A few summers ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Ohio for two weeks. Living in a small town on the West coast sometimes makes me feel like I’m in a bubble. Prior to my trip, the only thing I knew about Ohio was where it was located on a map— and that’s thanks to my fifth-grade teacher who allowed me to re-take the US States map multiple times until I finally passed. Venturing out to Ohio was an exciting thing for me because I knew absolutely nothing about it.
Although I really didn’t know what to expect initially, my experience exceeded my expectations. I couldn’t believe how green and vibrant everything was. I also couldn’t believe how people could live in such a hot and humid climate— but the endless supply of popsicles did indeed help!
Having the chance to spend a little while in the Buckeye State helped me to think about the disasters that take place there. It makes sense that heavy precipitation would occur because otherwise the grass wouldn’t be so green and the parks wouldn’t be looming in flowers. Of course the weather has its fair share of climatic changes, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad place to live— all the contrary!
What natural disasters does Ohio have?
Ohio’s most common natural disasters include severe storms, floods, tornadoes, winter storms, landslides, and power outages. Other disasters that are less common are wildfires, extreme heat, and tropical storms. Between 1953 and 2019, Ohio declared 57 major disasters, of which severe storms and floods happened the most according to FEMA.
1. Severe Storms
Ohio is not typically stormy. On most days you will get to enjoy the sun and mild weather, but severe storms do occur from time to time. You can expect between 30 and 50 days of thunderstorms annually. Precipitation varies throughout the state— the northwestern region averages 32 inches and the southern region averages 42 inches of rainfall per year.
Spring and summer months are the most common time to see storms and heavy precipitation, which are not only accompanied by lightning and strong winds but in some cases hail too. On occasion, a thunderstorm can produce a tornado, but we’ll talk about those separately in a moment.
Severe storms can become deadly real fast if people don’t take shelter at the appropriate time. Lightning is extremely hot, and one shock can leave you severely injured at best, or dead. Hail of any size can cause significant injuries as well because ice gains momentum as gravity pulls them closer to the ground. It goes without saying that when any storm approaches, you should seek shelter as soon as possible, especially if you’re doing something outdoors. Sometimes storms are short, giving you plenty of time to continue your outdoor activities without much interruption. But consider your life and safety more important than refusing to end your picnic too soon. Check out this guide to read about how to stay safe during severe storms!
Floods are common in the low-lying areas of Ohio, as well as the regions near the rivers. The lowest elevation in the state is 455 feet above sea level, and the highest point is only 1,549 feet.
Ohio has experienced several major floods, but there are two that have caused long-lasting impacts: the Independence Day Flood of 1969 and the 1937 Ohio River Flood.
During the 1969 Independence Day Flood, rainfall reached 10 to 14 inches, destroying over 10,000 homes and structures, injuring more than 500 people, and 41 deaths.
During the 1937 Ohio River Flood, heavy rainfall over a period of twelve days caused the Ohio River to reach record highs. The overflow practically drowned the city and left around one million people homeless and killed 350. In this day and age, it’s not uncommon for the Ohio River to flood after severe precipitation affects the area. Kentucky, and other nearby states, are faced with flood risks because of this.
Trying to escape your home after it has begun to flood is extremely risky and dangerous. That is why developing an emergency plan beforehand is crucial. Oftentimes we cannot predict the extent of the damage that a storm will cause. We have to rely on the weather reports and news alerts, but stubborn people, myself included, always hear that little voice in the back of their head saying “Nah, that’ll never happen to me.” Don’t be that person. When your area is under a flood warning, you should be prepared to grab your go-bag and evacuate. Waiting too long to do this could put your life and the team that may try to rescue you, in danger. Learn all about flood mitigation and safety in this guide!
Ohio experiences an estimated 19 tornadoes each year. Since the boundaries of Tornado Alley are not officially defined, it’s difficult to say whether or not Ohio is part of this region. Some sources include the western portion because more tornado activity occurs there.
