07-02-2020 Powerful thunderstorms leave behind trail of damage;

Powerful thunderstorms leave behind trail of damage

By Jerrod Birmele Was it straight-line winds or could it have even been a tornado? Residents of our cozy communities are asking that question after a line of severe thunderstorms left behind home, power line and tree damage throughout Coloma, Hartford, Watervliet and surrounding townships last week. The storms that produced the powerful wind gusts across the area last Friday night lasted a general 10-15 minutes in any given location, but left their mark. The storms were part of a larger complex of storms, known as a mesoscale convective system, or MCS for short. They developed across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, gradually intensified over time, and crossed Lake Michigan in the span of just a few hours. Meteorological conditions at the time were primed for severe weather. Earlier in the day, the Storm Prediction Center had highlighted the area in an “enhanced risk” of severe weather; category 3 of 5 on their risk scale. Temperatures had risen to nearly 80-degrees even without the sun, and dew points were in the upper 60s, which made it feel very muggy outside. Add in other weather parameters that fuel storms, and there was just the right ingredients to add fuel to the fire. The first sign that storms were fast approaching came via “Special Marine Warnings”, issued by the National Weather Service. These warnings are typically issued with boaters’ safety in mind, and come when winds of 34 knots (39 miles per hour) or greater, or large hail over one inch are indicated by radar or by observations. These warnings were issued between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Once the storms reached the eastern side of Lake Michigan, for their part, the National Weather Service offices did get the warnings out in a timely manner, getting a “Severe Thunderstorm Warning” issued at 8:57 (Van Buren County) and 9:05 p.m. (Berrien County), respectively. These warnings indicated 60 mile per hour wind gusts were possible, and even one of the warnings had “possible tornado” wording as part of it. For those who wonder why the times of the warnings were different can look no further than the unique meteorological aspect of our area. Oddly enough, our three communities, separated by less than 10 miles, are governed by two separate weather offices. Hartford, and Van Buren County, are under the watch of the Grand Rapids office, while Coloma, Watervliet, and Berrien County, are under the watch of the Northern Indiana office, located near Fort Wayne. The first effects of the storm roared ashore in western Van Buren and northeastern Berrien counties around 9:00 p.m., where significant damage was reported in places like Covert and especially in the small town of Riverside, located between Coloma and Benton Harbor. In Riverside, the damage was extensive, as at least one house had part of its roof blown off, a garage was thrown nearly 300 feet, and numerous large trees were downed on cars and homes, making several area streets impassible. The storms then progressed eastward, hitting Coloma, Watervliet and Hartford within a matter of minutes. Rumbles of thunder could be heard 10 to 15 minutes before the direct hit, and was also accompanied by a very-eerie calm wind. Within a matter of seconds, it went from calm conditions to the high winds, torrential rainfall and the flickering of the lights that come when branches and trees begin interfering with the electrical system. Usually, in the case of straight-line winds, they often come before the storms arrive, and last for just a short time. In this case, however, they lasted for a much longer period, and definitely added exponentially to the damage left behind. In the Tri-City area that equated to all of the communities suffering at least minor damage and the occasional power outage, but in other areas, the damage was much more significant. Some of the most extensive damage locally was found on Little Paw Paw Lake, where initial storm reports in the aftermath indicated many large trees were blown down and many roads were impassible. As the sun rose the next morning, ground truth was revealed, as the damage was posted via news agencies and on social media. In the downtown areas of Coloma, Hartford and Watervliet, there were plenty of branches and limbs littering streets and yards when people woke up Saturday morning but the damage was not as severe as seen in other areas. Localized parts of the communities suffered more significant issues when larger limbs fell on cars and homes, causing damage to properties and knocking out power for customers surrounding them. The damage seemed much worse outside of the city centers, as trees were completely toppled and power poles were tossed around like tooth picks in numerous locations. Damage was reported in every township in our circulation area, where fallen trees blocked many roads, leaving crews plenty of work to do. Cleanup in these areas will likely continue throughout the week ahead. Outside of the Tri-City area, the storms created a significant damage path in Van Buren County, with storm reports coming in from Bangor, Covert, Lawrence, Lawton and Paw Paw. Between Bangor and Covert, many large trees fell across roads. In Lawrence, nearly every city block had trees down, and a roof of a barn was blown off east of the city. And, in Paw Paw, severe damage happened at Lake Brownwood, and a 60-foot amateur radio tower was blown down. Following the storm, power companies were busy restoring power to tens of thousands over the weekend, with Indiana Michigan Power reporting that nearly 20,000 southwest Michigan residents lost power. They also said in a Facebook post that 34 poles were broken, including 22 in their Benton Harbor territory, along with 34 spans of wire being taken down. Work to restore hundreds of customers in the hardest hit areas continued as of Monday afternoon. Which brings us back to our first question – was this strictly straight-line winds or a tornado? As of right now, the meteorologists at the National Weather Service forecast offices believe it was straight-line winds that did the damage, with estimates ranging between 60 and 85 miles per hour. Looking at some of the damage up close, it is conceivable that in isolated areas, the winds were even stronger than that. If it becomes necessary, storm survey teams will be sent to the hardest hit areas in the coming days to assess the damage.

Weekend storm caused severe damage and power outages to many in SW Michigan

Indiana Michigan Power had to restore power to nearly 20,000 customers who lost service in the damaging weekend storm that struck southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, including the Tri-City area, with winds in excess of 60 mph and frequent lightning. Crews of more than 200 employees and contractors worked to restore customer outages. As they addressed outages throughout the area, at least 34 broken poles, including 22 in the Benton Harbor area, were replaced. And 34 spans of wire were down. Due to extensive storm damage complete restoration to customers in the Paw Paw area continued into the week. Specific estimated restoration times during any storm related outage can be viewed online. I&M encourages customers to use the Indiana Michigan Power app to monitor the status of any outage affecting their home or business (IndianaMichiganPower.com/App). Customers can also sign up for text and email alerts on the app or at IndianaMichiganPower.com/Alerts. To stay informed, anyone can see the location and s