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 Grothar:



Nec locutus meliores. Spero ut omnia in locum aeternum.

That was pretty good hydrus. All correct grammar, too! Now I am really impressed.

What?

Quoting hydrus:
Conor ut statua sulum victus res ut has umquam futurus in orbis terrarum , vel vel universum , quod panton ut has res intus is. sanctimonia of sulum creatura , suus voluntas , quod quam sulum unus of lemma met terminus of illic existence quod quare. Quod si illic est a locus pro lemma in infinitio. EGO puto illic est.

What?
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Quoting Grothar:



Nec locutus meliores. Spero ut omnia in locum aeternum.

That was pretty good hydrus. All correct grammar, too! Now I am really impressed.
I hope my affiliation with the eternal is ship shape also...:)
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22643
Quoting hydrus:
Conor ut statua sulum victus res ut has umquam futurus in orbis terrarum , vel vel universum , quod panton ut has res intus is. sanctimonia of sulum creatura , suus voluntas , quod quam sulum unus of lemma met terminus of illic existence quod quare. Quod si illic est a locus pro lemma in infinitio. EGO puto illic est.
beautiful!
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154. hydrus "Since one might not [be able to] travel faster than light, one might conclude that a human can never travel further from the earth than 40 light-years if the traveler is active between the age of 20 and 60. This is a mistaken conclusion; due to time dilation..."

C-ships faster than warp-drive... subjectively.
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Quoting Grothar:
Two recent images of Lua





I haven't seen anything this intense in years.
One rarely sees black in these things.



You should have been here earlier this year for one of the SHEM storms...large area of black cloudtops, Gro.
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I noticed the words 'of', 'has' and 'existence' in the Latin. Honestly if it weren't for that I'd have no idea about the grammar.

It's all Greek to me.

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Quoting Grothar:
Two recent images of Lua





I haven't seen anything this intense in years.
One rarely sees black in these things.


These cold cloud tops actually happen pretty often in the Indian Ocean as well as the West and South Pacific. Waters there are warmer than they are in the Atlantic, therefore there is a lot more moisture for thunderstorm development. Meanwhile, here in the Atlantic we don't see cloud tops that cold very often because of the cooler water temperatures.
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:

But it's still not a classified cyclone... Is there a difference between tropical low and invest?

Yes, there is a difference. An invest is an area that a meteorological center determines is worthy of watching for possible tropical or subtropical development. A tropical low is a low pressure system exhibiting tropical characteristics (ie warm core, convection over the top, no fronts, etc).

So an invest is not necessarily a tropical low because subtropical disturbances can be invests. Similarly, a tropical low is not necessarily an invest because an invest is simply an area deemed worthy of watching for development, there are no requirements for invest designation.
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Quoting TropicTraveler:
Lua is a very scary storm. I read that the area is prepared and travelers have evacuated. What I didn't see is how this compares on our rating system. Is it equivalent to a Cat 4?


Lua is 105 mph according to the wunderground tropical page. But it looks stronger to me.
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Quoting hydrus:
Conor ut statua sulum victus res ut has umquam futurus in orbis terrarum , vel vel universum , quod panton ut has res intus is. sanctimonia of sulum creatura , suus voluntas , quod quam sulum unus of lemma met terminus of illic existence quod quare. Quod si illic est a locus pro lemma in infinitio. EGO puto illic est.



Nec locutus meliores. Spero ut omnia in locum aeternum.

That was pretty good hydrus. All correct grammar, too! Now I am really impressed.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
maybe when the dinosaurs roamed the earth
Dinosaurs still roam the Earth...sorta..:)
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22643
Quoting hydrus:
Conor ut statua sulum victus res ut has umquam futurus in orbis terrarum , vel vel universum , quod panton ut has res intus is. sanctimonia of sulum creatura , suus voluntas , quod quam sulum unus of lemma met terminus of illic existence quod quare. Quod si illic est a locus pro lemma in infinitio. EGO puto illic est.


Google translate still has bugs. Good try though!
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Lua is a very scary storm. I read that the area is prepared and travelers have evacuated. What I didn't see is how this compares on our rating system. Is it equivalent to a Cat 4?
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Quoting JNCali:
ok, that's good.. but like Press said.. if it had been in latin you woulda killed it!
Quoting JNCali:
ok, that's good.. but like Press said.. if it had been in latin you woulda killed it!
Conor ut statua sulum victus res ut has umquam futurus in orbis terrarum , vel vel universum , quod panton ut has res intus is. sanctimonia of sulum creatura , suus voluntas , quod quam sulum unus of lemma met terminus of illic existence quod quare. Quod si illic est a locus pro lemma in infinitio. EGO puto illic est.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22643
Quoting Grothar:
Two recent images of Lua





I haven't seen anything this intense in years.
One rarely sees black in these things.




