Rare March tornado rips Michigan; record March heat wave sets more records

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:43 PM GMT on March 16, 2012

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As I stepped out of my front door into the pre-dawn darkness from my home near Ann Arbor, Michigan yesterday morning, I braced myself for the cold shock of a mid-March morning. It didn't come. A warm, murky atmosphere, with temperatures in the upper fifties--30 degrees above normal--greeted me instead. Continuous flashes of heat lightning lit up the horizon, as the atmosphere crackled with the energy of distant thunderstorms. Beware the Ides of March, the air seemed to be saying. I looked up at the hazy stars above me, flashing in and out of sight as lightning lit up the sky, and thought, this is not the atmosphere I grew up with.


Video 1. Video taped at Hudson Mills Metro Park in Dexter about 5:30PM on March 15, 2012, by Matthew Altruda from Tree Town Sound, http://www.treetownsound.com. Caution: foul language.

That afternoon, as the Detroit temperature soared to 77°F, the second warmest on record so early in the year, going back to 1871, I watched as late afternoon thunderstorms built with remarkable speed. Though NOAA's Storm Prediction Center had placed Southeast Michigan in their "Slight Risk" area for severe weather, I wasn't too concerned about tornadoes. We don't get many tornadoes in Michigan this early in the year, and certainly not strong ones. Prior to yesterday, there were only sixteen tornadoes on record in Michigan that occurred before March 16, going back to 1950. Though the air was remarkably unstable for this time of year, the upper level winds were not strong enough to generate much shearing action on the air, meaning that tornadoes would have a tough time getting spinning. But the atmosphere had other ideas. In a remarkably short half-hour period, a severe thunderstorm sprang up west of Ann Arbor, began spinning, and dropped a strong tornado down on the unfortunate town of Dexter, Michigan. The tornado skipped along a ten-mile path, damaging or destroying 128 buildings, but fortunately not causing any deaths or injuries. While most of the damage was light to moderate, thirteen homes were demolished, and preliminary damage estimates from the National Weather Service put the twister at the boundary between EF-2 and EF-3 strength, with winds of 135 mph. If confirmed as an EF-3, this would be the earliest EF-3 or stronger tornado in Michigan history, going back to 1950, according to data from The Tornado History Project. The previous earliest appearance of an F-3 tornado in Michigan was on March 20, 1976. At least two other tornadoes touched down in Michigan yesterday, making it the second largest tornado outbreak in state history so early in the year. The record outbreak for so early in the year was the eight tornadoes that touched down on March 12, 1976.



Figure 1. Radar reflectivity image (top) and Doppler velocity image (bottom) of the March 15, 2012 Dexter, Michigan tornado.


Video 2. This video report by AnnArbor.com's Nathan Bomey shows tornado damage in the Dexter, Michigan, about 90 minutes after the tornado came through on Thursday, March 15, 2012.

I talked to a friend in Dexter who relayed the story of her friend who was driving through town, saw the tornado, and pulled over into the Dexter car wash to take shelter. Some strangers living next door to the car wash yelled at him to come shelter in their basement, since the car wash didn't have a basement. He joined them, and was glad he did, because his car and the car wash were heavily damaged by a tree that was flung into it (see damage to the car wash in the video above.)

Hail, Hail, to Michigan
The Dexter storms also brought golfball to baseball-sized hail and a deluge of 4 - 5 inches of rain that caused street flooding in Ann Arbor. My Ph.D. advisor and co-founder of Weather Underground, Dr. Perry Samson, related this story to me: "I was traveling home by bus to go chase, but the bus came to a stand still at Michigan Stadium as cars were sunk up to their windows in water on Main Street. I told the driver I had to chase this storm, and came up with a story about what I do. He gunned the bus and drove through the flood to get me home. So I didn't actually commandeer a bus to chase the tornado, but it was darn close!"

Record Midwest March heat wave topples more records
For the second consecutive day, large portions of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa, including the cities of Chicago, Madison, and Dubuque, recorded their all-time warmest temperatures for so early in the year. Perhaps the most extraordinary record occurred in Madison, Wisconsin, which hit 82°F--a temperature 39°F above average. It was the hottest temperature ever recorded in March, and three degrees warmer than any day so early in the year, going back to 1869. Not as many all-time hottest temperature records for so early in the year were set in Michigan and other surrounding states, due to plentiful moisture that generated afternoon cloud cover. The records will continue to fall across the Midwest for another week, as the ridge of high pressure responsible stays locked in place.

