W. MI tornadoes: Comparatively weak, hard to see

Surveillance video from Titan Equipment recorded on the night of July 6, 2014.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The twister that tore a six-mile path of destruction through parts of Wyoming and Kentwood one year ago was like most of the tornadoes West Michigan sees — not particularly strong in terms of tornadoes, but difficult to see coming.

>>Photos: Wyoming/Kentwood tornado

Michigan averages 16 tornadoes per year, but that number varies quite a bit. In the hot, dry year of 2012, there were only six twisters in the state. In 2001, there were 35 tornadoes, including 19 of them in just one day.

More than 70 percent of Michigan tornadoes are rated weak — either EF-0 or EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with winds under 115 mph. Only 2.2 percent were rated EF-3, EF-4 or EF-5.

Unlike the big tornadoes in the Plains states that can be visible for miles around on the flat and treeless landscape, Michigan tornadoes are often obscured by trees or buildings. They can also be rain-wrapped, like the EF-1 tornado that hit Portland on June 22 of this year. That makes them hard to see coming.

>>PHOTOS: Tornado in Portland

Because of the low visibility and because many of the tornadoes that hit locally are low to the ground and difficult to see on radar, the Storm Prediction Center has called West Michigan one of the top 10 toughest areas to forecast severe weather.

Michigan tornadoes are more common in spring than in summer. The three biggest months for tornadoes in West Michigan have been April, May and June.

Tornadoes can occur at any time of the day or night, but more than three quarters of West Michigan tornadoes happened between 1 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Between 1956 and 1982, West Michigan had 15 tornadoes rated EF-3, EF-4 or EF-5. Since 1983, there have been only two tornadoes rated EF-3 and none rated EF-4 or EF-5.

Still, as the Wyoming/Kentwood and Portland tornadoes demonstrated, an EF-1 storm can do plenty of damage and it can be hard to see coming. That’s why it’s important for your family to have a plan of where to go and what to do when severe weather threatens.

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