The tornado outbreak of 1974 stands out among all other tornado events that have touched down in the Buckeye State. On April 3rd and 4th, a series of 148 tornadoes swept across 13 states, including Ohio. More than half of them were rated as F2 or stronger, and 30 were rated either F4 or F5. The damage was inconceivable! In Ohio, two F5 tornadoes ravaged the cities of Sayler Park and Xenia. The aftermath of the outbreak was millions of dollars in damages, nearly 6,000 injuries, and 335 fatalities.
Thunderstorms and low pressure pose a risk for the development of a tornado. But even if thunder is not present, under the right atmospheric conditions, a twister can form in a matter of minutes. Knowing where to take shelter can be life-saving. For instance, a mobile home can easily be lifted and tossed around, so if you’re in a mobile home, know where the nearest storm-proof shelter or sturdy structure is because you‘ll want to go there. Practice evacuation or sheltering-in-place drills with your entire family— including your pets— so that when the moment comes, you’ve trained yourself to act in confidence and not react in fear. Learn more tornado safety tips here!
4. Winter Storms
Being a northern US state that borders one of the Great Lakes makes Ohio prone to extreme cold temperatures. Snowfall averages 22 inches annually across the state, but Cleveland ranks the highest with 68.1 inches! Lake-effect snow could definitely have a lot to do with it since the cities that lie on the Great Lakes— Lake Eerie in this case— are bound to receive more snow.
One of the snow events that stand out the most among Ohio’s history was the Great Blizzard of 1978. It was a blizzard that affected several of the states on the eastern coast. Between January 25 and 27, up to three feet of snow fell throughout the state (and other states). Wind speeds averaged 50 to 70 mph with gusts of over 100 mph! Snowdrifts reached 25 feet in some areas, causing major roads to close, leaving people stranded at home and in their cars, widespread power outages, and ultimately causing a total of 70 fatalities— 51 of those were in Ohio.
Extremely cold temperatures can cause plenty of damage to your home, your car, and even to your health. When preparing for the winter season, consider the importance of wearing plenty of layers to stay warm as well as how vital it is to winterize your house and vehicle. Wintertime can cause damages that include roofs collapsing and freezing water pipes. These repairs are sure to put a dent in your wallet. Homeowners should inspect their homes thoroughly during the early fall season and look out for any fixes that need to be made prior to the winter season. Cars should be equipped with an emergency kit that contains the tools you need to help you stay safe and warm if you become stuck or stranded on the road. Be sure to check out our winter storm preparedness guide for more tips and ideas!
5. Extreme Heat
During my visit to Ohio, I remember the extreme heat I had to endure. It was overwhelming and unbearable at times, but as an adult with no medical history, it didn’t have a health impact on me. Ohio averages 5 days of extreme heat each year. Since the humidity is high, the heat is felt even hotter. Young children, adults over the age of 65, people with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, and those who work outdoors as especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, so learn the precautions and the symptoms. Here you can find more information on staying safe during extreme heat!
Thanks to an overall lack of steep hills and mountains, landslides are not much of a risk throughout most of Ohio. The keyword here is ”most.” Unfortunately, the southern and eastern portion of the state have several vulnerable steep areas where landslides are typical. The regions close to the rivers are also prone to landslides because of erosion.
Begin preparing for a landslide by getting an idea of what risk level your property and city have. If you live in the western part of the state, you practically don’t have to worry about it. But when you’re in the East and South, you should get an estimate of where the soil is weak and if your home is at a high risk of getting destroyed by a landslide. That may sound harsh but the good news is that in some cases there are ways to stabilize the soil so that you can prevent the problem altogether. Look into your options now before it’s too late. Also, you should learn landslide safety procedures. In this guide, I mention many suggestions for retrofitting you’re home as well as how to mitigate the risk and stay safe from any type of landslide.
7. Power Outages
We have become so dependent on electricity, that the lack of it can disrupt our lives in many ways. Each of the disasters mentioned in this article makes Ohio very vulnerable to power outages. Simple wind storms can cause power lines to break, so imagine what a tornado or severe storm can do!
