Winter Tornadoes? Yes, It’s Happened Before in Kalamazoo County!
With the recent snafu in Portage which caused the tornado sirens to sound off not once, but twice over the past week, I started to grow a little curious about winter weather anomalies.
While it was only a mechanical error that caused the sirens to go off and not in fact a "snownado" the incident still made me wonder: Though it seems unlikely, has a tornado ever happened in Michigan during Winter?
Tornadoes in Michigan
The Mitten is certainly no stranger to tornadoes! According to the Pure Michigan website, we average about 15 tornadoes per year here in the Great Lakes State. The most recent tornado that comes to mind was the devastating EF-3 tornado that killed two and injured 40 more in Gaylord this past May.
Spring typically correlates with tornado season here in Michigan, with the strongest tornadoes recorded in Michigan having occurred between the beginning of April and the end of May. But that's not to say a winter tornado can't happen!
January 18, 1996 - Kalamazoo County
In the winter of 1996, Michigan was experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures with highs reportedly reaching 58 degrees that day. Warm conditions mixed with a cold front that came across Lake Michigan meant conditions were right for severe weather.
The storms that day whipped up winds to 70 mph, dropped hail measuring 1 inch in diameter, and dropped a significant amount of snow in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
At 5:01 p.m. a brief tornado was reported to have touched down in nearby Richland, which the National Weather Service- Grand Rapids later confirmed and gave a rating of F-0. Though small and brief, here's one report that was given to the National Climatic Data Center:
Richland resident reported seeing a swirling cloud of debris with loud noise passing between his house and a neighboring house. The wind lifted a 10′ by 12′ metal storage shed that had been tied with guy wires, carried it over a 4 foot chain link fence, and set it down about 100 feet from its original position. Contents of the shed, including a lawn tractor, lawn chairs, mower, bikes, and yard tools remained intact and apparently undisturbed
This means that although conditions have to be just right, tornadoes in Michigan are not limited to Spring time. That's a worrisome thought; who knows how climate change will continue to affect Michigan's weather.
Make sure you are always severe-weather ready with this checklist from the State of Michigan.