The worst flooding in Ohio's weather history creates a memorable 4th of July.
Image © 2008, Karla Dorman
July 4th, 1969. Ontario, Ohio.
My twin sister and I had just turned 10 years old the week before. Our family--Dad and Mom, two older sisters, older brother and us--had celebrated America's Independence Day with a cookout, neighborhood games and Dad shot off a few (illegal) fireworks. To end the day, we would go to our high school to watch the annual fireworks display.
Little did we know that Mother Nature would provide Ohio with her own fireworks that night.
All afternoon, strong to severe thunderstorms, with tops towering 60,000 feet into the atmosphere, moved from west to east over Lake Erie. Just before 7:00 p.m., they veered southward.
It was cloudy when we got to the high school. In the distance, on the northern horizon, we noticed flashes of lightning, but since the storms were still far away, no thunder could be heard.
Yet. That would change as the evening went on.
Several "test" fireworks were launched without incident. The show could commence.
And what a show it was. It would be one to remember.
A couple of minutes into the show, a sudden bolt of blue-white lightning lanced downward. It landed dead center in the field where the shells were set up.
Over and over and over again, as the rest of the fireworks exploded.
What a finale!!
The pyrotechnician was last seen running away from the explosions, faster than any cheetah. Thankfully, he wasn't hurt, just very, very scared. The spectators seated on bleachers "hit the deck."
INCOMING!! Surprisingly, no one was killed or injured. Shell shocked, possibly.
Twenty minutes of fireworks condensed into seconds. Immediately. Everyone could go home now, thank you very much.
That night brought round after round of severe thunderstorms to Northern Ohio. One after another, with vivid, intense lightning, high winds and extremely heavy rainfall.
My twin sister and I didn't get much sleep. I don't think the rest of the family did, either.
Finally, around daybreak, they abated.
Our family was supposed to go to a suburb of Cleveland, to attend the annual family reunion. It was always held at one of my Dad's brothers' houses.
It's not that we didn't try to get there. Believe me when I tell you that we tried. Every way that my parents knew to get there, we were forced to turn back because of flooding.
At one point, we even tried to drive through water covering the road. Mom and several of us kids told Dad not to do it. Nope: we were going to get there, come hell OR high water.
The flood water got up to the hood of the car. You could feel it pulling at it. It seemed that at any second, we'd start floating.
I still recall Dad telling us, 'Don't move, don't breathe. Just pray.'
It was absolutely terrifying. I remember the fear we felt, all these years later.
Dad wised up and backed on out of there.
He conceded. There was no way we were going to get through. We called it quits and drove home; when we got there, Dad called our uncle and told him we wouldn't be able to attend.
It turned out our uncle had already cancelled due to the weather; the reunion was rescheduled for the following weekend.
According to records, that July 4th brought anywhere from 3-14" of rainfall to Northern Ohio. 42 people lost their lives, most by drowning. Thank the Lord we were not added to the statistics.
© 2002, Revised 2012, Karla Dorman