Path length: 16 miles
Width: 700 yards
SPC coordinates: 40.228121 / -80.507171 End: 40.254220 / -80.211119
Note: Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.
On October 21, 2021, a surprise outbreak of 19 tornadoes ripped across eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. Per NWS Pittsburgh: “A broken line of supercells, which formed along a front, quickly moved through the Ohio River Valley the evening of October 21st and spun off several tornadoes. The number of tornadoes, time of year, and intensity (one long track EF2 tornado) will mark this event as very rare and significant for this region.” Prior to the tornado development, temperatures warmed into the low-mid 60s, and the dewpoints topped out near 60, creating a moderately humid environment. However, other parameters needed for tornadogenesis were pretty low. The CAPE (the energy needed to sustain storms) was extremely low, and storm relatively helicity was meager. These conditions did not suggest that a tornado outbreak was imminent.
Early indications from the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) and models suggested that a squall line with perhaps an isolated supercell or two could produce strong, possibly damaging winds. The SPC had placed the area in the marginal or level 1 out of 5 risk of severe weather at 1300z (9:00 am ET), with the only risk being damaging winds. The forecast remained unchanged with the 1630z update (12:30 pm ET). At 2000z (4:00 pm ET), the SPC had placed a 2% tornado risk over parts of the area, noting, “While the tornado threat is low with these storms, it is non zero and have opted to introduce a 2 percent probability to reflect this potential.” At 4:36 pm, the first tornado developed in Medina County, Ohio, and for the next three and half hours, 18 more twisters would spin up across the area. Just before 7:30 pm, a tornado warning was issued for Washington County (the county I live in) as a supercell had just crossed the PA/WV border. I immediately called my friend Serina, and we went chasing. Our goal was to catch up to the storm at Cannonsburg. We could see power flashes about 2.5 miles to our west as we took the Cannonsburg exit of I-79. The mesocyclone passed directly over us, dropping the final tornado of the outbreak just three miles to our east in Peters Township. The following morning, before heading to Ohio for a Tornado Talk-related trip, I drove through Hopewell Township, where the strongest tornado occurred. I surveyed the first eight miles of the path via ground and about a mile of that with the drone. Time constraints and poor weather (heavy rain started to move in) prevented me from flying the drone over other parts of the path. Over the course of the next ten days, I was able to survey three other tornadoes from this event, two EF1s in Washington County and an EF1 that moved through parts of Beaver and Butler Counties. The Beaver/Butler County Tornado survey was conducted with the NWS, as they wanted me to fly my drone over the path for them. Unless otherwise noted, photos provided throughout the summary were taken by me.
At 7:30 pm ET, a strong, long-tracked tornado formed just east of the West Virginia/Pennsylvania Border, along Brashears Run Road, about 1.80 miles south of Independence. Damage was confined to large branches shorn off trees in this area. It moved east-northeast across Indian Camp Road, where a porch was ripped off a house, part of the roof was ripped off a mobile home, a metal barn was shredded, and numerous trees were snapped or uprooted.
The funnel continued to the east-northeast across Airstrip Road, causing more tree damage and unroofing a hayshed. It followed Adams Road for about a mile. Widespread blowdown occurred, and a roof was torn off a barn. Several fallen trees struck a mobile home.
A farm was struck along Kelly Lane, where a metal building was destroyed, a second one was unroofed, and the house sustained minor damage. Nearby on Possum Hollow Road, numerous trees were knocked over, and the metal shelter over a natural gas well was shredded and thrown across the road. As I was driving through this area, I had to get out of the car and remove some of the metal and nails off the road to continue my survey.
The tornado then moved into the southern part of West Middletown, near the intersection of Poplar Road and College Street, snapping large branches and throwing a trampoline and child’s playground set. In the far southeastern side of town, along Fox Road, a house lost part of its roofing, and a barn was destroyed. About a mile east of town, several trees were snapped or uprooted at the intersection of Route 844 and Allen Lane, and a shed was tossed onto its roof.
Further east, just north of the intersection of Route 844 and Park View Road, the tornado struck the Hopewell Township Municipal Building. A garage door was ripped away, and part of the roof was torn off. A maintenance garage that housed vehicles and road signs was flattened. Street signs stored inside and other debris were windrowed away from the structure and carried up to a half mile away. Just south of the township building, two large pine trees were uprooted. An apparent suction vortex struck a third pine tree and snapped it about 10 feet off the ground. Pieces of the trunk and branches were strewn along the path of the vortex as it moved toward the core of the funnel. Just east of here, across a field, intense ground-level winds at the tornado’s core pleated down a section of grass roughly 600 yards long by 25 yards wide.
Continuing east down Park View Road, two barns sustained roof damage at a farm, and corn crops were blown down. Google Earth imagery taken in November 2021 shows suction vortex markings in a field at this farm. Several trees were snapped and uprooted around the house at a second property on the road, though the home was undamaged. A large garage lost its metal roof, with pieces of tin landing over 1000 yards away. The Google Earth imagery shows a stationary suction vortex formed just behind the garage.
The large twister then raked through a wooded area just east of Oakleaf Road and reached a peak path width of about 700 yards. Here, at the core of the tornado, a 125-150 yard wide swath of trees was completely snapped or uprooted.
The twister then crossed Willow Road. The Cecchetti Farm was located at the southern edge of the whirling winds. One barn partially collapsed, and another had its second story destroyed. A few grain bins were damaged. Farm equipment was scattered, and a horse trailer was thrown about 200 yards, landing in a tree line.