A luau would be more fun!
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Two recent images of Lua





I haven't seen anything this intense in years.
One rarely sees black in these things.


Member Since: Posts: Comments:


URGENT - IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH NUMBER 79
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
350 PM CDT FRI MAR 16 2012

THE NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER HAS ISSUED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH FOR PORTIONS OF

WESTERN OKLAHOMA
THE TEXAS SOUTH PLAINS AND EASTERN TEXAS PANHANDLE

EFFECTIVE THIS FRIDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING FROM 350 PM UNTIL 900
PM CDT.

HAIL TO 2.5 INCHES IN DIAMETER...THUNDERSTORM WIND GUSTS TO 70
MPH...AND DANGEROUS LIGHTNING ARE POSSIBLE IN THESE AREAS.

THE SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH AREA IS APPROXIMATELY ALONG AND 65
STATUTE MILES EAST AND WEST OF A LINE FROM 30 MILES EAST
NORTHEAST OF GAGE OKLAHOMA TO 55 MILES SOUTH SOUTHEAST OF LUBBOCK
TEXAS. FOR A COMPLETE DEPICTION OF THE WATCH SEE THE ASSOCIATED
WATCH OUTLINE UPDATE (WOUS64 KWNS WOU9).

REMEMBER...A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH MEANS CONDITIONS ARE
FAVORABLE FOR SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS IN AND CLOSE TO THE WATCH
AREA. PERSONS IN THESE AREAS SHOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
THREATENING WEATHER CONDITIONS AND LISTEN FOR LATER STATEMENTS
AND POSSIBLE WARNINGS. SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAN AND OCCASIONALLY
DO PRODUCE TORNADOES.

OTHER WATCH INFORMATION...CONTINUE...WW 78...

DISCUSSION...DEEPENING CUMULUS DEVELOPMENT HAS BEEN NOTED IN RECENT
VISIBLE SATELLITE IMAGERY ALONG THE DRYLINE FROM JUST SW OF LBB TO
JUST NE OF PAMPA. CONTINUED DAYTIME HEATING WILL FURTHER WEAKEN
CONVECTIVE INHIBITION...AND A WEAK LARGE SCALE ASCENT WILL HELP
CONDITION THE ENVIRONMENT FOR MORE STORM DEVELOPMENT AS A WEAK
MIDLEVEL TROUGH MOVES NEWD FROM ERN NM. VERTICAL SHEAR IS ONLY
MARGINALLY FAVORABLE FOR SPLITTING SUPERCELLS...BUT STRONG
INSTABILITY WILL SUPPORT A RISK FOR LARGE HAIL WITH ANY SUSTAINED
STORMS. LATER THIS EVENING...STORMS COULD COALESCE INTO A CLUSTER
OR TWO ACROSS NW TX AND SW OK...WITH AN ATTENDANT RISK FOR LARGE
HAIL AND DAMAGING WINDS.

AVIATION...A FEW SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS WITH HAIL SURFACE AND ALOFT
TO 2.5 INCHES. EXTREME TURBULENCE AND SURFACE WIND GUSTS TO 60
KNOTS. A FEW CUMULONIMBI WITH MAXIMUM TOPS TO 500. MEAN STORM
MOTION VECTOR 27020.


...THOMPSON
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another dark spot
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56075
Quoting TropicTraveler:
Love the deep philosophy jokes. We need to have the contest for the best weather jokes.


I am tempted to toss some jokes out there. But my dry sense of humor doesn't work well on some people.
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For all of you thinking that with a long summer ahead you can count on that public pool being open...Link
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56075
Love the deep philosophy jokes. We need to have the contest for the best weather jokes.
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:

But it's still not a classified cyclone... Is there a difference between tropical low and invest?


tropical low i assume is more similar to a TD then invest...but the JTWC dont do that, all them small local meteorological services do it. but, Wunderground only lists what JTWC gives, so thats the one i go with:)
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting Ameister12:
Dang! Lua is a vigorous looking cyclone.

