125 years ago: The Great Cyclone hits Oakland County

Michigan’s 2nd-deadliest tornado killed dozens in 1896

In 1896, one of only four F-5 tornadoes to ever hit Michigan plowed through Oakland County.

The Great Cyclone of 1896 is one of only four F5 tornadoes to ever hit Michigan -- and it is still our state’s second-deadliest tornado in history.

125 years ago, the cyclone killed 47 people and injured 100 others as it tore through Oakland County.

It was a simple time back in the 1890s, with farms and villages strung across northern Oakland County. Monday, May 25, 1896 started like any other day: everyday people just going about their ordinary chores. But that day would become anything but ordinary.

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The tornado may have first touched down between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Rose Township on that day before traveling northeast, taking its first lives in Groveland Township.

The tornado then turned east, grew to a half-to-three quarters of a mile wide and traveled along Oakwood Road, across parts of Brandon Township and then directly into the village of Oakwood. Formerly home to 160 people, not a building was left standing in Oakwood after the tornado ripped through. Only the church’s lectern remained, found far away in a field.

That lectern now sits in solemn tribute at the Northeast Oakland Historical Museum in Oxford, as does a stamp used to cancel mail at the old Oakwood post office. The date on that stamp is May 25, 1896.

The tornado was far from done, continuing along Oakwood Road into Thomas -- a main stop on the railroad line from Detroit to Bay City. In the video above, you can see images of Thomas before and after the tornado struck.

After Thomas, the tornado killed three people in the village of Whigville before it mercifully lifted.

Watch the full report and see photos in the video above.


Related: Remembering America’s worst tornado ever: The Tri-State Tornado of 1925


About the Author:

Local 4 meteorologist Paul Gross was born in Detroit and has spent his entire life and career right here in southeast Michigan. Paul has researched, written and produced eight half-hour documentaries for WDIV, as well as many science, historical and environmental stories.