What makes us tornado-safe

Northwest Ottawa County isn’t likely to become a movie set for a “Wizard of Oz” sequel anytime soon.
Marie Havenga
Jul 10, 2014


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.



Living in tornado alley for 30 years I find the important things are:
Education: for yourself and your family; practice your reactions so you will instantly know what to do and where to go as you may only have seconds.
Remember you will react based on what you have practiced, if you have not trained and practiced for the moment chaos and confusion may catch you unprotected.
Notification: Advance warning is not a sure science, do not wait for the news to tell you what to do, if conditions exist take shelter and wait it out with a portable radio, flashlights and cell phone along with medical supplies such as water bandages and gauze rolls etc.…you do have emergency kits stashed around the house don’t you? And should conditions or damage prevent you from safely reaching the plan “A” emergency area and kit you should have a plan “B” and kit elsewhere in your secondary shelter area.
Never stop to open windows, it does no good and will not prevent damage.
Never go outside to watch for the tornado, they are often not visible and can form above and drop down on you in an instant with little warning, if you are caught outside and the air temperature drops suddenly or your ears begin to “pop” hit the ground and cover your head.
Always keep in touch and know where each other are before threatening weather moves in, stay in touch, verify your plan of action no matter if you are home or away.


I have been told that tornadoes reach the lakeshore and rise when they encounter an updraft from the dunes. They then touch down 20 or 30 miles inland. I don't know if there is any truth to this but it makes sense to me. Has anyone else heard of this theory?


The Cherokee claimed that the Arkansas River would always protect them so when choosing the center of their community their Counsel Oak was chosen from one on the Eastern bank. It has never been hit in over 100 years nor has anything else on that side of the river bank; after the sooners arrived the early Tulsa was on the West banks and was hit by tornados year after year until they made the move to the east side of the Arkansas as the Cherokee suggested in the first place.
There may be truth and science behind the theory as it applies to the dunes due to temperature and abrupt elevation changes. Think of a tornado like the wake from a canoe paddle and the whirlpools it generates, tornados are not much different. it begins with the wake of a passing cell through the atmosphere but depends on several atmospheric conditions to form and stay alive, one theory is the tornado forms on its side first as a cold cell glides over hot and humid air layers causing almost a rolling wave much like the “curl” surfers ride through on the ocean but there is more unknown than known about the science behind tornados.


Tornadoes have touched down in the Grand Haven area. My family and I watched one form west of Rosey Mound, climb the dune across from Rosey Mound school and then shoot back up into the clouds. This was around 1956, but not sure of the exact year any more.


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