DELAWARE, Ohio (WCMH) — Storm safety is always on the minds of county emergency managers.
On the evening of August 20, 2016, a tornado skipped across a residential area just north of the city of Delaware, causing scattered damage. The funnel crossed U.S. Route 23 a little west of Delaware Dam.
The weather was warm and muggy that Saturday, and Delaware State Park was filled with campers the day prior to a scheduled Ironman triathlon.
Delaware County EMA sounded the tornado sirens after a funnel sighting by a park ranger. Luckily, no one was hurt when the funnel nicked the marina on Delaware Lake, before ending across the Olentangy River.
In July 2017, two people were injured by falling trees in the park caused by straight-line thunderstorm winds and taken to a hospital. A third person suffered minor injuires.
At the time of these events, plans were already in the works to construct a tornado safe place at the park for use during a weather emergency— a collaboration between federal, state and county agencies.
On Thursday, the 75-feet wide, 28-feet tall dome, which accommodates up to 853 people, will be formally dedicated at Delaware State Park, five miles northeast of the city of Delaware.
The total cost of the project was a little more than $1 million, funded by grants through FEMA, ODNR, Delaware County Board of Commissioners and Ohio EMA.
About 7 years in the works, from planning to design, and 9 months of construction completed last year, the tornado dome is operational. The primary goal is to keep parkgoers and campers safe in the event of a tornado warning or windstorm.
When the tornado sirens are activated in Delaware County by EMA staff, an antenna receives a signal outside the structure to unlock the front doors.
Delaware County EMA Director Sean Miller said that the tornado dome “is designed to protect against wind speeds greater than 200 mph.”
Steel reinforced concrete, with walls 4 feet thick, connected by rebar anchors the shelter, Miller said.
The shelter will have a dual purpose, hosting ODNR conservation presentations and public events, when the weather is quiet.
The dome had to meet FEMA specifications and is not susceptible to aerodynamic lift in a storm because it has a smooth outer shape like a shell.
An early requirement for funding included the installation of an outdoor warning system — two tornado sirens are located in the park, according to Miller.
Delaware County EMA Deputy Director Sandy Mackey said, “In the past few years, we’ve had straight-line winds, tornadoes, that have impacted the state park and they caused injuries. And it just reiterates the importance of having a safe house.”