An isohyetal, or rainfall, map of Ohio from July 4-5, 1969. The darkened areas indicate where at least 10 inches of rainfall fell.
At 6:00 pm on July 4, 1969, National Weather Service forecasters in Cleveland picked up a line of thunderstorms forming over central Michigan. Having already tracked an area of low pressure moving through Michigan's northeast earlier than afternoon, the forecasters anticipated that most of the damage would occur away from Ohio. However, these initial forecasts were mistaken1.
One hour later, the same line veered southward over Lake Erie and was shown gaining energy as it traveled southwest. Its center leered ominously in the path of northeastern Ohio.
Now certain of the danger, the forecasters began to warn those in the storm's path. Because it was a holiday, the Civil Defense Office in Cleveland, normally responsible for distributing warnings, was closed. Therefore, the alternative was to activate Disaster Net through the area's police departments 2.
As Senior Forecaster on Duty, George W. Webb, Jr. transmitted the warnings. When the first reports of severe weather were received at 7:35 pm, he sent out a final severe thunderstorm warning at 7:45 pm. Fifteen minutes later, the line made landfall near Lakewood, Ohio.
At the time, there were no flash flood warnings and watches3, so few would have had a flood in mind that evening. When the rain started in Wooster at 9 p.m., crowds had gathered at the L.C. Bowles Golf Course to watch a fireworks display hosted by the city 4. Others had traveled to the countryside to spend the holiday with family.
However, by the next day, over 726,016 tons of water had fallen per square mile. The exhausted creeks and streams flooded their banks and devoured highways, fields, and homes in flooding on a scale that had never been seen before5.
While the nation focused on sending astronauts to the moon and soldiers to fight in the Vietnam War, northeastern Ohio would be forced to respond to the one of the worst flood disasters in its history.
A 1973 slide from the Cooperative Extension Service details the losses from the 1969 flood in North Central Ohio.
Special thanks for this exhibit are due to the Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District and to Professors Shelley Judge, Hayden Schilling, and Greg Wiles of the College of Wooster. These institutions and individuals contributed time, guidance, and resources that were crucial to the final product.
Valuable resources used in this exhibit also came from the Daily Record, the United States Geological Survey, the National Weather Service, the Soil Conservation Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
1- Environmental Science Services Administration, Weather Bureau Eastern Region, "Report of Weather Bureau Survey Team, Storm of July 4-5, 1969 Northern Ohio," National Weather Service, http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/assessments/pdfs/Northern%20Ohio%20Storm%20July%204-5%201969.pdf.
3- Ibid., p. 6.
4- Elinor Taylor, "Covering The Tragedy: Once Every 100 Years Is More Than Enough" Daily Record (Wooster, OH), Special Section, July 3, 1989, p. 4. 5- U.S. House of Representatives, Ohio Storm Damage Inspection: Hearings Before The Subcommittee on Flood Control of the Committee on Public Works (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970), p. 267.