Timeline: 7 tornadoes whipped across Michigan in less than 3 hours


Seven tornadoes struck Michigan during a Thursday, Aug. 24 severe storm that brought down trees, ripped off roofs and turned over semis.

It was the most tornadoes to cut through Michigan in a single day during the month of August, according to the National Weather Service.

“There was a lot of instability,” said Ernie Ostuno, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Rapids. “There was a cold front moving into a very moist, unstable airmass. We had dewpoint temperatures in the upper 70s, about as high as you’ll see in this part of the country, and enough sunshine during the day to create heating instability.”

The tornadoes ranging in strength from an EF-0 to EF-2 touched down in Kent, Ingham, Livingston, Monroe and Wayne counties as the storm barreled east for about two and a half hours. Strong winds peaking at 125 mph carved a trail of destruction across the state – damaging homes and ripping through a farm.

Related: Nearly 230K still without power after 7 tornadoes struck Michigan

Ostuno says Michigan has seen more severe storms – most notably when 19 tornadoes hit on May 21, 2001 – that usually strike in the spring. This was more of a “derecho-type event” with a few tornadoes but downburst winds creating damage, he continued, saying that’s “a typical summertime phenomenon.”

“This was not a historic tornado outbreak in terms of intensity, but it was one of the more notable events that we’ve had in Michigan in the last few years just in terms of the number of power outages and the large area of very strong winds” Ostuno said.

Here’s a timeline of Thursday night’s severe weather from the National Weather Service:

  • 8:15 p.m. - The first EF-1 tornado touched down in northern Kent County east of Peach Ridge Avenue and north of 6 Mile Road. It traveled for 9 miles, leveling trees and damaging homes, before ending just west of Rockford High School. The National Weather Service estimates winds hit 110 mph before the tornado lifted at 8:30 p.m.
  • 9:29 p.m. - The second tornado struck nearly 45 minutes later about 90 miles away. The EF-2 twister cut across Williamston to Webberville by traveling along I-96 for 1.5 miles before turning southeast. It then crossed M-52 and remained south of I-96 until it crossed into Livingston County. Winds peaked at 125 mph.
  • 9:42 p.m. - After traveling for 12 miles in two counties, the second tornado dissipated at 9:42 p.m. It left behind 17 flipped semis, flattened billboards and downed tree limbs. Three people were injured and one killed, according to the National Weather Service. “I thought it was over with, I’m not going to lie, I thought I was going to die,” semi truck driver Barry Smith said when his trailer rolled on I-96.
  • 10:19 p.m. - The storm continued east when a third tornado hit Canton in Wayne County. The EF-0 tornado that reached 80 mph winds touched down northwest of the Pheasant Run Golf course. It brought down tree branches and caused a tree to fall on a house before dissipating north of the Lower River Rouge two minutes later.
  • 10:23 p.m. - Another two minutes later, another tornado struck – an EF-1 with 90 mph winds. It touched down south of the Wagner Homestead Farm in Wayne County’s Belleville, leveling trees and ripping siding off homes, before dissipating three minutes later between Pebblebrook Drive and Fret Road.
  • 10:38 p.m. - The fifth tornado touched down about 20 miles southeast in Newport Charter Township in Monroe County. For five minutes, it cut across five miles, striking a mobile home park, crossing over I-75 and bringing down tree limbs. The EF-1 twister eventually lifted in a farm field at 10:43 p.m. in Frenchtown Township.
  • 10:38 p.m. - Meanwhile, a sixth tornado formed in Wayne County. It first hit the Brownstown Creek area before traveling southeast toward Gibraltar. It then crossed a portion of Edmond Island and Horse Island before dissipating at 10:43 p.m.
  • 10:39 p.m. - Back in Monroe County, the seventh tornado struck Newport. The EF-1 touched down on Carleton Rockwood Road east of Telegraph Road, traveled east for five miles before ending at the Detroit River at 10:45 p.m.

Although tornadoes clocked the highest wind speeds Thursday evening, Ostuno said severe thunderstorms often create the same level of destruction.

“The damage does look like a lot of tornadoes because it’s a downburst with 80 mph winds. It’s going to level a bunch of trees and do a lot of damage,” he said. “It’s a severe thunderstorm, it’s not a tornado. But it can do damage as you would expect to see from a tornado.”

At a peak, nearly 500,000 people across Michigan lost power due to the severe weather. About 228,000 remain without power as of midday Saturday with Consumers Energy and DTE Energy expecting full restoration by the end of the weekend.

More on MLive:

Michigan farms demolished by tornado: ‘There wasn’t enough time to get to the basement’

Recap of Thursday’s deadly tornadoes, severe wind gusts

Drone footage captures the damage from EF-1 tornado in West Michigan

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