Gaylord, MI

Tornado Sets Record - Heat Returns for Memorial Day Across KC

Brian E Erwin

The rain is finally moving out of the KC Metro. It has been a wet few days across the area. We have not broken any records in the rainfall department, we have had plenty of rain for sure. Our average at KCI for the month of May is 5.30 inches. In 2019 we had 12.82 inches of rain in May. We will most likely end the month of May slightly above normal at KCI.

This is the forecast temperature on Saturday at noon in the region. A nice warm-up for sure.
Saturday Afternoon Forecast

Our next big chance of rain is not until next Wednesday.

Monday if you are planning a BBQ - it should be dry.

This is the time of year for Tornadoes. They can happen at any time and anywhere. You never know where they are going to occur. Friday, May 20th in the afternoon, a large and extremely damaging tornado tore through northern Michigan, killing at least two. It is the strongest tornado in Michigan since 2012. At least 12 homes were destroyed and more than 40 people were injured. Gaylord is located about 200 miles northwest of Detroit and about 50 miles south of the upper peninsula. It is one of the last cities before reaching the upper peninsula when traveling northbound on Interstate 75.

Setting the stage for severe weather was a trough that rotated across the upper Midwest that developed and strengthened surface low-pressure west of Lake Michigan. This was a system that drew in warm, moist air northward across the state of Michigan - and that provided the instability needed to support severe thunderstorms. Thunderstorms initially formed along the cold front across Wisconsin during the morning hours and moved northeast across Lake Michigan, making it into the western part of the state by early afternoon. The strongest line segment generated a measured wind gust of 76 mph at Frankfort Light and continued to produce damaging wind gusts across Leelanau and Antrim counties as it quickly moved northeast.

As this segment moved further away from the cold front, it began to transition into a supercell thunderstorm. This storm moved east-northeast across a very favorable environment in place across northern lower Michigan, eventually producing a tornado that caused considerable damage in the city of Gaylord. This supercell continued to trek across the area, producing baseball-sized hail in Posen.

The NWS decided to do a special balloon launch to get a better look at the environment in place ahead of the approaching storm system. It was this data that displayed a rare environment in place that was supportive of storms producing damaging wind gusts, very large hail, and tornadoes. Specifically, the data showed ample instability in place.

The CAPE, or Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE), where values were near 2,000 Joules/kilogram. Very strong wind shear was also in place, which is a measure of the change in wind speed and direction with height in the atmosphere. Almost 60 knots of shear was measured from the surface to 6 km above ground level. Storm-relative helicity (SRH), a variable that shows the tendency of the air being drawn into the storm to spin, had values of almost 300 meters^2/second^2. The magnitude of all of these variables is very high, supportive for supercell thunderstorm development and severe weather. Again, these are conditions you would see in OK, Texas, or KS - not Northern Michigan. It's very rare for this magnitude of all of these variables to come together at once across northern Michigan.  

The Storm Prediction Center had issued a "slight" risk of severe weather for northern lower Michigan on May 20th. This is a great example of why not to get hung up on the terms that are used.

A tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) at 3:38 p.m. local time for Antrim and Otsego counties in Michigan, which included the city of Gaylord. At around the same time, large hail was reported to the west of Gaylord, including a 2 inch hail report in Elmira, Michigan, which is about 10 miles west of Gaylord.

There were several other storm reports in that region between 2 and 7pm.

What is very interesting is while the conditions were coming together, it was really the local National Weather Service office that stayed on top of things in this situation. The Storm Prediction Center didn't feel the conditions were there for such a severe Tornado. Still, a Severe Thunderstorm Watch was issued, and other data were collected to give as much lead time as possible. It goes to prove that conditions can and do change, and even in places where big twisters are rare, they do happen. Always stay on the lookout and keep a close eye on the sky when a watch is issued for your area - even if the chance of storms seems low - because you never know when mother nature might decide to get her revenge!

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I have experience in all kinds of writing from creative to professional. I especially like to write about weather - and share weather history.

Gardner, KS

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