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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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


do you see it now



Yeah. That looks about 29 C not 36 C.
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Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 63 Comments: 23710
That graphic looks great but it doesn't have a key for matching temperature to color.
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Quoting BaltimoreBrian:


I don't see that.


do you see it now

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52257
Quoting KoritheMan:

Must think of a rhyme. Must think of a rhyme. Must think of a rhyme.

For, Kor?
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 108 Comments: 30251
Quoting KoritheMan:

36C? Jesus Christ.
super hot super storm
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52257
Quoting BaltimoreBrian:


I don't see that.




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Quoting Grothar:


Hi, Bri!
Must think of a rhyme. Must think of a rhyme. Must think of a rhyme.
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Quoting BaltimoreBrian:
Yo, Gro!


Hi, Bri!
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 63 Comments: 23710

Quoting BaltimoreBrian:


I don't see that.
I didn't check it. It did sound kinda dubious, though.
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Quoting Xyrus2000:


I did include a link to the wikipedia article. :)

But in short, it is the name of a disease caused by inhaling microscopic volcanic dust particles.

Earlier, people were posting long words they knew so I thought I'd put this one up here. Of course, this has nothing on some German words. :)


German words aren't really that long. We only have one real one. Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän.

Of course when I worked on this project, Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübe rtragungsgesetz. It seemed a little long. We just like to string words together rather than separate them into adjective-noun place as in English.

Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 63 Comments: 23710
Quoting KoritheMan:

36C? Jesus Christ.


I don't see that.
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Quoting KoritheMan:

Kinda impossible to argue when we're both on the same side.

Oh ok.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 108 Comments: 30251
Strongest cyclone since Yasi heads for WA coast



Communities on Western Australia's north-west coast are being told to expect the strongest cyclone since Yasi devastated the Queensland coast last year.

Cyclone Lua is expected to cross the coast in a sparsely populated area between Port Hedland and Broome early this afternoon, local time.

Cattle stations will bear the brunt of destructive winds that are forecast to be moving at up to 270 kilometres an hour.

Weather bureau forecaster Neil Bennett says residents are facing a powerful cyclone system.

"We could see further intensification, whether that gets it up into the highest category, category five, remains to be seen," he said.

"But looking at the whole of Australia, this is the strongest cyclone of the season so far and the strongest one since Cyclone Yasi crossed the Queensland coast last year."

People bunkered down along the coast where Cyclone Lua is expected to cross say they feel safe, but are worried about the damage they will find in the cyclone's wake.

Ranger Pete Morris is one of five people sticking out the storm in a cyclone shelter at the Eighty Mile Beach caravan park.

"It's a fairly black sky and the winds are picking up quite strong and we're getting lots and lots of rain and the ocean is absolutely boiling, so we're sort of just bunking down," he said.

"This is a pretty strong system, pretty powerful."

Communities from Port Hedland to Wallal are on red alert, with the cyclone about 180 kilometres offshore.

Heavy rainfall is also expected near the west Kimberley coast and in coastal and inland parts of the east Pilbara.

Residents of Port Hedland and Bidyadanga are being warned of dangerous storm tides expected as the cyclone centre approaches.

"Tides are likely to rise significantly above the normal high tide mark with damaging waves and very dangerous flooding," the Bureau of Meteorology said.


A red alert has been issued for people in coastal communities between Wallal and Port Hedland, including Wallal, 80 Mile Beach, Sandfire, Pardoo, Port Hedland and South Hedland.

The weather bureau says they need to go to shelter immediately.

A yellow alert is in place for people in remaining communities between Broome and Whim Creek including Bidyadanga, Warralong, Yande Yarra, Marble Bar and adjacent pastoral and mining leases.

They need to take action and prepare to shelter from the cyclone.

All commercial flights in and out of the area have been cancelled, while the region's main highway has been closed.

Port Hedland's port has also been shut down.

Lua is the fifth cyclone of the season, but by far the most severe.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Can we change the subject? I'm having a hard time arguing my side with this one. =P
Kinda impossible to argue when we're both on the same side.
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Quoting AussieStorm:

She went from a Cat 3 to a Cat 4 and will cross the coast as a Cat 4. The waters there are boiling hot. 34C-36c.

TC Lua is only a few hours away from landfall.


Click image for loop.
36C? Jesus Christ.
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Quoting KoritheMan:

I never said otherwise. They strengthen farther south because they are more distant to upper level troughs.
Also, it's not just limited to the southeast. The Gulf Coast is also witness to such weakening, due to the aforementioned factors.
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Quoting KoritheMan:

I never said otherwise. They strengthen farther south because they are more distant to upper level troughs.

