Michigan winter likes to keep us on our toes.

With the extreme temperature swing we've experienced over the last 24 hours, going from sunny and 70° to snow flurries and 24°, it's no surprise some volatile storms got whipped up overnight.

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In fact, over near the east side of the state in Grand Blanc the National Weather Service (NWS) is surveying damage from last night's storm. Considering the images that are coming out I wouldn't doubt the NWS to confirm a small EF-0 or EF-1 tornado touched down.

Only this morning did I hear that officials issued a tornado warning for Kalamazoo County last night. I missed the memo! Thankfully everything seems to be in working order in our neck of the woods, but it got me curious: Have we ever seen a winter tornado in West Michigan?

The answer is: yes!

Michigan Tornado Season

Spring typically correlates with tornado season here in Michigan, with the strongest tornadoes recorded in Michigan having occurred between the beginning of April and the end of May. According to Pure Michigan we average about 15 tornadoes per year here in the Great Lakes State.

But that's not to say a winter tornado can't happen!

January 18, 1996 - Kalamazoo County

Michigan was experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures during the winter of '96 with highs reportedly reaching 58° degrees that day. Warm air mixed with a cold front that came across Lake Michigan meant conditions were right for severe weather.

The storms that day whipped up winds to 70 mph, dropped hail measuring 1 inch in diameter, and also dropped a significant amount of snow in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. At 5:01 p.m. a brief tornado was reported to have touched down in nearby Richland, MI which the NWS later confirmed and as an F-0 tornado.

Though small and brief, here's one report that was given to the National Climatic Data Center:

Richland resident reported seeing a swirling cloud of debris with loud noise passing between his house and a neighboring house. The wind lifted a 10′ by 12′ metal storage shed that had been tied with guy wires, carried it over a 4 foot chain link fence, and set it down about 100 feet from its original position. Contents of the shed, including a lawn tractor, lawn chairs, mower, bikes, and yard tools remained intact and apparently undisturbed

This means that although conditions have to be just right, tornadoes in Michigan are not limited to spring time. Plus, considering we've just experienced the warmest winter on record who knows how climate change will continue to affect the weather in The Mitten.

2024 Michigan County By County Tornado Risk Projections

Roof Gnome, using FEMA data and analyzing nearly 950 counties throughout the United States at moderate to high risk for tornados, was able to rank 34 Michigan counties for storm risks in 2024 and projected financial impact. Here's a county-by-county look at Michigan's Tornano Vulnerability.

Gallery Credit: Scott Clow

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