Major airports that set all-time heat records yesterday
For the second consecutive day, Chicago, Illinois hit 81°F; the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1872, and 35°F above average. This ties the record set on March 12, 1990.

For the second consecutive day, Springfield, Illinois hit 83°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1879, and 32°F above average. This ties the record of 83°F on March 13, 1918.

Rockford, Illinois hit 82°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1893, and 36°F above average. Previous record: 79°F set the previous day.

Moline, Illinois hit 81°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1874, and 33°F above average. Previous record: 80°F on March 12, 1990.

Dubuque, Iowa hit 78°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1874, and 34°F above average. Previous record: 75°F set the previous day, and also on March 12, 1990.

Waterloo, Iowa hit 79°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1895, and 34°F above average. This ties the record set on March 7, 2000.

Madison, Wisconsin hit 82°F, the warmest it's ever been this early in the year, going back to 1869, and 39°F above average. This is also the warmest temperature ever recorded in March (tied with March 29th, 1986 and March 31, 1981), as is also (by two weeks) the earliest 80° reading ever measured there. The previous record for a temperature so hot this early in the year was 79°F set the previous day, on March 14, 2012.

Data for the previous records was taken from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

I'll have a new post on Saturday.

Jeff Masters

Sterm has Passed (nickwuaa)
Lightning to the east courtesy of my daughter. This was a violent storm that produced a tornado west of us and plenty of hail and thunder.
Sterm has Passed
Looks like Snow (KSMc)
The hail was more than an inch deep.
Looks like Snow
Yikes (Susie77)
Eeks! NWS just issued us a severe thunderstorm warning. Very cool mammatus clouds!
Yikes
Three Strikes at Sunset (CecileWNC)
Three Strikes at Sunset

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Here.

"The term %u201Cheat lightning%u201D probably comes from the fact that the effect is most often seen on warm, humid nights during July and August. So an association has been made with sultry temperatures. But when the sky is hazy, as is quite typical on warm, summer nights, the light from intense thunderstorms as far away as 100 miles can be reflected off a layer of haze and up into the night sky."


exactly. most people havnt the passion for weather and see somethin they aint sure of, and make their own opinions on it lol
Quoting SLINKY:


You are trying to find a technical meaning for an observed weather phenomena within popular culture.


actually i see it as getting the point across that 'heat' lighting ISNT what its name say it is.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Here.

"The term %u201Cheat lightning%u201D probably comes from the fact that the effect is most often seen on warm, humid nights during July and August. So an association has been made with sultry temperatures. But when the sky is hazy, as is quite typical on warm, summer nights, the light from intense thunderstorms as far away as 100 miles can be reflected off a layer of haze and up into the night sky."
Years ago, we would take our live a board out into the gulf at night, and watch these spectacular lightening shows that would occur after intense thunderstorms moved off the coast. These shows would last for hours, and were an awesome sight. We would do this regularly, and I miss it a lot.
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Sorry for the hurdle on me breaking the blog earlier this morning! Thanks for the URL change. Good to know for future use.

Anyway, despite your typical summertime garden variety thunderstorm set up yesterday, thought there were a considerable number severe reports giving the conditions. There were a dozen or so 1/2" to 1" hail reports yesterday just in the Lincoln NWS area.



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Quoting SPLbeater:


then it should have a different name shouldnt it? like uh....Lighting. regular, lighting.


You are trying to find a technical meaning for an observed weather phenomena within popular culture.
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Quoting SPLbeater:


then it should have a different name shouldnt it? like uh....Lighting. regular, lighting.

Here.

"The term “heat lightning” probably comes from the fact that the effect is most often seen on warm, humid nights during July and August. So an association has been made with sultry temperatures. But when the sky is hazy, as is quite typical on warm, summer nights, the light from intense thunderstorms as far away as 100 miles can be reflected off a layer of haze and up into the night sky."
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Just because "heat" is in the name, that does not mean it's caused by heat.


then it should have a different name shouldnt it? like uh....Lighting. regular, lighting.
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Quoting SPLbeater:


wow a year older man thats a big difference isnt it.

AGE, has nothing to do with knowledge, like yqt said. anyways, lighting that occurs at a distance where thunder is no longer audible, ISNT caused by heat!

Just because "heat" is in the name, that does not mean it's caused by heat.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

There are three reasons why you are wrong. One, I am older than you, meaning I have more weather experience than you. Two, Dr. Masters is older than both of us and has a PhD, meaning he knows more than both of us. Finally, it is an official National Weather Service definition, and they know more than all of us.

