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It is a column of violently rotating winds extending down from a thunderstorm cloud and touching the surface of the earth.
A funnel cloud is also a column of violently rotating winds extending down from a thunderstorm; however, it does not touch the earth.
An average of 18 tornadoes occur in Michigan each year. Since 1950, 239 persons have been killed due to tornadoes. during this same time, Michigan has experienced 782 tornadoes.
Most tornadoes occur during the months for June, July and August in the late afternoon and evening hours. However, tornadoes can occur anytime of the day or night in almost any month during the year.
Tornadoes generally travel from the southwest and at an average speed of 30 miles per hour. However, some tornadoes have very erratic paths, with speeds approaching 70 mph.
The average Michigan tornado is on the ground for less than 10 minutes and travels a distance of about 5 miles. However, they do not always follow the norm, and have been known to stay on the ground for more than an hour and travel more than 100 miles.
A tornado / severe thunderstorm watch is issued whenever conditions exist for severe weather to develop. Watches are usually for large areas about two-thirds the size of lower Michigan and are usually two-to-six hours long. Watches give you time to prepare.
A tornado warning is issued by the local National Weather Service (NWS) office whenever a tornado has been sighted or NWS Doppler Radar indicates a thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado. A severe thunderstorm warning is issued whenever a severe thunderstorm is observed or NWS Doppler Radar indicates a thunderstorm capable of producing damaging winds or large hail. Warnings are for smaller areas, such as counties, and are usually 30 minutes to one hour in length. You must act immediately when you first hear the warning. If severe weather is reported near you, seek shelter immediately. If not, keep a constant lookout for severe weather and stay near a shelter.
In some areas, civil emergency sirens will be your first official warning. However, you may also receive warnings directly from the National Weather Service broadcast over NOAA Weather Radio, as long as you have a model with a battery backup.