Rare March tornado rips Michigan; record March heat wave sets more records

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:43 PM GMT on March 16, 2012

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As I stepped out of my front door into the pre-dawn darkness from my home near Ann Arbor, Michigan yesterday morning, I braced myself for the cold shock of a mid-March morning. It didn't come. A warm, murky atmosphere, with temperatures in the upper fifties--30 degrees above normal--greeted me instead. Continuous flashes of heat lightning lit up the horizon, as the atmosphere crackled with the energy of distant thunderstorms. Beware the Ides of March, the air seemed to be saying. I looked up at the hazy stars above me, flashing in and out of sight as lightning lit up the sky, and thought, this is not the atmosphere I grew up with.


Video 1. Video taped at Hudson Mills Metro Park in Dexter about 5:30PM on March 15, 2012, by Matthew Altruda from Tree Town Sound, http://www.treetownsound.com. Caution: foul language.

That afternoon, as the Detroit temperature soared to 77°F, the second warmest on record so early in the year, going back to 1871, I watched as late afternoon thunderstorms built with remarkable speed. Though NOAA's Storm Prediction Center had placed Southeast Michigan in their "Slight Risk" area for severe weather, I wasn't too concerned about tornadoes. We don't get many tornadoes in Michigan this early in the year, and certainly not strong ones. Prior to yesterday, there were only sixteen tornadoes on record in Michigan that occurred before March 16, going back to 1950. Though the air was remarkably unstable for this time of year, the upper level winds were not strong enough to generate much shearing action on the air, meaning that tornadoes would have a tough time getting spinning. But the atmosphere had other ideas. In a remarkably short half-hour period, a severe thunderstorm sprang up west of Ann Arbor, began spinning, and dropped a strong tornado down on the unfortunate town of Dexter, Michigan. The tornado skipped along a ten-mile path, damaging or destroying 128 buildings, but fortunately not causing any deaths or injuries. While most of the damage was light to moderate, thirteen homes were demolished, and preliminary damage estimates from the National Weather Service put the twister at the boundary between EF-2 and EF-3 strength, with winds of 135 mph. If confirmed as an EF-3, this would be the earliest EF-3 or stronger tornado in Michigan history, going back to 1950, according to data from The Tornado History Project. The previous earliest appearance of an F-3 tornado in Michigan was on March 20, 1976. At least two other tornadoes touched down in Michigan yesterday, making it the second largest tornado outbreak in state history so early in the year. The record outbreak for so early in the year was the eight tornadoes that touched down on March 12, 1976.



Figure 1. Radar reflectivity image (top) and Doppler velocity image (bottom) of the March 15, 2012 Dexter, Michigan tornado.


Video 2. This video report by AnnArbor.com's Nathan Bomey shows tornado damage in the Dexter, Michigan, about 90 minutes after the tornado came through on Thursday, March 15, 2012.

I talked to a friend in Dexter who relayed the story of her friend who was driving through town, saw the tornado, and pulled over into the Dexter car wash to take shelter. Some strangers living next door to the car wash yelled at him to come shelter in their basement, since the car wash didn't have a basement. He joined them, and was glad he did, because his car and the car wash were heavily damaged by a tree that was flung into it (see damage to the car wash in the video above.)

Hail, Hail, to Michigan
The Dexter storms also brought golfball to baseball-sized hail and a deluge of 4 - 5 inches of rain that caused street flooding in Ann Arbor. My Ph.D. advisor and co-founder of Weather Underground, Dr. Perry Samson, related this story to me: "I was traveling home by bus to go chase, but the bus came to a stand still at Michigan Stadium as cars were sunk up to their windows in water on Main Street. I told the driver I had to chase this storm, and came up with a story about what I do. He gunned the bus and drove through the flood to get me home. So I didn't actually commandeer a bus to chase the tornado, but it was darn close!"

Record Midwest March heat wave topples more records
For the second consecutive day, large portions of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa, including the cities of Chicago, Madison, and Dubuque, recorded their all-time warmest temperatures for so early in the year. Perhaps the most extraordinary record occurred in Madison, Wisconsin, which hit 82°F--a temperature 39°F above average. It was the hottest temperature ever recorded in March, and three degrees warmer than any day so early in the year, going back to 1869. Not as many all-time hottest temperature records for so early in the year were set in Michigan and other surrounding states, due to plentiful moisture that generated afternoon cloud cover. The records will continue to fall across the Midwest for another week, as the ridge of high pressure responsible stays locked in place.

Major airports that set all-time heat records yesterday
For the second consecutive day, Chicago, Illinois hit 81°F; the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1872, and 35°F above average. This ties the record set on March 12, 1990.