Next door to the Cecchetti Farm is the home of Adam Lohr, the fire chief for Mount Pleasant Township. His split-level house was ripped apart as it took a direct hit by the core of the tornado. The entire roof vanished, the northeast-facing wall was torn away, and some of the foundation blocks were shifted and cracked. This is where the NWS notes that the tornado reached its peak intensity of high-end EF2 with winds of 135 mph.
Danny Lucas lived north of the Lohr family. His garage was leveled, his home suffered minor damage when some roof covering was removed, and a bay window was shattered. Glass from the window was spewed across the house, and Danny and his wife received a few cuts and scrapes from it. A thick grove of pine trees behind their home was sheared apart.
Next in line on Willow Road was Swope’s Berries & Bees farm. Owner Ron Swope was closing the barn when he and his wife Kathy received the tornado warning on their phones. They rushed to the basement and, after about five minutes, heard the house creak and felt the air get sucked out. Their barn was flattened, and a tractor inside was destroyed. Forty beehives were demolished, each containing 25,000 bees. Blueberry and blackberry bushes were mowed down. Minor exterior damage occurred to their home. Ron told the Observer Reporter in October 2021, “We were feeding them to get them ready for winter, to make sure they had enough winter storage, enough honey to get through the winter. So now we’re going to have to go through and look for queens and try to salvage what we can. I’m not very optimistic that we’re going to be able to save them, but we’re going to try.” In May 2022, he reported that they lost at least a million bees, but thankfully, they had some other hives at nearby farms, which survived. In that same article, Ron noted the barn was rebuilt and that they were able to reopen the “pick your own berries” part of the farm.
The tornado ripped across the Lowry Farm a half-mile ENE of Swope’s. Steve and Stephanie Kiray live here and are the owners of K9s for Kids. They breed German shepherds that are service dogs that primarily help children with autism and to help people with seizures and anxiety. The Kirays were away at a high school volleyball game. When they returned, they saw that the kennels were leveled, leading to the deaths of two dogs. Steve told the Observer Reporter in November 2021, “One was killed that night. I found her under the rubble. I found another under the deck of the kennel when I was searching for one of the puppies. The second dog was under the deck, staring off into space. After a visit to the vet, she had to be put down.” There were four puppies that survived the twister. Steve calls them “miracle puppies,” and at the time of the article, two had been placed as service animals. Elsewhere on the farm, buildings had roofs or walls ripped open, and a large tree fell across the front of the house.
The destroyed kennels.
Next in line was the home of Stephen and Doris Vanzin. They were in the basement with their son after seeing the tornado warning on TV. Stephen went to the garage to turn on the generator when the power went out. Vanzin told the Observer Reporter, “By the time I had the generator up and was heading up the steps of the garage, it hit, and I turned around and slammed the garage door closed and ran into the house.” The garage was demolished, and the roof was torn off the residence. Trees behind the home were toppled chaotically.
The last major damage occurred about 5.5 miles west of Cannonsburg, along McCarrell Road. Here a newer and well-built mobile home was unroofed, and a shed was destroyed. For the next four miles, the twister caused sporadic tree damage, with occasional spurts of more significant blowdown, and a handful of structures received minor roof damage. At 7:58 pm ET, the funnel finally dissipated at the intersection of Sprowls Avenue and Patsch Street on the northern edge of Houston.
Despite moving through primarily rural areas, this ended up causing significant damage to several structures. Damage estimates totaled at least $7 million, making it the costliest tornado ever recorded in Washington County since records began in 1950. This twister and the three that occurred after were the county’s first for October. The Hopewell Township tornado was also the county’s first significant (F/EF-2) or higher since June 30, 1990.
We gathered information for this event from the SPC and NCDC Databases, and newspaper reports from the Observer Reporter and found the following differences:
- The SPC/NCDC list 0 injuries.
- The Observer Reported noted that Danny and his wife sustained minor injuries from the flying glass.
Jon Andreassi Staff writer jandreassi@observer-. n.d. “Buzzing Back into Business: A Whirlwind Year for Swope’s Berries & Bees.” Observer-Reporter. https://observer-reporter.com/news/localnews/buzzing-back-into-business-a-whirlwind-year-for-swopes-berries-bees/article_67ce4dbe-d2cf-11ec-a378-3bb9c883c47a.html.
Jon Andreassi Staff writer jandreassi@observer-. n.d. “Online Fundraiser Aims to Help K9s for Kids Recover from Tornado.” Observer-Reporter. https://observer-reporter.com/news/localnews/online-fundraiser-aims-to-help-k9s-for-kids-recover-from-tornado/article_f0ef1f1a-462a-11ec-99b1-eb4691e22a3c.html.
Jon Andreassi Staff writer jandreassi@observer-. n.d. “UPDATE: Tornado Levels Hopewell Township Farm Market; Peters Township Reports Damage.” Observer-Reporter. https://observer-reporter.com/news/localnews/update-tornado-levels-hopewell-township-farm-market-peters-township-reports-damage/article_2f65d200-3340-11ec-a9eb-dfe20d500036.html.
“October Tornado Outbreak Flattened Kennel That Housed Dogs for Kids with Special Needs.” 2021. WPXI. November 19, 2021. https://www.wpxi.com/news/proud-to-be-from-pittsburgh/october-tornado-outbreak-flattened-kennel-that-housed-dogs-kids-with-special-needs/MBB54T3375DZVBV34HY754NREM/.
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