While living in Michigan, we always have those random storms that surprise you. This was no exception.
The Storm Prediction Center left Michigan COMPLETELY out of any categorical risks for this day – 0% hail/wind/tornado risk. But looking closely at synoptic scale features which produced tornadoes in Indiana the day before, and mesoscale features the day of, it was clear if a thunderstorm could fire in the area – It had a chance.
A warm front stretched from Grand Rapids to the ENE towards the thumb, with wind coming from the NE and a cold front to the west. It was your classic cold core setup with a potential for low topped supercells – Not only a Michigan specialty, but my forecasting specialty considering I’ve had to deal with them for backyard chases for years. A cell fired near Grand Rapids, and became Severe Thunderstorm Warned in Ionia Co. It began to form a nice hook echo, so I left Saginaw Twp. and began heading SW to Ashley, MI. While driving, weaker cells fired to the east of the main cell, causing the cell to basically collide into showers and weaken. It was a punch in the gut – I’m limited to my terrain this year after leaving my job (which has made me a much happier person overall, but is HORRIBLE if you live for severe weather), so I was feeling the 2014 blues like many others have felt even out in the plains.
As I began to head back home, I was driving along M-57 when I noticed something as I came out of the rain – The updraft lived. ..And it was growing again – At an alarming rate. A few miles down the road I opened up Radarscope to find rotation building within the cell, and knowing the area better than probably any other person who lives in the state – I knew exactly where I needed to head – Just south of my hometown.
While heading east and getting into Saginaw County, I could see the storm gaining strength as I drove parallel to it along M-57 – Watched the base get lower, the downdraft/rain strengthen, and the velocities climb higher on radar. Originally I was planning on heading for a spot I’ve sat before for many cells, Fordney and Brant Rd. – Open country to the west with a clear view. I turned north on Hemlock Rd. and got a few miles down the road before one look at the base velocity scan of what was in front of me made me realize I needed to get just a bit more east..So I turned down Gary Road…Potentially a move that either saved my life, or prevented me from getting some INCREDIBLE footage. Can’t look back now.
As I began east, the wall cloud was right beside me, rotating very nicely and tried coming down maybe 3/4 of a mile north of me. As I got into trees, I lost my visual on the beginning stages of the tornado touching down at Raucholz and Marion Roads. While I lost my visual, the cell turned more to the NE, likely aiding the inflow and also wrapping quite a bit more rain around. I moved to east all the way to Gasper Road knowing the roadhole ahead of me that would be the Shiawassee Wildlife Refuge – I’d later regret this move, as I should of just went north on M-52 to Fergus, but it’s over now. I turned down Gasper and moved north to Fergus, and watched the cell unleash it’s murky rainwrapped ugliness on my hometown of less than 3,000 people.
At this point I called the NWS Detroit office, knowing I was probably the only one who had a visual on the rotating wall cloud and what was happening, so I made a report – Not seeing the tornado that was invisible, but clearly seeing rain curtains rotating around the southern flank of the storm. From there, I moved east more, jogging north on Bishop Rd to Fry, and later to M-13 to watch the rotation weaken. So much moisture at the low levels made this an extremely hard to see storm, which is extremely common in Michigan. The velocity couplet had weakened significantly at this point, so I began to head north back into Saginaw.
After my called with the NWS, I was on the phone with Ahmad Bajjey who is a friend and meteorologist with NBC25, and also the other mets at the station. They confirmed there may be some damage in St. Charles, so I made the trek back to town knowing any damage was going to be tornadic. I maneuvered my way around the path, stopping on Ring Road on both sides of the damage before helping assist with debris removal of the road so the fire department could get through both ways and continue their house-to-house check on everyone.
The National Weather Service came out on Thursday to do a storm survey, finding EF1 damage just south of the intersection of – You guessed it, Fordney and Brant Roads…where a garage was removed from a house. That house actually belonged to a girl I went to school with, who I also worked with at the Meijer store in Shields a year or so later. Shannon and her son were inside the house and made it through OK thankfully. The tornado had a path length of 5 miles long by 300 yards wide, initially touching down near Raucholz Rd. just south of Marion Rd., and heading NE just south of the village and lifting somewhere near Sharon Rd. Luckily, there was only one non-serious injury involved with the tornado.