For the second consecutive day, Springfield, Illinois hit 83°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1879, and 32°F above average. This ties the record of 83°F on March 13, 1918.

Rockford, Illinois hit 82°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1893, and 36°F above average. Previous record: 79°F set the previous day.

Moline, Illinois hit 81°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1874, and 33°F above average. Previous record: 80°F on March 12, 1990.

Dubuque, Iowa hit 78°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1874, and 34°F above average. Previous record: 75°F set the previous day, and also on March 12, 1990.

Waterloo, Iowa hit 79°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1895, and 34°F above average. This ties the record set on March 7, 2000.

Madison, Wisconsin hit 82°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1869, and 39°F above average. This is also the warmest temperature ever recorded in March (tied with March 29th, 1986 and March 31, 1981), as is also (by two weeks) the earliest 80° reading ever measured there. The previous record for a temperature so hot this early in the year was 79°F set the previous day, on March 14, 2012.

Data for the previous records was taken from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

I'll have a new post on Saturday.

Jeff Masters

Sterm has Passed (nickwuaa)
Lightning to the east courtesy of my daughter. This was a violent storm that produced a tornado west of us and plenty of hail and thunder.
Sterm has Passed
Looks like Snow (KSMc)
The hail was more than an inch deep.
Looks like Snow
Yikes (Susie77)
Eeks! NWS just issued us a severe thunderstorm warning. Very cool mammatus clouds!
Yikes
Three Strikes at Sunset (CecileWNC)
Three Strikes at Sunset

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Amazing video, wish i knew How to post a link, but in google, put in..what IF a hurricane hit tampa bay....amazing video, the people from the weather channel are doing it...geez im moving LOL, maybe someone who knows how to post links can get it and post it..what a shocker it is to see
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Quoting SPLbeater:
Continuous flashes of heat lighting lit up the horizon...



Dr. Masters, there is no such thing as heat lighting. All that is, is lighting you cant hear due to atmosphere structure, or its too far away to hear.


If you see 'heat' lightning.......go to the radar, and sure enough, you'll find a distant thunderstorm. If it's not on the radar, then the storm is in the process of building into a bigger storm, that will eventually show up on radar. Heat does NOT cause lightning to just start flashing in the sky.........
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Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
Oh my goodness,
my Longhorns are staging a comeback

Sun peeking out...75 in the ATX..fitting!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
This is not the atmosphere I grew up with. No, it is not. It's not even the atmosphere I grew up with, and I'm a lot younger than you. This a new globally-warmed, supercharged atmosphere. You can throw out whatever you learned in your meteorological textbooks, because anything is possible today. This afternoon, temperatures are again climbing into the 70s with dewpoints once again hovering around 60 across SE Michigan and NW Ohio under partly cloudy skies. Water temps on the western basin of Lake Erie are already in the low to mid 40s at a time when the lake is usually still chock full of ice. The rest of the lake is generally in the upper 30s, and should be climbing significantly to unprecedented levels in the coming days.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
XX/XX/XX


I see spin! LOL!
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Quoting nigel20:

Looking as if the speed of light(300000km/s) is indeed the speed limit of any wave/particle in the universe


Until we can manipulate gravitational fields (or discover negative mass), we won't be breaking the speed of light anytime soon. :P
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the gfs cold shot is gone, replaced by a few weak lows.
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Quoting yqt1001:


Wow, that really sucks. Almost ruined my day.


No one (including the scientists who conducted the original experiment) really ever expected neutrinos to exceed c. They were absolutely convinced there was an error somewhere. They just couldn't find. So they got other groups involved to try and reproduce the experiment, while at the same time the original group continued looking for the error.

A short time ago they identified a potential culprit (a fiber optic cable). And now, an independent group has run their own experiment and showing that the original results could not be reproduced.

Science at work. :)
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Quoting nigel20:
March 15, 2012


The thing is with the last two years, the heat has been above average both the Western and Eastern Atlantic, that has been causing storms to develop everywhere, and causing the heat to be less focused in a single area, rather spread out and causing more CV storms. This year, it's focused in the west thanks to the dissipating La Nina and trade winds cooling off the eastern Atlantic. If you notice though the cool temperatures in the Central Caribbean, I am confident those will warm up as we get into May and we will see further below average temperatures in the Western Atlantic.

