There were no reports of injuries after a small tornado touched down Thursday in southeast Tuscola County’s Koylton Township.
But the twister did leave a trail of damage in its path.
According to preliminary findings from the National Weather Service’s Pontiac/Detroit office, the tornado touched down at 8:10 p.m., 2.6 miles southeast of Kingston, and dissipated 4.2 miles east of Kingston at 8:17 p.m. in Sanilac County. It covered approximately three miles and was 100 yards wide at its widest point. With top wind speeds reaching 75 miles per hour, the tornado was given an EF-0 rating, the weakest of the six categories of the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
The NWS didn’t issue a tornado warning until 8:16 p.m., six minutes after the tornado had touched down. The alert encapsulated both Tuscola and Sanilac counties, and warned of a tornado on the ground. Many tornado warnings are issued due to cloud rotation rather than tornado confirmation.
“I didn’t see the tornado, but the front door flew open,” said David Vasbinder, whose yard was damaged by the twister. “There was no warning, none whatsoever. The wind just started blowing very hard, harder than I’ve ever seen. I didn’t hear no train or anything like that, but the wind really blew.
“Then, after it was over, all the alarms on the phone and everything said there was a tornado in the area.”
Vasbinder, and wife Barb, live on the north side of Sanilac Road (M-46), about a quarter mile east of Marton Road in Sanilac County’s Lamotte Township. Dean Bruderick lives next door to the Vasbinders. He was at church when the tornado swirled in between the two yards, and arrived home to discover damage to his garage, and found that his camper/trailer, which had been standing upright in his driveway, was tipped over pushed about 50 feet, into the Vasbinders’ yard. “We were down at church, we got out and there was an alert on our phones,” Bruderick said. “We headed home, I don’t know when it came through, but I know it was after the alerts.”
After trained tornado spotters alerted the NWS to a tornado on the ground, the NWS immediately issued a warning. To that point, there had not been a tornado watch or a thunderstorm warning.
“Really, nothing would show up on radar, because it was so low to the ground and it wasn’t your typical tornadic thunderstorm where you can see rotation 15,000 feet up in the air,” said Danny Costello, meteorologist at the NWS office in Oakland County’s White Lake Township. “This was all really surface-based and it was tough to detect.”
Costello added that, for various reasons, it becomes tougher to detect funnel clouds the farther they are from a radar tower. The NWS monitors southeast Michigan, including the Thumb area, using a radar signal sent from a 100-foot-high tower in northwestern Oakland County.
“The storm wasn’t even strong enough to produce lightning, and then getting up that far in the Thumb area, the radar beam – as you get further away from our radar, the lowest radar beam gets higher above the ground,” Costello said. “So the lowest radar beam might have been about 5,000 or 6,000 feet above the ground up there.
“But most of the rotation that was forming was below that. In a typical supercell you can see rotation developing 10,000 or 15,000 feet up in the air. In this case, everything was below the radar, and it was just tough to see.”
Trained weather spotters also observed a funnel cloud three miles east of Millington at 7:11 p.m. Thursday. Large branches broke off trees near Millington High School in southern Tuscola County.
In the aftermath of the tornado dissipating, several curious onlookers gathered at Scott’s Quick Stop, which is located at the corner of M-46 and M-53 in Lamotte Township, less than a mile from the twister’s path – including amateur storm chasers.
Ryan Harriott, and his mother Angela Harriott, began the afternoon at home in Britton, which is about 30 miles south of Ann Arbor.
“We came up here thinking the storm was going to cross a warm front, it would have better sheer and all that,” said Ryan Harriott. “We figured up here would be the best dynamics to produce a tornado.”
The Harriotts also considered chasing a stronger system that was rolling through Ohio, which coincidently spawned at least one tornado southeast of Cleveland.
“It’s a fun hobby, I go because he goes,” Angela Harriott said.
With Ryan driving, and Angela navigating and armed with an HD camera, the duo sped up a dirt road toward M-46 around 8:10 p.m.
“That’s when we saw it touch down,” Angela Harriott said. “We saw it cycle and try to start, it started spinning faster and (Ryan) said ‘We got to stay on this,’ and finally it touched the ground.”
Ryan Harriott said they saw it touch down near the corner of Marton and M-46. He added that it was the first tornado he’s seen in his young storm-chasing career.
The Vasbinder and Bruderick homesteads seemed to absorb the majority of the damage from Thursday’s storm.
In addition to Bruderick’s trailer sustaining damage, a new addition to his garage was leveled, and part of the roof was ripped off the original garage.
The Vasbinders didn’t see any damage to their house, but there will be plenty of yard-cleaning on tap. A top half of a large tree in between the two homes was torn off and tossed about 50 feet. In the back end of the backyard, another large tree was also ripped in half, with the top portion getting tossed into a nearby cornfield. Much of the cornstalks to the east of the Vasbinder home was ripped out or bent horizontally.
“I just had my grandson trim my willows back there yesterday, now look at ’em, they’re stripped,” said Barb Vasbinder. “They lost a lot of corn too.”
Both homes lost power as soon as the storm hit.
NWS representatives investigated the scene early Friday before releasing their preliminary findings.
“In an (EF-0) tornado, wind speeds can be anywhere from (65 to 85 mph),” Costello said. “In a lot of these weak tornadoes, sometimes, the winds are less than the straight-line winds in a severe thunderstorm.”
There are six different levels to the Enhanced Fujita Scale: EF-0 (winds 65-85 mph); EF-1 (winds from 86-110 mph); EF-2 (winds from 111 to 135 mph); EF-3 (winds from 136 to 165 mph); EF-4 (winds from 166 to 200 mph); and EF-5 (wind over 201 mph).
The last time Tuscola County was struck by a tornado was late in the evening of June 22, 2015 when an EF-2 caused major damage to homes in the southern part of the county, and an EF-1 touched down in the eastern part of the county.