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What makes us tornado-safe

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 2:47 PM

Twisters and twisted witches tend to stay clear of this region, according to historical data and National Weather Service meteorologists.

But one did hit not too far from here early this week.

Sunday evening, threatening clouds rolled in from Lake Michigan, but passed over and around Grand Haven on their way inland. At 10:20 p.m., a tornado touched down about 30 miles to the east, near 64th Street and Burlingame Avenue SW in Wyoming.

The 100-plus-mph winds carved a swath six miles wide, ripping roofs from more than 50 homes, garages and businesses, snapping power poles and clogging streets with debris. After 10 minutes on the ground, the twister lifted near 28th Street and Breton Avenue in Kentwood.

Although there were several reported injuries, the storm left no fatalities in its wake. It did cause more than $4.5 million in damage.

It’s not uncommon for wicked weather to bypass our area and resurface inland with ferocious intensity. The reason? A lake shadow. Consider it a blanket of protection that helps keep us safe from tornadoes.

“Because you guys are closer to the shore, you have that lake-shadow effect,” said Jared Maples, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Grand Rapids. “When you have that cooler lake in the early parts of the summer, when severe weather is more typical – April, May, June – it provides a little more stability.”

Because Lake Michigan tends to keep the local air more cool, the air doesn’t rise, creating a more stable environment. Updrafts are an ingredient of tornadoes.

As air moves over land, it can heat up. And when a cold or warm front moves in, the systems can collide, increasing the potential for dangerous weather conditions.

Maples noted the Lakeshore experiences waterspouts during cooler months, but those aren’t considered tornadoes.

Maples said the risk of an actual tornado increases the farther away from the Lakeshore you travel.

“The state numbers, in general, tend to show an increase in tornadoes the more south and east you go in Michigan,” he explained. “They don’t have as much of a lake influence.”

Read the complete story in today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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