One side story, there was an unusual challenge for us on the Campus Weather Service team that night. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration In all, the May 31, 1985, tornadoes killed 88 people in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario, Canada a roughly six-hour span that evening. Still, the weather pattern appeared prime for severe storms to break out in Ohio/Western Pennsylvania later in the day. I also remember hearing about the possible threat for severe weather from the local TV Mets during the day. Multiple locations were found. 1985 Niles Tornado. That tornado’s path of destruction stopped near Tidioute and we continued flying south following the Allegheny River back to the PSP barracks. One of the strongest storms of the night moved across Clarion and Jefferson Counties. At first all the action was in Ontario. The larger the number, the more instability is present, with CAPE of 2800 J/Kg , measured Friday evening being a moderate to high value. I represented the 65th legislative district which included all of Warren and Forest Counties and the northern third of Venango County. When you hear the term “violent tornado outbreak,” you probably think of Tornado Alley or Dixie Alley, not Pennsylvania. Then it started to rain very hard and the Sheffield volunteer fire department’s siren began to blow. I agreed to stay to help with the extra workload in the event things started to pop. In the years that followed, I got to spend some time with Greg at various American Meteorological Society conferences, and we often talked about the wild night of May 31st in 1985. Never again will I be caught off-guard. REFERENCE. F-scale:  F2 (2002). The visible satellite loop above shows the development and explosive growth of thunderstorms across southern Ontario, Ohio, western Pennsylvania and western New York on the afternoon of May 31, This two day series of Daily Weather Maps (courtesy NOAA/NWS) shows the eastward progression of the cold front; from near Chicago on Friday morning May 31, Precipitation looks like a hook on the radar returns; showing. I was especially saddened to find out that our favorite ice cream stand in Tidioute PA had been destroyed by the tornado that passed through that lovely little town. At bit later, storm development southwest of the original tornado watch prompted the issuance of another that included much of the remainder of Ohio; a third watch was issued later in the shift into eastern Pennsylvania. Once Friday, May 31, 1985 arrived I recall that the weather in State College being cloudy and cool with occasional light rain or drizzle. Outreach The strength of the front and the degree of instability lead to the erosion or breaking of the cap and thunderstorms exploded with violent results. I remember remarking that this is the same forecast problem they have in Oklahoma. References, Additional Links, and Acknowledgements Station History The Allegheny National Forest has recovered as the downed trees were harvested and new trees have grown to replace them. Weather Radio For the 27th Anniversary of the May 31, 1985 tornado outbrake i made this video from recorded TV news coverage and tornado videos i had collected. Twenty-one tornadoes tracked across Northeast Ohio and Northwest Pennsylvania during the evening of May 31st. Day. It's been a heck of a ride. Decision Support Page The increasing wind speed with height and change in direction, known as wind shear, is what helps thunderstorms to rotate and be capable of producing significant tornadoes. Tornado Machine Plans, Weather Safety Negative LI values generally indicate unstable atmosphere, positive indicate lesser instability. The three ingredients needed for thunderstorms are lift, moisture and instability. The following diagrams, called soundings, show the amount of instability in the atmosphere that afternoon. I remember him saying the question was not whether there was a tornado, but how strong was the tornado? I thanked him for the report and told him I would pass the information onto the Harrisburg WSO who had warning responsibility for Clinton. The storm was developing aloft and remain aloft across all of Clarion County. This is not uncommon in very severe outbreaks as communications and widespread power outages disrupt the flow of information. Note the 50Kt ‘flag’ at Buffalo, NY. I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Philadelphia and was in high school in May 1985. This flight was about an hour long and again the tornado’s path was easy to see from the air. F-scale:  F2 THE TORNADO WATCH IS ALONG AND, 70 STATUTE MILES SOUTHWEST OF AKRON OHIO TO 20, REMEMBER…A TORNADO WATCH MEANS CONDITIONS. Thinking that someone might need help, we circled over the area for several minutes trying to locate someone but were never able to find anyone. The Pittsburgh staff then had to update the 4PM zone issuance to include the Tornado watch. PARTS OF SOUTHWEST NEW YORK                                                             To this day, it is the most vivid lighting display I have ever seen (in person) even after almost 30 years as a meteorologist in the National Weather Service. They were still looking for survivors in town and also in Niles as well. By the next morning, however, the carnage was widely known throughout the state and country. Noted discrepancies:  NWS ranks this as an F2, Grazulis does not list it. I then rode in the PSP helicopter with him as we toured the areas near Dempseytown in Venango County that were hard hit by a tornado. April 5, 1985 Fire Weather This interactive map, which contains data from January 1950 to April 30, 2020, pinpoints where a cyclone touched down and traces its path of destruction. We heard on the radio and television that there were tornado warnings for all of northwestern Pennsylvania as tornadoes were spotted in several areas moving from the west toward the east. Stability indices were “off the charts” over the Midwest and that was all headed toward PA. Back in those days meteorologists relied less on technology. The first hour or so of the shift was comparatively quiet; it took awhile before the first damage and injury/death reports made their way through the teletype circuits (the teletype or "Comms" room through which SELS received most damage reports at the time would close later the same year). The F3 across Big Beaver and into Butler County touched down at about the exact same time as the F4 in Moshannon State Forest around 7:35 PM. I had been home long enough to change into work clothes and mow between a few rows