5 years ago: Devastating tornado rips through Dexter, Michigan

Tornado damage assessed at nearly $10 million

DETROIT – It has been five years since a powerful tornado ripped through Dexter, Michigan.

On March 15, 2012, a tornado ripped through Washtenaw County, damaging and demolishing more than 100 homes, downing trees and power lines, sparking fires and flooding neighborhood roads.

Damage was concentrated in two subdivisions. About two dozen homes in Sharon Carty's Huron Farms neighborhood were "pretty much unlivable."

There also were unconfirmed reports of tornados touching down in Monroe County's Ida Township and northwest Lapeer County, near Columbiaville, where trees and power lines had been downed, National Weather Service meteorologist Amos Dodson said. The storm packed wind gusts up to 70 mph in Lapeer County and 2-inch hail, he said.

There weren't any injuries reported, but the tornado was still devastating. 

Here is a portion of the Local 4 coverage from the evening of March 15, 2012:

The Washtenaw County Emergency Operations Center assessed tornado damage at just under $10 million.

This is a timeline of the events, from the Operations Center:

4:30 PM: Disseminated Severe Thunderstorm Watch bulletin issued by the National Weather Service.

4:31 PM: Partially activated the Emergency Operations Center with Warning, Communications and Public Information functions staffed.

4:32 PM: Activated the Washtenaw County Skywarn Spotter detection network.

4:57 PM: Disseminated Severe Thunderstorm Warning expiring at 6:30 PM.

5:07 PM: Disseminated Tornado Warning (indicated by Doppler radar) for Northern Washtenaw County expiring at 6:00 PM. Immediately activated outdoor warning sirens across Northern Washtenaw County.

5:26 PM: Trained weather spotter reports a funnel cloud near Dexter.

5:28 PM: Trained weather spotter reports a rotating wall cloud near Hudson Mills.

5:28 PM: Disseminated Tornado Warning issued for all of Washtenaw County until 6:30 PM. Immediately activated outdoor warning sirens countywide.

5:33 PM: Trained weather spotter reports a tornado on the ground near Dexter-Pinckney and Wylie in Dexter Township. Disseminated touchdown location and anticipated direction and speed.

6:26 PM: Trained weather spotter reported a funnel cloud near Saline.

6:28 PM: Disseminated Tornado Warning for Southeastern Washtenaw County until 7:15 PM. Immediately activated outdoor warning sirens across Southeastern Washtenaw County.

6:30 PM: Trained weather spotter reported urban flooding throughout the City of Ann Arbor.

6:51 PM: Disseminated Flash Flood Warning for Washtenaw County expiring at 10:00 PM.

The tornado touched down at 5:17pm just northeast of the intersection of N Territorial and Dexter Town Hall Rd. The tornado moved southeast and produced EF-1 damage with winds estimated at 100 mph.

The tornado strengthened as it hit the Horseshoe Bend Subdivision with winds estimated at 120 mph and structural damage to the outside of homes. The tornado then continued to track southeast alongside Dexter-Pinckney Rd. and produced EF-3 damage at 5:31pm.

Winds estimated at 135- 140 mph destroyed one home northwest of Dexter. The tornado then made a left turn and paralleled Huron River Dr. producing EF-2 damage on the north side of Dexter. The tornado then produced EF-3 damage again at 5:49pm in the Huron Farms Subdivision with winds estimated at 135-140 mph.


Local 4 Meteorologist Paul Gross remembers the Dexter tornado very well:  he and Chuck Gaidica were on the air for three consecutive hours that afternoon and early evening. “What struck me about that tornado,” Gross says, “is how slow it moved. The twister traveled 7.6 miles in thirty-eight minutes, which means it had an average forward speed of only twelve miles per hour.”

Gross added that the tornado’s slow speed also may have had something to do with its estimated strength: “Because a tornado’s strength is rated based upon the damage it does, damage the Dexter tornado caused may have actually been EF-3 damage from an EF-2 tornado that was moving so slowly that structures were exposed to the twister’s strong winds for a longer period of time than with a tornado moving at a more typical speed of thirty to forty miles per hour,” said Gross. 

“Think about last week’s big wind storm:  a line of severe storms with sixty miles per hour wind gusts doesn’t cause the biggest weather-related power outage in DTE’s history.  But expose our area to six to eight hours of that magnitude of gusts, and you see what the longer exposure does.”

Here is Shawn Ley's report from Dexter one year after the tornado:

Here are some more viewer videos of the Dexter Tornado:

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About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.