Following Kalamazoo tornado’s path 37 years later

Drone 8 over Downtown Kalamazoo in the spring of 2017.


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — While Michigan isn’t best known for tornadoes, the state has seen its share lately, including the Aug. 20 outbreak that produced six twisters last summer.

enhanced fugita tornado scale
Most Michigan tornadoes are brief and usually are low on the Enhanced Fujita Scale — either EF-0 or EF-1.

When stronger tornadoes strike, they make history. On May 13, 1980, a F3 tornado struck Kalamazoo County — and made a lasting impression on West Michigan.

A turbulent warm front had just crossed north of Kalamazoo. The tornado touched down at 4 p.m in rural Oshtemo Township, west of Kalamazoo. The storm skidded east, crossing US-131 five minutes later. By this time, the trajectory was clear: downtown Kalamazoo was in its path. At 4:15 p.m., the tornado made a direct strike.

Damage was profound — the downtown skyline was left pockmarked. Windows shattered, trees uprooted, roofs lifted. The city looked like a war zone.

File footage of a the damage left behind by the May 13, 1980 tornado that hit downtown Kalamazoo.

The F3 tornado produced estimated wind speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour.

Thirty-seven years later, Drone 8 shows not a scar remains.

The Kalamazoo skyline healed decades ago. Trees from Bronson Park have been replanted and stand tall. While most tornadoes strike rural areas, this storm proves the old myth that tornadoes avoid big cities simply isn’t true.

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