Severe storms damage fruit crops near Traverse City

Associated Press

Traverse City — Three rounds of severe storms carrying strong winds and hail caused damage over the weekend to crops in northern Michigan near Traverse City.

Apple, cherry and grape crops were hit hard by storms in the Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula and the fruit belt near Elk Rapids on Sunday. Winds of up to 100 mph shredded leaves, ripped off bark and downed trees and trellises. Some fruit was blown off the branches or punctured by hail.

“It’s just heartbreaking to see it happen this late in the season,” Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center in Leelanau County, told “They’ve already put so much time and energy and love in getting the crop where it is. To see it lost now is just heartbreaking.”

Although the weather damage was widespread, severity varied by location.

Brian Altonen of Altonen’s Orchards owns two orchards in Antrim County. The orchard in Kewadin saw little damage, he told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. But damage at the other one a few miles south in Elk River was extensive, he said.

“It was an unbelievable scene right here when it came through,” Altonen said, referring to his southern orchard. “Just flying limbs, a few of the trees got uprooted, two of my trellises blew over and took (out) whole rows.”

He estimates the storm caused him to lose 20 percent to 25 percent of his apple crop. But some of the other fruit wasn’t affected because Altonen finished harvesting his cherries last week and his pears haven’t softened yet.

Most cherry farmers had finished picking fruit, but others had nearly a week of harvesting left, Rothwell said.

About half of the grapes at Michigan State University Extension’s research center are in bad shape, said small fruit educator Erwin “Duke” Elsner.

“In the grapes, we have a tremendous amount of hail damage here,” he said. “It’s going to be one of those things that’s really spotty. It’s going to take a while to assess the level of damage.”

Rothwell also wasn’t able to provide a dollar estimate of the damage. But she’s encouraging farmers to prevent further damage and spray for fire blight, a bacterial disease that infects trees and ruins fruit, because trees wounded by hail are especially susceptible.

Crews work to restore power

Crews are making progress restoring power to tens of thousands of Michigan homes and businesses left without electrical service following severe weekend storms.

Consumers Energy says about 32,000 customers still lacked service by late Tuesday afternoon, with about a quarter of those in Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties.

Most should be back late Wednesday. In Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Ogemaw counties, complete restoration is expected Thursday.

DTE Energy says it has restored power to all but 13,000 of 95,000 customers who lost service. Most were expected to be back on Tuesday night.

Violent winds uprooted trees, snapped branches and spoiled the landscape in some of the state’s most popular tourist spots. At least one tornado was confirmed in Owendale in Huron County.