Power outages are usually no big deal if they’re resolved quickly. But what if they’re not? Depending on the severity of a disaster, power outages can last from a few days to a few weeks or more! In this guide, I discuss the implications that a power outage can have on our daily lives, as well as how we can reduce their impact by stockpiling the appropriate supplies long before an outage occurs.
8. Tropical Storms
Hurricanes, in their fullness, don’t reach Ohio territory because it’s not an Atlantic coastal state, however some of the strong hurricanes are capable of reaching Ohio with residual high-speed winds and heavy precipitation. These are more commonly classified as tropical storms or depressions because wind speeds typically don’t exceed 74 mph.
Becoming prepared for tropical depressions involves preparing for the possibility of floods as well. Just like with floods, you should know if your property is at risk and from there, follow the suggestions mentioned earlier in the “flood” section. If high winds are a threat, I recommend securing any patio furniture and bringing outdoor decorations inside the house to prevent them from becoming flying debris. If you have storm shutters, you should use them to protect your windows. Get some more suggestions from my guide on tropical storm preparedness!
Wildfires are rare within Ohio because the state receives so much precipitation year-round and the levels of humidity are generally high. Ohio experiences about 1,000 wildfires that burn between 4,000 and 6,000 acres each year. Most of these fires are attributed to the careless burning of debris, but they can be sparked by lightning as well. There are two wildfire seasons in the state— one is in the spring between March and May, and the other is in the fall between October and November.
If your home is in an area that may be at risk of a wildfire, I highly recommend clearing out your property and cutting trees or dead branches that are too close to your home. The less flammable objects near your home, the better. This includes moving the large stack of firewood by the door and whatever else you feel is necessary. If you are asked to evacuate during a fire, do so early on so that you’re not faced with traffic jams or road closures. Learn more about wildfire mitigation and safety here!
Natural disaster resources for Ohio
Now that you know the hazards that Ohio is likely to receive, you should begin to plan for them. Preparing should remove any fear of the future, and replace it with peace of mind. You may not have everything under control, but having supplies, knowledge, and skills will make all the difference! Here are some recommendations for you.
- Be the first to know which weather watches and warnings are in place. The National Weather Service sends out real-time alerts on their free app NOAA Weather App. I recommend you download it and set the notifications to alert you during all times of the day. Some disasters, like tornadoes, develop quickly and late in the day, so having the notifications on will give you a few minutes to find a place to shelter.
- All disasters are different, so there’s no “preparedness size fits all” here. Mitigating disasters and determining safety measures also vary. But I get it— it’s overwhelming to have to research and learn about each unique hazard. That is why I came up with a simple solution to help you! On this page, you will find all the major disasters that can happen in the United States. Pick a disaster of your choice, and find a complete guide with free checklists that you can print and keep with your emergency supplies. I hope you find value in those!
- Growing alongside a community of people who are interested in emergency preparedness will really enhance your skills and knowledge. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a government-based organization that does just that! They offer free courses and simulations to the community so that you can put into practice the things you’ve learned reading online. Also, you get the added benefit of meeting people who share the same goals and mindset as you. Find your local CERT here and get involved!
- If you’re interested in volunteering to assist your community post-disasters, I encourage you to get in touch with Ohio’s VOAD: Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. This team of volunteers works to determine the immediate needs of a community after a disaster has occurred. Then, they find the resources and allocate them accordingly. It’s a rewarding way to give back!
- The Ohio Emergency Management Agency is the government office responsible for helping the public in all phases of a natural disaster. They offer exercises and training, as well as support in recovery.
I hope you learned the natural risks that you may encounter in Ohio, and that you feel empowered to prepare for them! I wish you the best in your preparedness journey. I know that by preparing, you will find that the recovery process becomes much easier. Since disasters are beyond our control, we can at least put our effort into the things that we can control, and that’s by becoming ready and improving our skills!
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