According to the National Weather Service (NWS), Michigan experienced the lightest severe weather season in 2009 as compared to the modern era of Doppler radar. Despite the lull in severe weather activity, significant flooding resulted in nearly $77 million in damages and severe thunderstorms were responsible for one death and approximately $150 million in damages. A total of 93 flooding and flash flooding events occurred across the state in 2009.
During 2009, approximately 75 percent of severe weather in the state occurred on five days: April 24 and 25, June 19, June 25 and August 9. In the state, there were only 161 distinct severe weather events in 2009. Only eight of those were recorded in Northern lower and upper Michigan. To put that number into perspective, in June 2008, there were 415 distinct severe weather events for the state.
The year began with significant flooding along the Grand River near the city of Grand Haven as water backed up rapidly behind ice jams. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, Katmai Bay, was dispatched to help break-up the ice at the mouth of the river allowing water to flow more freely into Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, more than $3 million in damages occurred in the Grand Haven area.
In June, heavy rain resulted in significant flooding in Allegan, Ionia and Ottawa counties. Thunderstorms on June 19 dropped 6.8 inches of rain over a five-hour period in portions of Allegan and Ottawa counties, resulting in washed out roads and flooding of hundreds of homes and businesses. Flood damage was estimated to be near $40 million for Allegan and Ottawa counties. As these thunderstorms moved further inland, the intense rainfall generated significant runoff that resulted in an unprecedented rise in river levels along the Grand River of more than five feet during a 24-hour period. Subsequent flooding caused more than $10 million of damage to approximately 1,000 vehicles parked along the river during a concert at the Ionia Fairgrounds. During August 8-9, up to eight inches of rain fell during a 30-hour period, which resulted in widespread flooding across southern Lapeer County. A local state of emergency was declared for the county when 19 roads were closed due to flash flooding and multiple homes and businesses were also flooded. The most significant road damage occurred on M-53 south of Imlay City where the road was washed out and subsequently closed for 10 days. Over two dozen homes were damaged due to the flooding with total damages estimated at $3 million.
During 2009, three tornadoes touched down in Michigan, which is well below the state’s annual average of 16 tornadoes. The last time Michigan experienced three or fewer tornadoes in a year, was nearly 40 years ago in 1970. All three tornadoes in 2009 hit during the evening of June 19, within a half hour and 30 miles of each other in Allegan and Kalamazoo counties. The first tornado touched down in Allegan County, damaging trees and structures alike. Along the path of this EF-2 tornado, a pole barn was destroyed, doors of a garage blown in and a roof was ripped off an unoccupied home. The other two tornadoes occurred in Kalamazoo County. The first of these was rated an EF-1 and was on the ground for 1.8 miles, which caused major damage to an outbuilding as well as damaging trees and utility lines. The second tornado, rated an EF-2, was on the ground for less than one mile and tore a roof off a ranch-style house and uprooted several trees. No injuries or deaths were reported during any of the three tornadoes.
A strong cold front pushed across lower Michigan during the afternoon and evening hours of April 25 producing several severe thunderstorms. Wind gusts were estimated between 65 and 85 mph with the strongest storms occurring near the city of Vicksburg in Kalamazoo County and the city of Marshall in Calhoun County. Tree damage and power outages were prevalent with 80,000 homes and businesses in Oakland County losing power.
On June 25, a weak, low-pressure system triggered several severe thunderstorms in Southeast Michigan. More than 80,000 customers lost power in the area with the majority residing in southern Macomb County.
Severe thunderstorms developed across Southwest Michigan during the late afternoon hours of August 9, with a particularly severe thunderstorm complex moving onshore between Muskegon and Grand Haven at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. The storm caused wind damage in northern Ottawa County, southern Muskegon County, and northwest Kent County. Fruitport took the brunt of the storm with wind gusts of up to 80 mph lasting for 10 minutes. Hundreds of trees were blown down, many taking down utility lines and poles in the process. Apple orchards in the Conklin area suffered heavy damage from the wind and a number of homes were damaged by fallen trees. The storm produced wind gusts of 65 to 75 mph that brought down trees and utility lines in Sparta, Kent City and Cedar Springs. A second thunderstorm on August 9 developed south and east of Grand Rapids, which caused wind damage in eastern Ingham County along I-96 near Webberville, and in central Jackson County. A severe storm northwest of Jackson produced 70 mph wind gusts that peeled part of the roof off Kidder Middle School as well as damaging close to 100 trees.
The thunderstorm complexes continued to produce isolated wind damage across portions of Metro Detroit.
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