20th anniversary of July 2nd, 1997 tornadoes - WNEM TV 5

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20th anniversary of July 2nd, 1997 tornadoes

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)

As we celebrate Independence Day this week, some may remember what happened just before the 4th of July twenty years ago. With information provided by the National Weather Service office in Detroit (White Lake), we're able to take a look back at an active day in parts of Mid-Michigan.

On July 2nd, 1997, a severe weather outbreak developed in Lower Michigan that produced 13 tornadoes in Saginaw, Genesee, Lapeer, Livingston, Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne counties. Straight line winds of 100 miles per hour also caused extensive damage. 

Estimated damage from this event was around 135 million dollars (1997 dollars) and seven lives were directly lost from the storms. 

  • For a full breakdown of the severe weather event from that day along with pictures and archived statements, click the following link: Southeast Michigan Tornado Outbreak provided by the National Weather Service Central Region Headquarters. 

Events of July 2nd, 1997

On the morning of Wednesday July 2nd, the National Weather Service issued a Severe Weather Potential Statement for Southeast Michigan at 5:20 AM and 11:35 AM. In these statements, a possibility of a widespread severe weather outbreak was mentioned with isolated tornadoes. 

It was a favorable atmosphere for severe weather with a strong cold front, a strong mid-level storm, and a strong jet stream. Add in a warm and humid air mass with plenty of wind shear, and it was clear the ingredients certainly weren't lacking for severe storms. 

Later that afternoon, at 1:10 PM, the Storm Prediction Center issued a tornado watch, which included much of the Lower Peninsula. Around two hours later, the first tornado warning was issued for Saginaw County at 3:05 PM. 

According to the NWS, the supercell that moved through the WNEM-TV5 viewing area, passed through Saginaw, Genesee, and Lapeer counties was responsible for 9 of the 13 tornadoes in southeast Michigan that day.

At 3:41 PM there was a brief tornado on the southwest side of Chesaning, followed by one in Oakley at 3:46 PM, and then another tornado that produced damage near Layton Corners.

The storm continued to push off to the east southeast with tornadoes confirmed in the Burt and Montrose area, and 2.5 miles south of Montrose. All of these tornadoes occurred around 4:20 PM.

By 4:30 PM, the storm produced an F-3 tornado near Clio. In 1997, tornadoes still followed the Fujita Scale, not the Enhanced Fujita scale we use today. According to the old scale, an F-3 tornado had winds between 158-207 MPH. 

  • For comparison, a tornado with winds of 166 MPH is considered an EF-4 with winds over 200 MPH considered an EF-5. 

Only 15 minutes later at 4:45 PM, another F-3 tornado developed from this storm over Thetford Township, where one person was killed. 

After several tornadoes already, this supercell produced one last tornado around 5:15 PM. This last one was located 4 miles northeast of Columbiaville in Lapeer County. 

Two more supercells developed south of the TV-5 viewing area, producing 4 more tornadoes, with the last warning issued at 7:01 PM in the evening. 

Below is a picture showing the path of each tornado, along with the timing. 

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