Can we change the subject? I'm having a hard time arguing my side with this one. =P
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 108 Comments: 30251

Quoting BaltimoreBrian:
Yo, Gro!
Hey, that rhymed!
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

You've been reading back, I see...

The only time hurricanes usually weaken is when they approach the Southeast coast because dry continental air is injected into the system.

That, or wind shear/dry air is affecting the storm.
I never said otherwise. They strengthen farther south because they are more distant to upper level troughs.
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Approaching landfall. I'm thinking Lua will probably keep its current intensity (90 knots) if not strengthening a little before making landfall.
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Quoting KoritheMan:
Ah, I see Lua blew up overnight. Not unprecedented, but in my experience most hurricanes weaken before landfall.

She went from a Cat 3 to a Cat 4 and will cross the coast as a Cat 4. The waters there are boiling hot. 34C-36c.

TC Lua is only a few hours away from landfall.


Click image for loop.
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Quoting Ameister12:

Moving SE at 16 miles per hour.

Thanks much
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7459
Quoting KoritheMan:

Personal experience with hurricane forecasting.

Boom roasted!

You've been reading back, I see...

The only time hurricanes usually weaken is when they approach the Southeast coast because dry continental air is injected into the system.

That, or wind shear/dry air is affecting the storm at any other location.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 108 Comments: 30251
Yo, Gro!
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Quoting presslord:
How do climate change denialists pluralize the word "Anecdote"?

"Data"


I thought it was Anecdotii.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

On what basis?
Personal experience with hurricane forecasting.

Boom roasted!
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Well people always told me don't be so gullible, but I never understood what they were talking about. Then a long came Presslord and cleared that one up.
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Quoting KoritheMan:
Ah, I see Lua blew up overnight. Not unprecedented, but in my experience most hurricanes weaken before landfall.


Well its structure is getting messed up, i think the weakening before landfall is beginning.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 9452
From the ABM:

Movement Towards: southeast [143 deg]
Speed of Movement: 13 knots [23 km/h]

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

On what basis?


In the US most hurricanes are weakening before landfall. Not all of them. But KoritheMan's right. Most of them do.
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How do climate change denialists pluralize the word "Anecdote"?

"Data"
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Hello KoritheMan :)
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Quoting KoritheMan:
Ah, I see Lua blew up overnight. Not unprecedented, but in my experience most hurricanes weaken before landfall.

On what basis?
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 108 Comments: 30251
Quoting KoritheMan:

This wasn't the first SPC watch I've seen go kaboom.


Not my first one either. I still remember that High/Mdt risk over NW Ga and Tennessee that fell flat. We were even issued tornado watches that got canceled within a few hours.
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Quoting KoritheMan:
Ah, I see Lua blew up overnight. Not unprecedented, but in my experience most hurricanes weaken before landfall.


The pressure at Bedout Island is a lot higher than at Rowley Shoals.
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Ah, I see Lua blew up overnight. Not unprecedented, but in my experience most hurricanes weaken before landfall.
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Quoting TheOnlyBravesFan:


Nice amount of reports for the watch area in Texas :) (sarcasm)



This wasn't the first SPC watch I've seen go kaboom.
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Quoting Ameister12:

Lua's center is north-east of Bedout Island.


Thanks Ameister12.
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Rowley Shoals observations.

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Quoting BaltimoreBrian:
Ameister12 Lua looks about an hour from landfall. I wonder where Bedout island is in that radar. Has to be on the west side since the wind is from the south.

Lua's center is north-east of Bedout Island. Should be making landfall in mainland Australia in a couple hours.
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Quoting GeorgiaStormz:
The only think funnier than Presslord's jokes was the SPC Watch today :)


Nice amount of reports for the watch area in Texas :) (sarcasm)



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Here is the advisory.


Highlights:

Movement southeast 143 degrees at 13 kts / 15 mph
Central Pressure estimated 932 mb
Winds 95 kts.

Rowley Shoals reported a pressure of 938.8 mb. Winds were 75 kts at the time so this was not a minimum storm pressure.


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Quoting nigel20:

What is the forward speed of TC Lua?

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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52257
Quoting nigel20:

What is the forward speed of TC Lua?


That's a good question. Let's go to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and find out.
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Quoting nigel20:

What is the forward speed of TC Lua?

Moving SE at 16 miles per hour.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52257
Quoting BaltimoreBrian:
Ameister12 Lua looks about an hour from landfall. I wonder where Bedout island is in that radar. Has to be on the west side since the wind is from the south.

What is the forward speed of TC Lua?
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7459
Ameister12 Lua looks about an hour from landfall. I wonder where Bedout island is in that radar. Has to be on the west side since the wind is from the south.
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About JeffMasters

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