of Christmas trees before I saw my wife at the time waving to me from the top of the hill. That changed on May 31, 1985, when an F5 tornado tore through the city and the cemetery, ripping those massive trees out of the ground and toppling gravestones. The main issue was the timing and location of the prime ingredients. My father-in-law lived in Punxsutawney, PA and belonged to the Punxsutawney Hunting Club. Path length:  1 miles Do you have a story to share? On this thirtieth anniversary date, let us take a moment to remember those that lost their lives and to be thankful that we have better early warning systems today that can warn us of impending harmful weather events. It wasn't until the following day when I surveyed the damage with Greg Forbes and others that I realized that I was probably within about a mile of the giant tornado. National Weather Service Eight years after the event, the path of the nearly mile-wide monster storm remained nearly devoid of trees --- in stark contrast to the richly green forest surrounding it. I worked the 4pm-midnight shift on May 31st. Over the past 21-22 years,  I have also worked in Birmingham, AL,  Blacksburg, VA, and now as a Lead Forecaster in Columbia, SC. State College, PA328 Innovation Blvd, Suite 330State College, PA 16803(814)954-6440Comments? Bill and I were deeply into severe weather analysis with soundings, and Bill said look at this morning's sounding. I can vaguely remember the unusual heat and humidity that was around for that time of the year. That was the day I found my calling. Noted discrepancies:  None, Current Hazards I remember about 4:00-4:30 in the afternoon a few coming into the Penn State weather station to check on whether the anticipated severe weather outbreak had gotten going. The F4 tornado that went through Albion in southeast Erie County first touched down just west of the PA-OH border at 2059z (4:59 PM). The Youngstown WSO radar often went down with thunderstorms in the area, and when this occurred, as it did the night of May 31st, Pittsburgh took over warning responsibility for their two Pennsylvania Counties. June 10, 1985 One thing that does stand out from the day was the greenness of the sky as the storms rolled in. There were so many warnings the teletype got backed up a good 10-15 minutes. We flew over Kane which was directly hit. Weather and Forecasting. Click on any photograph to view a larger image. I will never forget the evening of May 31, 1985 and the events that occurred that night and during the next several weeks as the area of northwestern Pennsylvania where I live experienced a severe outbreak of several deadly tornadoes. These storms were heading toward Kane and had produced tornadoes that created considerable damage and injuries in western Pennsylvania. This image, courtesy Greg Forbes via Paul Markowski, is from the radar that was atop the Walker Building, home of Penn State Meteorology Department, around 8pm EST. Tornado Season Tornado season is a term used only as a guide for when most tornadoes occur in an area. Working for the National Weather Service has been great. Category:Tornadoes of 1985. I forecast for radio stations all over the United States and Canada with a few in PA. Climate Prediction NWS Pittsburgh. There was also plenty of low level moisture coming up the Ohio Valley. We lifted off and the tornado’s path of destruction was easy to follow from the air. The orange shading in the following 850 mb chart (from Markowski) shows where winds were greater than 40Kts (46MPH). We were aware that thunderstorms already were occurring in Ontario as we arrived for work on the 31st, although I do not think we knew that they already had produced tornadoes. Often the true extent of damage is not known until the disaster survey team can inspect the damage the next day. Markowski, Paul:  The Tornado Outbreak of May 31, 1985: Looking Back at One of Pennsylvania’s Deadliest Weather Events. I stayed two hours beyond my normal shift, through peak heating, and then went home. I was just 30 years old and a newly elected member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. During the rain and wind event it suddenly dawned on me that as State Representative, perhaps I had responsibilities and people might expect me to make sure that the state government agencies were doing all they could to assist people and communities. The tornado was spotted heading for Newton Falls and tornado sirens wailed for 60 seconds before the storm struck the city. Hazardous Weather Outlook Arriving for shift around 3:45 Central Time, departing lead forecaster Steve Weiss (now Chief of the Science Support Branch at the SPC) briefed us that a tornado watch recently had been issued for parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Deaths: Wilmington, Current Conditions The Dec. 5, 1975, tornado damaged or destroyed about 250 homes and apartments, including some near 21st Street and 129th East Avenue. in meteorology from 1992-1996, and in the summer of 1995, worked at the National Severe Storms Lab and participated in the VORTEX project--at the time, the biggest tornado field project ever. That evening while watching television (Superman II to be precise; back in those "old days," the networks aired movies on Friday nights), a crawl ran across the bottom of the screen that listed several counties in the viewing area that were in a tornado watch (these would have been counties in the northern part of the Harrisburg viewing area). They called me back and said that I could meet a helicopter at the Tionesta State Police barracks on Saturday morning for a tour. The local radio had reported inaccurately that my town was "wiped out." A closer view of the surface analysis of the warm sector, the area between the cold front and the warm front, at 7PM (23 UTC) Friday evening (courtesy Paul Markowski), shows how warm and especially how moist the airmass ahead of the cold front had become. I was shaking so bad and didn't know where to go or what to do. We returned home that night, and I told my parents that I had made a decision that is still with me today: I wanted to chase tornadoes. I was already deeply interested in weather and hoping to go to college to become a meteorologist. A tornado's war-like path is obvious as the sun slowly sets in Atlantic, Pennsylvania, May 31, 1985. June 7, 1985 I can still remember the feelings that I had upon seeing the damage and total destruction that occurred with that event. The Allegheny National Forest experienced a large amount of valuable timber loss from these two tornadoes.