March came in like a lion when a tornado ripped through Highland County early Wednesday morning, crossing near Leesburg and moving east through the Greenfield area, although heavy damage was also reported in the Belfast region. Reports indicated serious damage to homes and barns, adding to a severe weather pattern that already included flood watches throughout the county.
In Hillsboro and Greenfield, tornado sirens sounded at around 2:30 a.m. after a tornado warning was issued and a tornado was visually confirmed. The tornado was difficult to see because it was wrapped in rain, according to Cincinnati TV meteorologists who were tracking the storms that were crossing the southern Ohio region.
Jim Lyle, director of the Highland County Emergency Management Agency, said numerous barns and other structures were damaged or destroyed. There were no reports of injuries to residents.
“There’s no doubt it was a tornado,” Lyle said.
He said the Jolly Farms property on SR 136 was hit hard, with barns destroyed and a cow killed. On Cope Road near Greenfield, an older house was damaged and a garage was destroyed. Lyle said the tornado picked up a barn in the 1000 block of SR 771 near Leesburg, spun it around and landed it against a house. Lyle was continuing to explore other damage reports throughout Wednesday afternoon.
Rick Kingsolver of Reno Lane near Belfast was an eyewitness to storm damage in several locations. He said that about 2 a.m. he was in the Walmart parking lot in Hillsboro after buying supplies when news came that the storm was headed toward Leesburg. Kingsolver said he drove north on U.S. 62, and when got close to Leesburg there was debris all over the road.
He backed up to turn around in a driveway when, “I turned around and the garage had exploded all over the place and the house was just sitting there. A girl stepped out of the house and she was scared to death.” Neighbors’ homes were fine, but a barn was torn up and several trees were damaged, he said.
Kingsolver returned to his house and then weather radio alerts came on with warnings. He stepped outside and saw that he was on the edge of a tornado.
“It wasn’t just straight line wind either. I saw the rotation. I was right at the edge of it. I had to run back in the house and hug the chimney because it was the only place I could get to real quick,” he said.
Before the storm hit, he had let his wood stove burn down, opened the door, left the flue open and opened the bathroom window.
“It was calm in the house, but outside everything was crazy and the neighbors’ stuff was all torn up,” he said.
In Belfast, half of Bob Garman’s barn was gone, along with his dairy equipment, said Kingsolver. The storm tore out the back side of an old feed mill where a drive-thru used to be. Another building beside it was flattened. There was also damage to Carey Michael’s new barn, Kingsolver said.
At one house, a garage was gone and debris was scattered. But a house only 9-10 feet from where the garage had been was untouched, said Kingsolver. He said Larry Brunck’s barn on Reno Lane was destroyed.
“He stepped out on his front porch and watched his barn explode. The front door was open, but the back door was closed and it went in that way and then just exploded. He was about 10 yards away,” said Kingsolver.
Meanwhile, Hillsboro experienced high water issues in the areas of North High Street in the 400 block, U.S. 50 west in the area of Highland County Water Company, and Fairground Road. High water signs were placed on Fairground Road by the City Public Works employees, according to an email from the city. No reports of damage were reported to the Hillsboro Police Department as of mid-afternoon Wednesday.
Branden Jackman, public information officer for the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District, said the heavy rainfall had left standing water on many roads and streets and urged motorists to use extra caution.