Cory Bailey was in the bathtub early last Thursday morning when a tornado raced down West Third Street in Frazeysburg at a speed the National Weather Service estimates was up to 130 mph. 

She wasn’t seeking shelter in the windowless room or her basement as the National Weather Service advises people to do – because she had no warning it was coming.

The Village of Frazeysburg and the tornado that ripped through it last week are an example of what some say is blind spots in the nation’s radar system that allows the weather service to provide warnings.

Frazeysburg is on the western edge of Muskingum County, which is at the farthest reaches of the radar in the Pittsburgh weather service office more than 100 miles to the northeast. And Licking County, the eastern border of which is within 5 miles of Frazeysburg, is at the outer reaches of the radar at the Wilmington weather service office more than 100 miles to the southwest.

Wilmington is to the southwest near Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh is to the northeast of Frazeysburg, which is the center dot on the map. Credit: Google Maps

A report to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Science Advisory Board by the board’s Environmental Information Services Working Group in November 2023 recommended immediate action to address poor coverage or gaps in radar coverage nationwide, though that “immediate action” is still years from fruition. 

“Unfortunately, the (next radar) generation project implementation is still years away and there are well established solutions that would be highly beneficial in the shorter term,” the report summary said, but it does not appear that such changes are in the works for central Ohio.

So in the minutes before the window of Bailey’s adolescent sons’ bedroom was sucked out of its frame, and before the front door of her house was shattered and blown into the kitchen, Bailey was enjoying a relaxing soak in the tub, blissfully unaware of what was hurtling toward her.

A tornado warning issued by the weather service earlier in the night had been canceled at midnight. The local police station and Facebook community news pages declared an all-clear. 

The tornado struck at 12:37 a.m. on June 6.

“There was a siren that went off an hour before that,” said Brandy Reprogle, who was forced to wait out the almost four minutes of high-speed winds and flying debris from her bed in her Dutchmen RV camper. 

“But nothing when that hit,” she said about the lack of a warning. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” 

Miraculously, the tornado left just eight minor injuries in the wake of its rush through the village of 1,347 people just east of Licking County in Muskingum County. 

Along West Third Street, the only area in town that sustained serious damage, tufts of dirty pink insulation still clung Monday to bent chain-link fences, and curbside piles of splintered wood and broken tree limbs grew as residents cleaned up the mess. Power was back on by Monday, but the local Family Dollar store, where a billowing tarp covers the part of the roof, is shuttered. 

“It’s amazing,” Bailey said from the passenger seat of the one family vehicle that does not currently have a shattered windshield. “It’s amazing. It could have been so much worse.”

And it’s remarkable that it wasn’t much worse because, without a warning, residents did not have time to seek shelter before the tornado hit. 

Tornado warnings give people living in areas facing imminent danger time to take protective action, such as moving to the lowest floor of a building, or to a windowless room in the center of a house with no basement. Or, in the case of those in mobile homes, to head to the nearest substantial shelter. Staying safe in a severe storm requires taking shelter, and taking shelter requires advance warning. 

So where was the warning in Frazeysburg?

“It can be difficult to warn for short-lived, weak tornadoes, such as EF-0 and EF-1s, because they spin up and end so quickly that radar may not detect them,” said Maureen O’Leary, a spokesperson for the National Weather Service. 

The tornado that hit Frazeysburg, though, was reported by the weather service office in Pittsburgh to be an EF-2 level tornado using the Enhanced F-scale, which rates tornadoes by wind speeds ranging from 65 miles per hour (EF-0) to 200 miles per hour or more (EF-5). 

Frazeysburg is an example of the blind spots that some have been warning about for years. The Washington Post wrote about this national issue as tornado season began in March, describing three severe weather incidents that came without warning.

Because Licking County and Muskingum County are both at the far reaches of their respective radar’s visibility, they are at points where the radar beam travels farthest from its transmitter. The altitude of the beam increases at its outer limits, which can make it more difficult for experts watching the radar signals to know what is happening close to ground level at those points. 

According to the National Weather Service Radar Coverage Map, there is a diagonal strip from northwest Ohio to southeast Ohio where the altitude of the bottom of the beam of the WSR-88D radar is 6,000 feet above ground level, rather than 3,000 feet above ground level, as it is in most areas of coverage. This strip goes directly through Licking and Muskingum Counties, indicating that forecasters might have more trouble seeing weather structures in these areas. 

The weather service assures that central Ohio, which is covered by the agency’s Wilmington office as far east as Licking County, and the Pittsburgh office starting in Muskingum County and going east, is not a radar dead zone. 

Sheila Thompson, a Licking County resident with advanced weather-spotter training from the weather service, believes otherwise. 

During her training with the National Weather Service, Thompson learned that the further a storm is from a radar, the harder it is to correctly identify it as a tornado. The “hook echo” is much easier to identify when it’s closer to a radar. Credit: Sheila Thompson

“In tornado land, they’re always looking for that ‘hook echo,’” said Thompson, pointing to a picture she had taken during her training that compared radar resolution images of a storm 150 miles from the radar and a storm 60 miles from the radar. “You can see it [at 60 miles]. You can’t see it [at 150 miles]. All you know here is that that’s probably a storm. That’s all you know.” 

Usually, this is where local weather spotters would become the eyes of the weather service. But in a situation like the one in Frazeysburg, when a tornado occurs in darkness and in combination with heavy rain, even highly trained spotters are unable to see distinct features of storms, Thompson said. 

Being able to identify the location, speed, and direction of activity, whether using radars or weather spotters, is what allows the public to be warned of weather events and take proper precautions before they happen. Without clear visibility, though, that identification can’t happen. 

The weather service maintains that the radars servicing central Ohio provide adequate information on all communities in the region, even those on the edge of coverage zones. 

For now, residents of Frazeysburg are helping one another pick up the pieces in a reality none of them thought could exist outside of a movie. Still left wondering what went wrong Thursday morning, they know one thing for sure: The tornado might have been strong, but the community they are rebuilding is stronger. 

Emma Baum writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is supported by generous donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.