of Greene Countyin 1816, the tiny village has seen its share of catastrophe.

In the late 1890’s, a devastating tornado leveled the entire town while a century later a fire destroyed most of the southwest side of W. Washington Street. But today, Jamestown may face a greater challenge than natural disasters – short shortsightedness.

What would have happened at the turn of the 20th Century if no one had decided to rebuild after the tornado? Within a few moments, homes and businesses lay in splintered wreckage; a town once poised to compete with Xenia for the county seat lay in ruins. Imagine if it had been left that way. That’s essentially what has been happening in Jamestown for the last couple of decades, with a few exceptions, particularly one structure that was snatched from in front of the bulldozers nearly in the nick of time.

Once again alive with the sounds of ongoing renovation efforts and music and laughter filling its auditorium, in the mid 1990’s the Jamestown Opera House was considered an eyesore and there were those who believed it should be torn down. Fortunately, thanks to the determination of a small number of residents who formed the Jamestown Area Historical Society, the historic theatre is without question a shining gemstone in the village’s tarnished crown.

Then again, if things keep going like they are it might be the only downtown building still standing and occupied ten years from now. How’s that for irony? But it’s not just lost history that is costing Jamestown, but the perception that it’s decaying – rapidly.

An informal survey posted on Facebook revealed some opinions as to why Jamestown has declined. Some people suggested that the village and township officials make it too difficult to establish new business, often rejecting proposals for new business and creating so many roadblocks that there would be no reward for the effort.

One comment said that rents of office and store front space in Jamestown cost between $1,500 and $2,000 per month. If true, one of the problems is obvious. With such outrageous expense just to keep the space, limited street side parking, nothing to draw people to town and an ever expanding sprawl away from the downtown area, there is no practical reason to set up shop there.

Another line of discussion from the survey suggested that Shawnee Hills should be annexed for tax revenue because there are higher property values and income levels than those found in the village proper. The extra money could be used to provide incentives for businesses to settle in town, thus drawing more visitors. Needless to say that drew angry responses from lake dwellers, some of whom commented that they don’t consider themselves as Jamestown residents, but merely living within the same postal district.

Of Course, real estate and financial issues are only part of the problem. People still create the biggest roadblock to regenerating a town’s vitality, regardless of its size. Those who hold the power in small towns still seem to believe that they are all-important.

Good old boy politics thrives and for those who have never been exposed to any other way of doing things, their ability to make forward-thinking decisions may be sharply limited. In addition, pointless and continual bickering between township and village officials over petty control issues only serves to drive the coffin nails deeper.

Trying to return Jamestown to the way it was is hopeless. Those days are gone and though this opinion probably won’t sit well with the powers that be, a new era for Jamestown means more creative thinking, some genuine business savvy and a fresh start. Jamestown may not be able to compete with larger communities, but more open minds must soon prevail or it will just end up a dot on a map and a footnote in the history of Greene County.