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On April 25, 2029, an extremely violent EF5 tornado impacted the Columbus, Ohio metropolitan area. Known as the New Albany tornado from the name of the most severely affected city, this tornado's path roughly followed a line from Grove City to Johnstown and caused major damage to large swaths of the Columbus area. It was part of the April 2029 tornado outbreak sequence.

Meteorological synopsis

At 8:30am EDT on April 25, 2029, John Glenn Columbus International Airport recorded a temperature of 71°F with a dewpoint of 69°F. The atmosphere over central Ohio was already highly unstable and featured a rotating atmosphere with southerly surface winds, an SSW-to-NNE oriented low-level jet, and a SW-to-NE oriented upper-level jet; the winds were turning with height in an atmosphere already conductive to tornadoes. However, an elevated mixed layer (EML) advected across the Midwest from the Southern Plains, which provided a warm-and-dry layer aloft (a "cap") that would prevent storm initiation until later in the day.

Around 1:45pm, a series of supercells rapidly developed over western and central Ohio as the cap broke. These initial supercells would produce EF4 tornadoes near Beavercreek and Plain City, along with EF3 tornadoes in Octa, Delaware, Westerville, and near Shawnee. However, none of these supercells would sufficiently stabilize the atmosphere over the south and east portions of the Columbus metro area. In fact, the formation of these initial supercells, especially the supercells responsible for the tornadoes in Octa and Westerville, only served to increase the available rotational energy in the area, through the generation of outflow boundaries which helped in backing surface winds to the southeast over the Columbus metro area.

Around 3:50pm, a new supercell explosively formed near South Solon in southwestern Madison County, absorbing the rotational energy left behind by the now-dying supercells that had previously passed over the area. As this new supercell approached the Columbus metro area, surface-based CAPE values exceeded 4,000 J/kg, with 0-3km storm relative helicity (SRH) values around 700 m2 s-2 and 0-1km SRH around 400 m2 s-2. This yielded an extremely high 0-3km energy helicity index (EHI) of 17.5, with 0-1km EHI equal to 10. With winds continuing to turn clockwise (and increase their speed) with height, the environment was perfect for extremely violent tornadoes.

Just prior to this new supercell's arrival in the Columbus metro area, at 4:00 pm EDT, John Glenn Columbus International Airport reported a temperature of 83°F with a dewpoint of 73°F. It was obvious that none of the prior supercells had an effect on the extreme instability nor the temperatures responsible for that instability, even with the supercell responsible for the Octa tornado having passed over the southeastern portion of the Columbus metro area just an hour prior. Skies had rapidly cleared behind these initial supercells, allowing for rapid recovery of the atmosphere in an environment now even more susceptible to violent tornadoes.

Tornado summary

At 4:21 pm EDT, the tornado touched down southwest of Darbydale, rapidly strengthening and widening as it started to produce EF2 damage on the northwest side of Grove City. Shortly afterwards, at 4:28pm, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Wilmington, Ohio issued a tornado emergency for the Columbus metro area.  Around the same time, just east of Urbancrest, the tornado started producing EF3 damage, including the tornado's first deaths on the south side of Columbus.  Just before crossing I-71 south of Greenlawn Avenue, a toxic waste spill triggered by the EF3 tornado contaminated a small area of south Columbus near McCoy Park and the Lou Berliner Sports Park.

At 4:34 pm, the tornado strengthened to an EF4 just west of Schiller Park and began leveling houses at the southern end of German Village.  The neighborhood of Livingston Park was especially hard-hit, with 20 fatalities occurring in that neighborhood alone.  Nationwide Children's Hospital took mostly EF3 damage.  In spite of the destruction, it could have been worse; the tornado missed downtown Columbus by less than a mile.

After causing destruction on the south side of Columbus, the city's east side then took damage, with EF4 damage in Franklin Park.  Further fatalities occurred just as the tornado hit the north side of Bexley, continuing to level homes along its path.

At 4:42pm, EF4 damage continued as the tornado struck the western end of John Glenn Columbus International Airport, where the tornado produced the first evidence of ground scouring at the western end of the airport's runways.  However, the terminal itself did not receive any tornadic damage; the tornado's damage swath passed just to the west of the terminal. Around this same time, the tornado track began to cross into a region previously unaffected by rain-cooled air from the storm's forward-flank downdraft, and radar imagery showed a significant northwesterly displacement of the downdraft region (where heavy rain and hail occurs) from typical supercells traveling from southwest to northeast; softball-sized hail fell in Minerva Park.

After passing over the airport, the tornado strengthened to an EF5 as it made a direct hit on the center of Gahanna at 4:45pm, and proceeded to destroy the neighborhoods between downtown Gahanna and the New Albany city line. At the same time softball-size hail fell in Westerville, which had been affected by an EF3 tornado earlier in the day.

