Drone 8 footage shows path of ‘very rare’ tornado

MARENGO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Drone 8 footage captured Thursday shows the destruction left behind by an EF1 tornado north of Marshall: trees flattened and roofs damaged.

The tornado touched down around 12:29 a.m. Wednesday and tracked about 5.5. miles northeast, packing winds of 110 mph, before lifting at about 12:40 a.m.

The path of a confirmed EF1 tornado in Calhoun County on Feb. 28, 2024.
The path of a confirmed EF1 tornado in Calhoun County on Feb. 28, 2024.

Tornado confirmed as EF1 in Calhoun County

It was one of two that touched down in Michigan as storms rolled through Tuesday night into Wednesday. An EF2 tornado hit Grand Blanc, south of Flint, touching down shortly after 1 a.m. and packing winds of 115 mph, hitting homes and an industrial complex.

The tornadoes left messy scenes reminiscent of August sitting among the February chill.

Temperatures in lower Michigan dropping 50 degrees or more following the storm’s passage. It was a reality not lost on meteorologists at the National Weather Service.

“February tornadoes in Michigan are indeed very rare,” said Bruce Smith, the meteorologist-in-charge at NWS Grand Rapids. “And we had a unique combination of a strong upper-level trough that was moving into the Great Lakes, which is not unusual for February. But what allowed this to produce severe weather was the warmth and moisture very unusual for late February.”

Following the record heat, attention turned to a rotating supercell that traversed the I-94 corridor for several hours. Smith noted it was “a very interesting storm because because it exhibited rotation for such a long period of time.” While interesting, however, it wasn’t anything new or unusual for weather service meteorologists.

“I think it’s important to note that many thunderstorms exhibit rotation,” Smith said. “However, a very small percentage of those actually produce tornadoes. So the million-dollar question for the meteorologist is often which of those storms will actually produce a tornado.”

A tornado outbreak in February? In the Great Lakes? Storms leave a trail of destruction

Rotation was strong enough on radar to prompt tornado warnings, beginning in Berrien County and subsequently including parts of Van Buren, Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties. There were no confirmed touchdowns until the supercell was east of Battle Creek. A very narrow slice of the atmosphere made all the difference in keeping any potential tornado aloft until eventually producing a tornado.

“Determining which storms are most likely to be tornadic is a matter of looking much lower, oftentimes looking at the characteristic of moisture and temperature for added instability in the lowest part of the atmosphere, as well as wind characteristics very close to the ground,”
Smith said. “Oftentimes, the wind profile and lowest 1,000 to 2,000 feet of the atmosphere is what will tip things in favor of actually having a tornado that forms.”

Tuesday’s twisters now join a miniscule number of February tornadoes on record in Michigan.

“Prior to this event, there were a total of a grand total of five tornadoes in Michigan ever since records began in 1950,” Smith said. “So we now have a total of seven tornadoes in Michigan in the month of February, two of which occurred a couple of days ago.”

Law enforcement and emergency management sources first spotted the tornado, confirming damage and giving ground truth to meteorologists tracking its path. Eyes on the ground is critical during severe weather, Smith said, and Storm Team 8 agrees.

“We are seeking every bit of information we can and we’re monitoring on on radar state-of-the-art equipment. But you can’t replace what folks are seeing on the ground,” Smith said.

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Despite how unusual Tuesday night’s twisters were, Smith said it’s a reminder that meteorology doesn’t play by the rules.

“You can’t help but think about climatology and the rarity of events like that,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the atmosphere is going to do what the atmosphere does.”

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