In summary, I believe this year will be a home grown year but with a lot less storms than what we saw in 2011 and 2010, but still more storms than in 2009 and 2006 because I doubt this year will be a El Nino because of the cold PDO still in effect and even if we do get one, it will be brief and not very powerful. Remember too that sometimes the atmospheric effects seem to lag with a cold PDO El Nino, because the atmosphere is still accustomed to being in a La NIna.
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Those were just west of me this a.m. ILwethr, very blue and dark, looked to be coming, then started going south. According to top of my wu page, Spfld 85, StL 65 - storms definitely cooling Metro & Metro East.
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Quoting presslord:


perhaps not....but a PhD is a pretty damned good indicator


Especially when you take into account all the trial and error that it took to get that degree... (Believe me, I'm finding that out.)
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Quoting LargoFl:
gee there IS one i saw a long time ago, storm entered tampa bay then went up it, pushing the whole bay in front of it, massive, i mean Massive flooding, pinellas county went back to islands, geez..oldsmar, safety harbor, parts of st pete, all under water...wish i could remember the year of the storm
that wasnt IF it could happen, it Did happen
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Quoting aspectre:
662 FloridaRick "Hoping someone in this forum can help me. I am looking for a video (I think it was an episode of it could hapen tomorrow) with a catastrophic hurricane going into the Tampa Bay Area. any links would be appreciated."
665 Neapolitan "Do you mean this very well done one? The thing is, there's absolutely no reason whatsoever this couldn't--or won't--happen."
666 Patrap "Isnt the RNC in Tampa in August?"

...speak of the Devil...
gee there IS one i saw a long time ago, storm entered tampa bay then went up it, pushing the whole bay in front of it, massive, i mean Massive flooding, pinellas county went back to islands, geez..oldsmar, safety harbor, parts of st pete, all under water...wish i could remember the year of the storm
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XX/XX/XX
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54353
Quoting Some1Has2BtheRookie:
We will not be going far from our solar system after all, it would seem.

So far, Einstein is correct.

Looking as if the speed of light(300000km/s) is indeed the speed limit of any wave/particle in the universe
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
7 ILwthrfan "Sorry, it wont let me modify [comment4]...why not?"

Sometimes the Button-function coding won't load up. A Refresh will take of the problem
Member Since: August 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4860
Yesterday's tornado in Monroe, MI (not the Dexter one) has been preliminarily rated an EF0.

PRELIMINARY LOCAL STORM REPORT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DETROIT/PONTIAC MI
128 PM EDT FRI MAR 16 2012

..TIME... ...EVENT... ...CITY LOCATION... ...LAT.LON...
..DATE... ....MAG.... ..COUNTY LOCATION..ST.. ...SOURCE....
..REMARKS..

0651 PM TORNADO 3 S IDA 41.87N 83.56W
03/15/2012 MONROE MI EMERGENCY MNGR

A TORNADO WAS CONFIRMED IN CENTRAL MONROE COUNTY. THE
TORNADO WAS RATED AN EF0...WITH MAXIMUM WIND SPEEDS OF 85
MPH. THE ESTIMATED PATH LENGTH OF THE TORNADO IS 0.5
MILES WITH A MAXIMUM WIDTH OF 50 YARDS. DAMAGE OCCURRED
AT IDA CENTER ROAD JUST EAST OF LEWIS ROAD.THE DAMAGE
CONSISTED OF SIDING AND SHINGLES BLOWN OFF OF A HOUSE...A
TIPPED CAR...A SHED DESTROYED AND TREES BLOWN DOWN.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32268
Quoting StormTracker2K:


Looks as if the highest heat content is going to located closer to the US this year. Which could be a problem. Maybe the RNC should reconsider their Tampa outing.

Yeah, it's loooking that way at the moment
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
Quoting Some1Has2BtheRookie:
We will not be going far from our solar system after all, it would seem.

So far, Einstein is correct.


Wow, that really sucks. Almost ruined my day.
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Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
We will not be going far from our solar system after all, it would seem.

So far, Einstein is correct.
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Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
Next week looks like it is going to be very active!

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
662 FloridaRick "Hoping someone in this forum can help me. I am looking for a video (I think it was an episode of it could hapen tomorrow) with a catastrophic hurricane going into the Tampa Bay Area. any links would be appreciated."
665 Neapolitan "Do you mean this very well done one? The thing is, there's absolutely no reason whatsoever this couldn't--or won't--happen."
666 Patrap "Isnt the RNC in Tampa in August?"

...speak of the devil...
Member Since: August 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4860
Caribbean vertical instability
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
Quoting nigel20:
March 15, 2012


Looks as if the highest heat content is going to located closer to the US this year. Which could be a problem. Maybe the RNC should reconsider their Tampa outing.
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March 15, 2012
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
Quoting entrelac:
I saw ball lightning once as a child. It takes you a moment to recognize what you're seeing since lighting shouldn't behave like that.