"Lightning that occurs at a distance such that thunder is no longer audible."


wow a year older man thats a big difference isnt it.

AGE, has nothing to do with knowledge, like yqt said. anyways, lighting that occurs at a distance where thunder is no longer audible, ISNT caused by heat!
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Tropical Atlantic isn't doing too well though...which is to be expected considering that most formations will occur close to home where the favorable conditions for tropical cyclogenesis will be.



Signs don't look good for having a relatively damage free hurricane season this year.

NEW PAGE!
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Yesterday's tornado in Lapeer, Michigan (not the Dexter one) has been preliminarily rated an EF-2:

PRELIMINARY LOCAL STORM REPORT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DETROIT/PONTIAC MI
1149 AM EDT FRI MAR 16 2012


..TIME... ...EVENT... ...CITY LOCATION... ...LAT.LON...
..DATE... ....MAG.... ..COUNTY LOCATION..ST.. ...SOURCE....
..REMARKS..

0649 PM TORNADO 3 SSW COLUMBIAVILLE 43.12N 83.43W
03/15/2012 LAPEER MI NWS STORM SURVEY

A NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE STORM DAMAGE SURVEY CONFIRMED
A TORNADO IN LAPEER COUNTY. THE TORNADO WAS RATED AN
EF2...WITH MAXIUMUM WIND SPEEDS OF 125 MPH. THE ESTIMATED
PATH LENGTH OF THE TORNADO IS 4.5 MILES WITH A MAXIMUM
WIDTH OF 400 YARDS. DAMAGE PRIMARLY CONSISTED OF UPROOTED
TREES AND MINOR STRUCTURAL DAMAGE. THE MOST INTENSE
DAMAGE OCCURRED ALONG CARPENTER RD...ROUGHLY ONE QUARTER
MILE SOUTH OF STANLEY RD WHERE A HOUSE WAS SHIFTED OFF OF
THE FOUNDATION AND AN ATTACHED GARAGE WAS DESTROYED.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13509
Tropical Atlantic isn't doing too well though...which is to be expected considering that most formations will occur close to home where the favorable conditions for tropical cyclogenesis will be.

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The Gulf of Mexico is well above average in terms of vertical instability so far this year. Remember that vertical instability was a major limiting factor for storms' intensities last year.

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

I'm guessing either an April hurricane or a freak tornado outbreak across Alaska.


The way this year is going an April hurricane could be possible as the Gulf temps are rising rapidly right now.



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IL Weather - believe Calhoun County had baseball sized, maybe Greene County as well. Hope to help turn the page - cue the Bob Seger Live Bullet
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The AMS Glossary of Meteorology does have an official definition of heat lightning:

heat lightning: Nontechnically, the luminosity observed from ordinary lightning too far away for it's
thunder to be heard.

Since such observations have often been made with clear skies overhead, and since hot summer evenings
particularly favor this type of observation, there has arisen a popular misconception that the presence of
diffuse flashes in the apparent absence of thunderclouds implies that lightning is somehow occurring
in the atmosphere merely as a result of excessive heat.
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Likely billion-dollar disasters of 2012:
  • March 2-3 Tornado Outbreak

Trying to turn the page...

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Just posting to try to turn the page so the blog is readable.
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Quoting JNCali:
crAzY DaYZ weatherwize at least!! The models are gonna need tweakin' for sure after this Spring is done.. and I also echo Pottery's... "What Next?"
Quoting pottery:
Very peculiar weather.
What happens next ???

I'm guessing either an April hurricane or a freak tornado outbreak across Alaska.
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crAzY DaYZ weatherwize at least!! The models are gonna need tweakin' for sure after this Spring is done.. and I also echo Pottery's... "What Next?"
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Quoting yqt1001:


Knowledge doesn't always come from life experience/age.

But in this case, it does. ;-)
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Quoting surferjoe5899:


The graph doesnt tell the whole story. Our summer was actually drier than normal. We got off to a late start. But we got 15 inches of rain in less than a week in October when a tropical storm fell apart and got sucked into a low front with a third system moving in from the SE. If not for that storm we would have been more than 10 inches below average.

Thanks for clarifying that.
I wondered....
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24264
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

There are three things wrong with what you're saying. One, I am older than you, meaning I have more weather experience than you. Two, Dr. Masters is older than both of us and has a PhD, meaning he knows more than both of us. Finally, it is an official National Weather Service definition, and they know more than all of us.



