Oakfield Tornado Summary

(from Storm Data, volume 38, no. 7, NOAA)

July 18, 1996 A violent tornado struck the village of Oakfield at about 1815 CST after it touched down 4 miles WNW of the village. During its approach on Oakfield it intensified to an F3 rating. When it tore through the village it intensified to an F4, but along its path 1 to 4 miles east of the village it intensified to F5 strength (estimated 265 mph winds). In its span 4 homes were completely swept off their foundations and a couple automobiles became airbourne missiles for a distance of about 400 feet. The core width of the most intense damage was about 150 to 200 yards, although at times, some secondary damage was observed in a 400 yard wide path.

Oakfield residents heard local sirens about 8 minutes before the tornado entered the village. Miraculously, no one was killed, but there were 12 injuries. Some of the injured were hospitalized. Along the tornado's path, 60 homes and 6 businesses were destroyed. An additional 130 homes and businesses were damaged. In Oakfield, a commercial canning company was devastated. Two churches in the village were also destroyed, as well as numerous vehicles. In the rural areas along the tornado's path, 18 barns and many sheds were destroyed or damaged, and about 500 acres of crops were wiped out. Total damage amounts were $39.5 million in public/private property, and $900,000 in crop losses. Residents reported that they had difficulty "popping" their ears as the tornado roared through their neighborhood.

Prior to entering Oakfield, the tornado hopped and skipped a few times, and multiple vortices were observed at times during its life cycle. Witnesses reported that the tornado "paused" for a minute or so on the southeast edge of Oakfield. As the tornado tore through Oakfield it changed its heading to east. Corn fields just east of Oakfield were reduced to short 1 to 4 inch high stubble, and burn marks were clearly visible in the fields. In the third segment of the tornado's life, when it turned northeast at a point 5.5 miles east of Oakfield, its strength diminished rapidly. By the time it "roped out" 1 mile NW of Eden, its supporting mesocyclone's position on WSR-88D Doppler was about 5 miles to the south! Debris was found east to the Lake Michigan shoreline, and cancelled cheques were later found 125 miles E/SE near Muskegan, MI!

Postscript This was 1996's only reported F5 tornado in the country.


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