It's likely to cause flooding/landslide in the impact region
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 12 Comments: 8473
Quoting hydrus:
I try to imagine every living thing that has ever existed on the Earth, or even the Universe, and everything that has occurred within it. The sacredness of each creature, its purpose, and how every one of them met the end of there existence and why. And if there is a place for them in eternity...I believe there is..
ok, that's good.. but like Press said.. if it had been in latin you woulda killed it!
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Quoting kwgirl:
You know it's late in the day when I laugh at all Presslord's jokes. I almost didn't get the one about the blondes, being one myself:)


Is your name, by any chance, Joanne? And, if so, ...Did you work at Bahama Mama's in 1984? If so...well...we've....ah...well....we've met...
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
This has to be the strongest invest ever:


Very cold cloud tops
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 12 Comments: 8473
Quoting MAweatherboy1:

But it's still not a classified cyclone... Is there a difference between tropical low and invest?


I'm not to sure.



Lua is huuge.
Member Since: November 19, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 1286
Dang! Lua is a vigorous looking cyclone.
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Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 12 Comments: 8473
Quoting presslord:
A sociologist was walking down the street when he came across a woman who was lying in a ditch, groaning, and bleeding from a knife wound.

The woman says, "A man stabbed me and stole my purse!"

The sociologist proclaimed, "I must find the man who did this. He needs help!"


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Quoting yqt1001:


Technically it's tropical low 17, so it isn't an invest. :P

But it's still not a classified cyclone... Is there a difference between tropical low and invest?
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 84 Comments: 8040
Member Since: November 19, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 1286
Quoting drought:
Chicago has hit 80 for the 3rd day in a row. Has that ever happened in March there?
maybe when the dinosaurs roamed the earth
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
thats leaving whats important is the turning to its west southwest

Ok
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
This has to be the strongest invest ever:



Technically it's tropical low 17, so it isn't an invest. :P
Member Since: November 19, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 1286
Quoting presslord:
A sociologist was walking down the street when he came across a woman who was lying in a ditch, groaning, and bleeding from a knife wound.

The woman says, "A man stabbed me and stole my purse!"

The sociologist proclaimed, "I must find the man who did this. He needs help!"
LOL...lmao...ha ha
Quoting presslord:
C'mon, people!!! This is some excellent material...
LOL ..lmao...ha ha....lol......dry as a thirsty beach towel i say....oh hi Press...:)
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22643
Quoting Patrap:
Newt Gingrich has just Limo'ed thru NOLA on the Way to his Hotel to rest up for his $1000 Dollar a Plate Dinner at Galatoire's tonight.


Since it's Galatoire's I hope the food they serve is better than rubber chicken!
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This has to be the strongest invest ever:

Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 84 Comments: 8040
and I'll leave you with this gem...


"Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur."
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Quoting nigel20:
thats leaving whats important is the turning to its west southwest
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Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 635
Chicago has hit 80 for the 3rd day in a row. Has that ever happened in March there?
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Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 12 Comments: 8473
Quoting JNCali:
Hydrus, I see your deep thought and raise you: "the mind in singularity is limited by definition, and the infinite, while being understood, can only be attained with cooperation and unity of a group acting in harmony."
I try to imagine every living thing that has ever existed on the Earth, or even the Universe, and everything that has occurred within it. The sacredness of each creature, its purpose, and how every one of them met the end of there existence and why. And if there is a place for them in eternity...I believe there is..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22643
New JTWC warning has cyclone Lua at 95 knots, up from 75 previous advisory... Pretty fast strengthening
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 84 Comments: 8040
Quoting Patrap:
Newt Gingrich has just Limo'ed thru NOLA on the Way to his Hotel to rest up for his $1000 Dollar a Plate Dinner at Galatoire's tonight.
speaking of empting the purse that must be some big plate to hold all that food
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56075
Quoting presslord:
A sociologist was walking down the street when he came across a woman who was lying in a ditch, groaning, and bleeding from a knife wound.

The woman says, "A man stabbed me and stole my purse!"

The sociologist proclaimed, "I must find the man who did this. He needs help!"
to empty the purse
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56075
Quoting hydrus:
Looks impressive .


Impressive isn't a big enough word
Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 635
Newt Gingrich has just Limo'ed thru NOLA on the Way to his Hotel to rest up for his $1000 Dollar a Plate Dinner at Galatoire's tonight.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129848
TEST TEST TEST
XX/AOI/XXL
MARK
25.66N/68.63W
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56075

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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.

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