Knowledge doesn't always come from life experience/age.
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Quoting SPLbeater:


There is no such thing as heat lighting. it isnt caused by heat.



it is just a name, just like pencil lead and chalk are misnomers.
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Quoting SPLbeater:


There is no such thing as heat lighting. it isnt caused by heat.

There are three reasons why you are wrong. One, I am older than you, meaning I have more weather experience than you. Two, Dr. Masters is older than both of us and has a PhD, meaning he knows more than both of us. Finally, it is an official National Weather Service definition, and they know more than all of us.

"Lightning that occurs at a distance such that thunder is no longer audible."
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Trying a link here....
A report of 40 years of weather for Trinidad.
Commissioned for the Ministry of Agriculture.
Shows an INCREASE in mean annual temp of 2.5 degrees C. for the period.
Loads of other interesting data...

Hope the link works. If not, Google "Trinidad Weather Data".


http://www.google.tt/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=trinidad%20 rainfall%20data&source=web&cd=2&sqi=2&ved=0CDAQFjA B&url=http%3A%2F%2Fgcmd.nasa.gov%2Frecords%2FGCMD_ NCL00266.html&ei=AVtjT-6bFoHp0QHCxJS_CA&usg=AFQjCN HgrZkW5MU6eaEAIAXLMnaiWmOT7g&sig2=wSVnJfNQlOI0tTmS cNXv2g
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24264
Quoting surferjoe5899:


The graph doesnt tell the whole story. Our summer was actually drier than normal. We got off to a late start. But we got 15 inches of rain in less than a week in October when a tropical storm fell apart and got sucked into a low front with a third system moving in from the SE. If not for that storm we would have been more than 10 inches below average.


Your right, it did start very late actually. I think it started here in Orlando around 6/22/2011 but once it did we got hammered nearly everyday for several months. Hopefully we don't get a late start this year as it is dry as a result of a very dry winter.
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Quoting Neapolitan:
The NCDC has updated its numbers. yesterday saw 593 record daily highs and 445 record daily high minimums, for a total of 1,038. (Meanwhile, there were 2 record daily lows and 10 record daily low maximums, for a total of 12.) For the year-to-date, there have been 10,324 record highs or high minimums, and 1,221 record lows or low maximums.

The chart shows daily high and daily low temperature records that have been broken this year. (It doesn't show records that have only tied, nor does it show high minimums or low maximums):

hot

That's just ridiculous.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Yes, it is referred to as heat lightning.

"Heat lightning is a misnomer for the faint flashes of lightning on the horizon or other clouds from distant thunderstorms that do not have accompanying sounds of thunder."


There is no such thing as heat lighting. it isnt caused by heat.
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Quoting ClimateChange:
Same story here in Toledo, Dr. Masters. We had thunderstorms overhead or in the vicinity from about 5 PM through 2 AM. For several hours in the evening, there were near continuous flashes of lightning in the distant sky. There were three separate periods with small hail (the first with a storm around 5 PM, then again around 10 PM, and the largest hailstones (probably 1/2" to 3/4" fell around midnight briefly covering the ground). In total, radar estimated from 2 to 4 inches of rain in the area. Many roads were under high water.
amazing pics the doc posted, that hail on the ground looked like snow cover..gee
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 38197
The NCDC has updated its numbers. yesterday saw 593 record daily highs and 445 record daily high minimums, for a total of 1,038. (Meanwhile, there were 2 record daily lows and 10 record daily low maximums, for a total of 12.) For the year-to-date, there have been 10,324 record highs or high minimums, and 1,221 record lows or low maximums.

The chart shows daily high and daily low temperature records that have been broken this year. (It doesn't show records that have only tied, nor does it show high minimums or low maximums):

hot
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13509
Quoting SPLbeater:
Continuous flashes of heat lighting lit up the horizon...



Dr. Masters, there is no such thing as heat lighting. All that is, is lighting you cant hear due to atmosphere structure, or its too far away to hear.

Yes, there is such a thing as heat lightning.

"Heat lightning is a misnomer for the faint flashes of lightning on the horizon or other clouds from distant thunderstorms that do not have accompanying sounds of thunder."
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Continuous flashes of heat lighting lit up the horizon...



