HURON COUNTY, Mich. – The National Weather Service (NWS) conducted a storm survey in and near the town of Owendale in Huron County and confirmed what we already knew: A tornado touched down at 6:39 p.m. Sunday.
The reason I say "what we already knew" is because not only is there cell phone video of the tornado itself, but a firefighter witnessed the touchdown and personally saw some of the damage it caused. However, despite the visual evidence, the NWS still needs to conduct its storm survey to determine the tornado's specifics.
In this instance, the tornado touched down a quarter-mile west of the intersection of Sebewaing Road and Shebeon Road and traveled eastward along or just north of Sebewaing Road for its 7.1 mile lifetime.
The funnel was 100 yards wide. Think about this: The tornado was as wide as a football field is long.
As for its strength, the twister's wind oscillated between EF0 (65-85 mph) and EF1 (86-110 mph), but the NWS' survey takes into account both the extent of the damage and the extent of what was damaged. For example, it takes a stronger wind to compromise a brick building than a barn.
The tornado destroyed a barn and damaged trees west of Owendale before damaging some buildings in the city itself, more trees east of town and lifting just north of the intersection of Sebewaing Road and Elkton Road. Fortunately, there were no fatalities or injuries.
There's one last topic I want to cover: As is the case with many of our tornadoes, the Owendale tornado was a weaker tornado that wasn't on the ground very long. As I've explained in the past, these weaker twisters are difficult to detect on Doppler Radar. By the time we know about them, they're usually long gone. Sometimes we might see only a hint of evidence on a single frame of radar data before the next update comes in a few minutes later, and it's "clean."
In this instance, no tornado warning had been issued, but a severe thunderstorm warning was in effect. I want you to use this example to remember to take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously.
Here's an example of the opposite scenario that played out yesterday. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen these tweets I sent out:
In this instance, radar showed strong characteristics of tornadic potential in a severe thunderstorm affecting Sanilac County, and a tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service. However, no tornado ended up touching down, despite multiple pieces of evidence suggesting that we were on the verge of a touchdown.
Last year, I heard something at an American Meteorological Society conference that astounded me. A colleague had done some research into why so many people don't take these warnings seriously. The most common reason is that they won't take cover until they see proof of severe weather or a tornado. In other words, until they see a photo or video or hear an eyewitness account, they do nothing to protect themselves. In many instances, people hurt or killed by tornadoes could have done something to protect themselves but didn't, either because they were waiting for confirmation that something was out there to be concerned about, or because they didn't know about the warning (which would never happen if they had a weather radio).
Please understand that I never hype or oversell the weather. If I tell you about dangerous weather approaching, seek shelter immediately. Don't wait for me to show you a photo or video, it could cost you your life.