Lansing, Flint are tornado hotspots, meteorologists say

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

The Lansing and Flint areas as well as Hillsdale County are hot spots for tornadoes, and Michigan’s glacial ice and rural population may have something to do with it, according to the National Weather Service.

Meteorologists on Monday released graphics showing occurrences of tornadoes and a heat map of tornado frequency since 1951 in southern lower Michigan.

It’s difficult to identify why the areas have higher frequencies of tornadoes, said Dan Thompson, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in White Lake Township. He does offer one possible explanation.

“One of the theories is the glacial ridge that extends from southern Michigan through Washtenaw into Oakland into the Thumb,” he said. “That terrain would alter the wind pattern.”

Michigan’s glacial ice formed during the Pleistocene period, which covers about 2 million years. Michigan’s most recent ice advances and retreat that sculpted the state’s landscape, though, happened about 9,500 to 15,000 years ago, according to


The wind pattern from the altered glacial terrain would make it more conducive for tornadoes in the Flint area, Thompson said.

An increase in population in rural areas also has led to an increase in reported tornadoes.

“There are more people around to spot them,” Thompson said. “Especially the weaker ones that are only on the ground for a minute or two. There are some that happened in the past without anyone knowing it.”

The data shouldn’t present any extra or lack of concern regarding tornadoes for residents, Thompson said.

“The fact that you may you live in an area that is more or less favorable on this map shouldn’t alter your preparation,” he said. “Just because you live in an area that seems like it doesn’t get a lot of tornadoes doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.”

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