Storm's wake

(UPDATED:10:30 a.m.) Tri-Cities-area residents are cleaning up the aftermath of a storm as investigators try to determine whether or not a tornado went through counties to the north and south on Sunday.
Becky Vargo
Nov 19, 2013

Meteorologists said the moisture released Sunday ahead of a cold front provided the fuel for the storms that followed.

National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Dukesherer said his office was investigating a swath of damage that spread from eastern Muskegon County up into Grant and Newaygo counties. Another area being checked for evidence of a tornado is Mattawan in VanBuren County.

“The bulk of the tornadoes were south of our neck of the woods,” Dukesherer said.

The first round of storms hit the Grand Haven area at about 2:30 p.m. Winds were at 25-35 mph, with gusts to 60 mph. The strong winds knocked over trees, and caused several power outages and some flooding in the area.

Round two hit at about 7 p.m. and slammed more tree limbs onto power lines, roads and houses.

"A really extreme gust of 77 mph was reported at the South Haven lighthouse around 6 p.m.,” Dukesherer said.

On Monday, Brett Nelson, a foreman for Bartlett Tree Experts of Grand Rapids, cut branches off a tree that fell on a Ferrysburg home Sunday night. The two trunks of the 80-foot Norway spruce scraped the side of the house in the Harbor Point neighborhood and one of the branches went through the roof into a bedroom.

Homeowner Kirk Semlow said they had just gotten home for the evening shortly before the trees fell. 

"We left because we didn't have any power," he said.

His wife and son were in the master bedroom when the first tree fell about 8:15 p.m., he said. The tree went through the ceiling into the bedroom, but the occupants were not injured.

"We went into the garage to get the cars when the second tree came down," Semlow said. "We cowered in the back of the garage."

Semlow said one of the tree branches also went through the roof into his son's bedroom.

"It went through the closet and through a tupperware container," he said.

A tree fell earlier Sunday afternoon around the corner on West Spring Lake Road, by the Spring Lake Yacht Club, cutting off power to 1,050 Grand Haven Board of Light & Power customers, according to utility spokeswoman Renee Molyneux. Power was out in that area for more than two hours.

At about the same time, a tree fell on power lines at the corner of Robbins Road and 163rd Avenue in Grand Haven Township, cutting off power to more than 3,000 BLP customers. That outage lasted about three hours, Molyneux said.

At about 8 p.m., a tree fell on a primary power line on North Shore Drive, cutting off power to nearly 1,500 customers along North Shore Drive, North Shore Estates, and North and South Holiday Hills. Molyneux said crews were able to isolate the problem and return power to some customers within 20 minutes; others were out for more than an hour.

Another outage occurred in the Beechtree Street area of Grand Haven when a switch burned up on a pole behind the Lake Michigan Credit Union on Jackson Street at about 9:37 p.m.

Board of Light & Power crews were out all night and most of the day Monday working on more isolated outages.

“We were basically all over the place,” said employee Brett Schmidt after he cleared a large tree limb off a line behind a Taft Street duplex in Spring Lake Township. “We’re ready to go home and go to sleep."

Police and firefighters were also responding to calls throughout Ottawa County on Sunday, mostly for downed trees and electrical lines. Lt. Steve Kempker of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department said deputies responded to 252 calls Sunday afternoon and night.

“That’s a lot for a Sunday,” he said.

Most of the calls occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight.

Deputies policed a half-dozen car-vs.-tree crashes. In one of them, a Grand Haven woman’s car crashed into a tree before rolling off and hitting a house on 120th Avenue, south of Tyler Street in Olive Township. Kempker said there was also a car-vs.-horse crash.

Many calls coming in Monday morning were from people just getting up and finding lines down by their homes, Kempker said.

“Don’t approach any wires that are down,” he said. “Call 911.”

Consumers Energy reported more than 7,000 customers in Ottawa County were without power at some point after Sunday's storm. As of 9 p.m. Monday, more than 6,000 customers were still without power.

Consumers Energy spokesman Dennis McKee said about 284,000 customers in the state were impacted by Sunday’s storms. It's the utility's biggest outage in five years, he said.

"This was probably our biggest event of the year for severe weather," Dukesherer said. “It normally happens in the spring and summer.”

The meteorologist said while it’s common to have November storms, the depth of the low-pressure system that passed through the area was fairly rare for this time of year.

“The deeper the low, the stronger the winds,” he said. “We’d see a low of this depth maybe a couple times a decade.”

Dukesherer said a storm in November 1998 was the last time he could remember a storm like Sunday's. That one had stronger winds — but it was related to thunderstorms rather than low-pressure related.

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