I wonder what would happen if it hit you, if there is enough of a jolt in it to do damage.
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March 15, 2011
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
Quoting TropicTraveler:
My elderly father in law told me he once saw a ball of lightening roll through the garden of their house, scaring the tar out of him and ended up going in the vicinity of the outhouse. He said he was afraid to visit that facility for quite some time. I'd love to see ball lightning or St. Elmo's fire, both of which I've read or heard about on ships and airplanes.
I saw ball lightning once as a child. It takes you a moment to recognize what you're seeing since lighting shouldn't behave like that.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
The Gulf of Mexico is well above average in terms of vertical instability so far this year. Remember that vertical instability was a major limiting factor for storms' intensities last year.



Great post. I hope that we aren't starting to see the signs of a 2004 or 2005 year in terms of landfalling systems in the US.
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TC Lua
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
sorry bro but ordinary is something we may never see again

Touche' !

I think you may have said it all, there.

I hope we are both wrong....
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Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
Quoting pottery:

Thanks!
You are very kind. (I think?) heheheh
But faced with those options I think I'll settle for just plain Ordinary.
sorry bro but ordinary is something we may never see again
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54353
March 15, 2012
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8139
good day guys
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
what would you like hail the size of watermelons 20 ft of rain 10000 lightening strikes per hr hurricane force winds over a 1200 mile area you name i will see what i can do

Thanks!
You are very kind. (I think?) heheheh
But faced with those options I think I'll settle for just plain Ordinary.
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St. Louis getting wet yesterday. Had some 4 inch reports. Widespread 1-2" rains. Today looks to be shifting a bit further east. Mississippi river already getting it this morning.



This looks as if it will persist much of the day, with numerous outflow boundaries will help set up even more storms for this afternoon.

Stay safe and remember turn around don't drown.

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Quoting dabirds:
IL Weather - believe Calhoun County had baseball sized, maybe Greene County as well. Hope to help turn the page - cue the Bob Seger Live Bullet


They could open pools everywhere up here, who needs spring, I think we had that during winter here...lol

Those storms were fun yesterday. Produced a lot of rain down by Rolla, MO. The weather pattern over the Midwest right now is jacked up. I have a terrible feeling about how summer is going to unfold. This could be one of many we never forget. We are forecasted to break records for 10 straight days up here with 2 already booked in the last two days.
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My elderly father in law told me he once saw a ball of lightening roll through the garden of their house, scaring the tar out of him and ended up going in the vicinity of the outhouse. He said he was afraid to visit that facility for quite some time. I'd love to see ball lightning or St. Elmo's fire, both of which I've read or heard about on ships and airplanes.
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Quoting pottery:
Very peculiar weather.
What happens next ???
what would you like hail the size of watermelons 20 ft of rain 10000 lightening strikes per hr hurricane force winds over a 1200 mile area you name i will see what i can do
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54353
Oh my goodness...
my Longhorns are stinking up the gym..

drizzly and 73 in the ATX this morning...fitting!
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Well, actually all lightning is caused by heat, ie rising air creating static charge, etc.

Dont know if you saw it on other page ILweath, I believe Calhoun and maybe Greene counties had baseball sized hail (StL covers them I believe)
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
The Gulf of Mexico is well above average in terms of vertical instability so far this year. Remember that vertical instability was a major limiting factor for storms' intensities last year.



When you talk about vertical instability, are you talking about a column of air rising faster than the usual adiabatic lapse rate? (3.5 degrees per thousand feet)? And if that's it, I don't see how unstable air could inhibit hurricanes, I would think it would enable them. (Air rising faster thus quickly turning vapor into visible, etc.)
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Almost negative..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 21414
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Well then, I don't know what else to tell you besides take it up with the National Weather Service.

Good luck..


you dont gots to tell me anything else. i reckon as long as my family(including my stubborn grandfather)know that lighting aint caused by heat, then all is well.
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4486
Quoting yqt1001:


Knowledge doesn't always come from life experience/age.


perhaps not....but a PhD is a pretty damned good indicator
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Quoting SPLbeater:


exactly. most people havnt the passion for weather and see somethin they aint sure of, and make their own opinions on it lol


actually i see it as getting the point across that 'heat' lighting ISNT what its name say it is.

Well then, I don't know what else to tell you besides take it up with the National Weather Service.

Good luck..
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32268
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Here.

"The term %u201Cheat lightning%u201D probably comes from the fact that the effect is most often seen on warm, humid nights during July and August. So an association has been made with sultry temperatures. But when the sky is hazy, as is quite typical on warm, summer nights, the light from intense thunderstorms as far away as 100 miles can be reflected off a layer of haze and up into the night sky."


exactly. most people havnt the passion for weather and see somethin they aint sure of, and make their own opinions on it lol
Quoting SLINKY:


You are trying to find a technical meaning for an observed weather phenomena within popular culture.


actually i see it as getting the point across that 'heat' lighting ISNT what its name say it is.
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4486

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.