Michigan weather history: When a tornado touched down in December in Canton Township

1st December tornado reported in state’s history was confirmed Dec. 23, 2015

Dec. 23, 2015 radar loop (Radar loop courtesy of Iowa Environmental Mesonet (IEM).)

CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Here is the report from Dec. 24, 2015 when a tornado was confirmed to have touched down the night before (Dec. 23, 2015) in Canton Township:

The National Weather Service storm survey team confirmed Thursday morning (Dec. 24) that a tornado touched down in Canton Township on Wednesday night.

The twister’s peak wind was estimated to be 90 mph, which places it in the EF-1 category on the 0-to-5 Enhanced Fujita tornado intensity scale.

The tornado had a very short lifespan, only traveling 2.0 miles from touchdown to dissipation.

Here’s the official report from the NWS storm survey team: “(the) tornado touched down in a neighborhood just southwest of the intersection of Warren Road and North Lilley Road in Canton. Several pine trees were knocked down along with other large tree limbs.

EF-1 damage was then found at a light industrial complex on the southwest side of the Canton airport where multiple buildings and vehicles were damaged. Additional EF-0 damage was found near the intersection of Joy Road and Haggerty Road where a metal roof was taken off a gas station and more tree were damaged. The tornado then lifted near Haggerty Road and Newport Drive.”

Dec. 23, 2015 radar loop (Radar loop courtesy of Iowa Environmental Mesonet (IEM).)

This is the first December tornado in recorded Michigan history.

In fact, there have only been a total of three winter (December to February) tornadoes in Michigan history:

  • December 23, 2015 – Wayne County
  • January 18, 1996 – Kalamazoo County
  • February 28, 1974 – Wayne County

One final comment: in a situation like this, it’s only natural to ask “how come there was no warning?”

Yesterday’s weather setup was nowhere near a classic tornado setup, as they had down south with those massive, long-track tornadoes.

Fluke tornadoes like the one that hit Canton are extremely difficult to detect on radar (if at all), and happen so briefly that, even if we see a small suggestion of rotation on a scan of the radar, by the time the next radar scan updates, the tornado is already gone.

This particular tornado was only on the ground for two miles -- it was impossible to issue any tornado warning.

Fortunately, the vast majority of fatalities caused by tornadoes happen with the strong and violent twisters -- which we sometimes can detect 10-15 minutes before they even touch down.

Small, weak tornadoes like last night’s are rarely deadly.

More: Michigan Weather History

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.