National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

A Summary of the May 26, 2001 Tornado Event Over Northern Indiana and Extreme Northwest Ohio

On Saturday May 26th, 2001, a low topped supercell thunderstorm developed in Cass county Indiana, and moved northeast through the Fort Wayne metropolitan area and into northwest Ohio. This thunderstorm produced several tornadoes and numerous funnel clouds. The most damage occurred on the northwest and north side of Fort Wayne, where the damage path indicated an F2 tornado that was 1000 feet wide. The F-Scale is the Fujita Tornado Classification Scale and uses damage as an estimate of wind speed. An F2 tornado has wind speeds between 113 and 157 mph.

The National Weather Service Office in Northern Indiana issued several tornado warnings ahead of this storm. The warning for Allen county and the Fort Wayne metro area was issued 15 minutes prior to the first reported touchdown in southwest Allen county, and 25 minutes before the tornado hit the Northcrest Shopping Center in Fort Wayne.

The wind field was favorable for rotating storms on Saturday. Notice the strong veering profile in the KIWX Wind Profile, with southeast winds in the lower levels and southwest winds two thousand feet from the surface. However, air temperatures in the lower 50s, cloudy conditions and scattered rain showers were all negative factors for strong thunderstorm development. A few breaks in the clouds over central Indiana allowed enough heating of the surface to combine with very cold temperatures in the middle atmosphere, and a thunderstorm developed. Since the vertical wind profile was favorable for rotating storms, this thunderstorm took advantage and quickly began rotating.

The tornado producing storm began in Cass county Indiana. Initially, the storm did not show much rotation, but radar did indicate large hail. A severe thunderstorm warning was issued for Cass county at 336 pm EST. Hail three-quarters of an inch in diameter was reported on the south side of Logansport around 403 pm EST. A tornado warning was issued for Miami county at 355 pm EST when radar began showing strong rotation with the storm. As the storm moved into Wabash county the indication of rotation weakened and spotter reports did not indicate any visible rotation. A severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the hail and potential straight line winds that accompany supercell storms.

As the storm moved across western Wabash county, rotation again strengthened on radar and the severe thunderstorm warning was upgraded to a tornado warning. The 0.5 degree reflectivity also showed very strong returns north of wabash, and a hook signature near Wabash. Shortly after, reports of damage in Wabash began coming into the office through law enforcement and amateur radio reports. Spotters reported seeing a tornado and trees were broken off about 12 feet high and a small shed sustained structural damage. This tornado was rated an F0.

A tornado warning was issued for Huntington county at 449 pm EST as the storm made its way across eastern Wabash county. A report of a touchdown with damage came into the office around 510 pm EST, approximately 3 miles northeast of Roanoke, in northeast Huntington county. Telephone poles and a tree were reported down, along with damage to a roof. This tornado was also classified as an F0.

Radar continued to show strong rotation with the storm just past Roanoke. A tornado warning was issued for Allen county, including the Fort Wayne metro area at 520 pm EST. A NWS employee following the storm reported a brief touchdown at 535 pm EST near the intersection of Interstate 69 and highway 24. Minor damage was observed and again the tornado was rated F0. 

A radar image of the tornado near this time can be seen here. On the right side is a storm relative motion image, which shows rotation of the thunderstorm. The radar is located northwest of Fort Wayne. Green colors indicate air moving toward the radar and red indicates air moving away from the radar. The triangle in the center of the picture is a radar generated detection of a possible tornado, located directly over the circulation. On the left hand side is a picture of the reflectivity. Notice the lack of data directly south of the storm. This is called the rear flank downdraft. This feature helped to spin up the tornado at the Northcrest Shopping Center. 

At 545 pm EST, reports of another touchdown were received from the Northcrest Shopping Center, near the Coliseum in Fort Wayne. Several cars were turned upside down and part of the roof of the shopping complex was torn off. Signs near the shopping center were badly damaged. Several area businesses also sustained wind damage and many vehicles in the parking lots were either overturned or damaged by flying debris. Here are the 0.5 reflectivity and 0.5 storm relative motion images at this time. This tornado was classified as an F1 with a path length of one half mile and a width of 500 feet.

The tornado lifted, but quickly set down again, about a half mile northeast of the mall in the Papermill Bluff sub-division. Numerous homes sustained major damage, two homes had the roof completely lifted off, as well as at least two outside walls demolished. The tornado stayed on the ground as it moved into the Papermill Bluff Office Park. Part of an office building was severely damaged while the remainder of the office buildings had broken windows, roof and siding damage. The tornado was rated as an F2 through the subdivision and the office park with major damage.

The tornado continued on the ground across St. Joe Center road into another sub-division and the Towne House Retirement home. The roof of the retirement home was partially blown off and numerous trees on the grounds were twisted, broken off and uprooted. Numerous trees in the sub division were also uprooted and torn, and several homes sustained damage. Much of the damage here was F1, but some damage to a few homes indicated brief F2 strength.

The tornado moved from the sub-division and retirement home onto the Concordia Seminary grounds, where numerous trees were broken off and twisted. Some minor structural damage was also observed to a few buildings. The tornado proceeded across a soccer field where it turned north, twisted a few trees at the edge of the soccer area, then lifted. The damage on the grounds began as F1 but quickly became F0 before the tornado ended.

Two additional reports of tornadoes were received from this storm. After moving into Dekalb county north of Allen, fire and rescue workers near the town of St. Joe reported observing a brief touchdown, but no damage. When the storm moved into Williams county Ohio, a tornado touchdown occurred northwest of Edgerton where barn damage and structural damage to a house were received. This was the final occurrence of tornadoes and radar showed a much weaker storm with little rotation as it moved out of Williams county.

Several minor injuries were reported with this storm in Allen county, but no major injuries or directly related deaths occurred. Interviews with people in the path of this tornado indicated they had heard warnings for Allen county but did not think the tornado would hit their area. This is a strong reminder that all warnings should be taken seriously and you should always move to a safe place away from windows! Thousands of people in the path of these tornadoes were very lucky. Several pictures of the damage associated with this storm in the Fort Wayne area are available here. A history of tornadoes that have moved through Fort Wayne can be found here.