Dr. Masters, there is no such thing as heat lighting. All that is, is lighting you cant hear due to atmosphere structure, or its too far away to hear.
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Quoting KeysieLife:
Awesome! "See How Earth's Moon Evolved in New NASA Videos"

"created by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Md., in honor of the probe's 1,000th day in orbit. LRO was launched June 18, 2009, from Cape Canaveral, Fla."

Video
awesome pics there, ty
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 38197
Awesome! "See How Earth's Moon Evolved in New NASA Videos"

"created by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Md., in honor of the probe's 1,000th day in orbit. LRO was launched June 18, 2009, from Cape Canaveral, Fla."

Video
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Today's risk: SLIGHT



Today's tornado risk: 5%



Today's wind risk: 15%



Today's hail risk: 15% hatched

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Morning to all.... those were some storms yesterday.

Looks like we pick it up and do it again today.
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Quoting StormTracker2K:


Really? Last year was really wet from June on in C & S FL.



The graph doesnt tell the whole story. Our summer was actually drier than normal. We got off to a late start. But we got 15 inches of rain in less than a week in October when a tropical storm fell apart and got sucked into a low front with a third system moving in from the SE. If not for that storm we would have been more than 10 inches below average.
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Hail, Hail to Michigan... I love it!

Go blue
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Good morning all. I see someone broke the blog. We just all need to post something to turn the page. I agree with Grothar. It has been very dry. It all depends where you are located in South Florida. I am in the Keys and we have seen some sprinkles but only recently. I can't remember the last time we had a good soaking rain.
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Been very dry here since November though. We've had some heavy rains lately but all of this warm wx is drying things out fast. It's been 85 to 87 here everyday lately with dewpoints in the 60's.

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Quoting Grothar:


We thought we were going to get some heavy rain yesterday, but only a brief shower. Miami got some, but it is very, very dry here. This has been going on for the past few years. Our summer rains last year were pititful. But, I see the same as you; another dry summer.


Really? Last year was really wet from June on in C & S FL.

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Quoting Grothar:


We thought we were going to get some heavy rain yesterday, but only a brief shower. Miami got some, but it is very, very dry here. This has been going on for the past few years. Our summer rains last year were pititful. But, I see the same as you; another dry summer.

Sounds grim.
Where does your water come from? Are supplies adequate?
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24264
Quoting pottery:

Sounds painful!

Some cloud around here again today, but high and wistful.
Nice weather actually.
Not happy with the forecast for lower than average rainfall across the Trop. Atl. in Jun-Jul-Aug.

Lets hope that is wrong.
But not by much.

I'm a 'middle-ground' kind of guy....


We thought we were going to get some heavy rain yesterday, but only a brief shower. Miami got some, but it is very, very dry here. This has been going on for the past few years. Our summer rains last year were pititful. But, I see the same as you; another dry summer.
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According to the Tornado History Project, 43 tornadoes have touched down in the state of Michigan during the month of March.

Of these 43, seven were intense (EF3-EF5). All of them occurred on or after March 20. So, as it has already been mentioned, if this tornado is confirmed to be an EF3, it would be the earliest on record for the state.

Link
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Quoting Grothar:
Hey, Ilwrthfan. Your comment has streched my blog. I can't post those great images I have. Anyway you can delete it? I hate my blog being stretched so early in the day.

Sounds painful!

Some cloud around here again today, but high and wistful.
Nice weather actually.
Not happy with the forecast for lower than average rainfall across the Trop. Atl. in Jun-Jul-Aug.

Lets hope that is wrong.
But not by much.

I'm a 'middle-ground' kind of guy....
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24264
Sounds like a chaotic time in Michigan yesterday.

Glad the tornado didn't get closer to the Doc.
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Quoting ILwthrfan:
#(#@#....It won't let me modify my comment above. %uFFFDI don't know how I screwed that up....sorry. %uFFFDLeast it be Friday %uFFFD :D


Try this: Link
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Hey, Ilwrthfan. Your comment has streched my blog. I can't post those great images I have. Anyway you can delete it? I hate my blog being stretched so early in the day.
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Quoting ILwthrfan:
#(#@#....It won't let me modify my comment above.  I don't know how I screwed that up....sorry.  Least it be Friday   :D
Change the 'www' in the URL to 'classic'; you should then be able to hide or edit the quote. Then just change 'classic' back to 'www'.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13509
Ignore this post
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Quoting ILwthrfan:

Sorry, it wont let me modify it...why not?

Uhm, try using the Classic version of Wunderground.

http://classic.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/ comment.html?entrynum=2052#commenttop
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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