Tornado watch for SE Michigan; twister hits Portland
After a night of stormy weather that spawned twisters and funnel clouds, much of southeast Michigan remained under a tornado watch until 3 a.m.
The watch included Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lenawee, Monroe, Genesee and Shiawassee counties, according to the National Weather Service.
The severe weather started earlier Monday night, when authorities reported that a tornado touchdown in Sanilac County, a house was destroyed by a tornado in Tuscola, and a funnel cloud was spotted in Columbiaville, the weather service said.
Meanwhile, tornado warnings for parts of Shiawassee, Lapeer and Tuscola counties expired.
A cold front was expected to sweep through the region overnight and exit by sunrise Tuesday, the weather service said. Damaging wind gusts and large hail were the primary hazards, but tornadoes and flooding were also a possibility, it said.
After the severe weather rolls out, Metro Detroit should see fairer conditions Tuesday.
"Tuesday will be much nicer than Monday," meteorologist Sara Schultz said. "We'll dry out tomorrow with sunny skies, a slight breeze and a high of around 82."
The late watches and warnings followed a storm that produced an EF-1 tornado in mid-Michigan on Monday afternoon. The twister that ripped through Portland collapsed the roofs of several commercial buildings and damaged houses. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The storm's high winds at an estimated 100 mph cut a path across several blocks of the Ionia County town, uprooting trees and damaging roofs of homes. The roofs of three churches were ripped off and the buildings sustained damage.
A Rite-Aid pharmacy was hit around 2:30 p.m. Monday. At a damaged Goodwill store, a mother and two small children inside the used items store were trapped for about 10 minutes after the storm rolled through mid-afternoon, said John Baker, chief of the Portland Area Fire Authority. Two others were helped from the pharmacy. The storm also overturned recreational and utility trailers and toppled some small garages.
"We were very, very fortunate," Baker told reporters. "We have had no fatalities reported at this time. Minimal injuries — cuts and bruises. We have had no one — repeat no one — transported to the hospital."
The tornado was categorized as EF-1, which is considered a weak tornado, said Jared Maples, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids.
"It was weaker despite the damage," he said. "That's generally the nature of the tornadoes in Michigan."
Police and firefighters from across Ionia, Eaton and Ingham counties closed Grand River Avenue, which runs through the heart of Portland's shopping district.
As a precaution, police agencies brought in dogs to search each damaged building for bodies, but none had been found, said Dan Kriegbaum, battalion chief for the Lansing fire department.
"The area's widespread," Kriegbaum said. "A K-9 can search a collapsed building a lot faster than we can individually and more safely."
The storm was part of a string of bad weather that hurtled into the Lower Peninsula after rushing across the Midwest. Other storms were causing damage in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.
The Grand River Avenue exit on I-96 was closed to traffic Monday evening as first responders and utility companies worked to inspect and secure damaged buildings. Power was cut off to all nearby strip malls, restaurants and gas stations.
The Goodwill store's front roof had collapsed and a semi-trailer overturned and crashed into the back of the building.
The suspected tornado ripped through town going east and followed the Grand River Avenue corridor, taking down dozens of oak trees and ripping off part of Ted Kolp's roof.
"It was here and gone before you knew it," said Kolp, 66, who has lived in a single-story blue house at Charlotte Highway and Grand River for 10 years. "There wasn't any warning."
In Michigan a tornado may not show up on the radar until just minutes before hitting an area, Maples said. The Portland area was under a severe thunderstorm watch at the time of the tornado, he said.
"They do happen very rapidly," he said of tornadoes.
The severe weather moved into Metro Detroit around 4 p.m. Monday, offering some worry Detroit's annual fireworks show would be affected. But the rain cleared about an hour later.
There was a report of a tree down in Washtenaw County, said Rachel Kulick, meteorologist with the weather service in White Lake Township.
Officials for the 2015 Ford Fireworks in downtown Detroit announced the display would begin early, at 9:06 p.m. Monday, due to the possibility of severe weather, an hour earlier than scheduled.
The Associated Press and Detroit News staff writer Mark Hicks contributed.
Monday night: Chance of rain 70 percent, mainly after 11 p.m. Wind gusts up to 25 mph.
Tuesday: Mostly sunny with a high near 79. Wind gusts of up to 24 mph.
Tuesday night: Mostly clear with a low of about 57. Wind gusts of up to 24 mph.
Wednesday: Mostly sunny with a high near 80.
Wednesday night: There is a 40 percent chance of showers. Low temperature of about 62.
Thursday: There is a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms with a high of about 74.
Thursday night: Mostly cloudy with a chance of rain and a low temperature of about 60.
Friday: Partly sunny with a high near 75.
Friday night: Mostly cloudy with a low of around 58.