At 4:50pm, the tornado crossed into New Albany, striking the neighborhoods around the New Albany Country Club (NACC) at EF5 intensity.  Large, well-built brick homes were reduced to bare foundations and open basements, and large pieces of debris from NACC-area homes were found as far as 5 miles away. The tornado even threw NACC-area cars up to 1.25 miles to the northeast.

After hitting the New Albany Country Club area, the tornado swelled to a record width of 2.75 miles wide.  This damage swath extended from just north of State Route 161 at the New Albany Road interchange all the way southeast to Kitzmiller Road near New Albany Farms and the Wexner Estate. EF5 damage occurred near the center of this damage swath, with decreasing intensity towards the edges.

Na radar2-0

KCMH terminal Doppler radar image of the tornado impacting New Albany at the time the strongest winds were recorded. The radar image shows a large debris ball over New Albany, consistent with the extreme width of the tornado (map data: © OpenStreetMap contributors, under CC-BY-SA 2.0 license)

Just as the tornado achieved this record width, at 4:55pm, a mobile radar positioned in western Licking County detected tornadic wind speeds as high as 350 mph over the center of New Albany. These extreme winds were responsible for some of the worst destruction at Oyer Estates, the old center of New Albany, Zarley Industrial Park, the Mount Carmel Hospital, Plain View Country Estates, and the Abercrombie & Fitch Home Office.  Even multi-story buildings such as the Mount Carmel Hospital and the A&F Home Office, both of which were in the path of the extreme winds of this "supertornado," were reduced to rubble as the wind damage triggered structural failure; smaller structures such as houses and other one-to-two-story buildings were completely leveled to the ground, without regard to construction, leaving behind only foundation slabs and open basements.  Cars parked at the Mount Carmel Hospital and the A&F Home Office parking lots along Fitch Path were even lofted skywards, with their wreckage landing in fields up to 2 miles away. The forests along Blacklick Creek, including those surrounding the A&F Home Office, were leveled in most places, and any intact trees were completely debarked. The extreme winds reduced slightly at Evans Road in the Clearcreek neighborhood, with mobile radar-measured winds dropping below 300 mph, although EF5 damage continued to a point just east of the Licking County line.  52 deaths occurred in the New Albany city limits, especially at the A&F Home Office (22 deaths) and the Mount Carmel Hospital (9 deaths, including 5 patients). Additional deaths included 9 employees of various New Albany-area corporate offices who had left work early in an attempt to outrun the tornado, one student at New Albany High School participating in after-school activities, and 11 New Albany residents who were unable to find adequate shelter and were killed as the tornado destroyed their homes.

As the tornado crossed into Licking County, it started to weaken, although EF4 damage continued as far east as Clover Valley and Green Chapel Roads southwest of Johnstown. A sudden southeastward surge of the storm's forward-flank downdraft, which had remained displaced from the tornado path up until this point, began to cut off unimpeded storm inflow, further weakening the tornado by making it move into previously rain-cooled air which was only slightly unstable with a narrow inflow axis ahead of the tornado's path.  EF3 damage continued to the southwest side of Johnstown proper, where damage occurred to the Redwood neighborhood along with several buildings along Mink Street.  EF2 damage then occurred at Johnstown-Monroe High School. At this point, a surge of the rear-flank downdraft completely cut off the tornado from its warm inflow. Consequently, near the Hillcrest Golf Course just northeast of Johnstown, the tornado began to rope out, and it finally lifted northwest of the intersection of U.S. Route 62 and Dutch Lane at 5:15pm.

The New Albany tornado was both the strongest and widest tornado on record, and resulted in 151 fatalities along its entire track, making it the deadliest tornado of the day and the second-deadliest of the outbreak sequence.

The track of the New Albany tornado can be viewed here (check "New Albany tornado damage swaths" and uncheck all other options).

Note that this scenario is partially based on that seen here: https://hypotheticaltornadoes.fandom.com/wiki/Tornado_outbreak_of_April_23,_2020

Aftermath

Na factors

The previous radar image, showing a few of the factors responsible for the recorded 350 mph windspeed.

This tornado was responsible for 151 total fatalities and 2127 injuries over its 40 mile path. Total costs associated with this tornado exceeded $6.1 billion, making the New Albany tornado the one of the costliest U.S. tornadoes on record (two different tornadoes in the Chicago area the next day would each cause greater monetary losses than the New Albany tornado). Several factors contributed to the costliness of this tornado: these included impacts on highly populated areas; destruction of affluent neighborhoods in Bexley, Gahanna, and New Albany; and damage to economically-valuable buildings (including, but not limited to, Nationwide Children's Hospital and the complete destruction of the headquarters of Abercrombie & Fitch).

Locations just to the northwest of this tornado's track, including Easton Town Center, would be impacted by an EF4 tornado from a separate storm system the next day. Some neighborhoods in the New Albany area, such as the northwest corner of Fodor, Wolcott Manor, and Upper Clarendon (the last of which was away from the first tornado's path), would be more seriously affected by this second tornado.

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