Looking Back: What Does a Level 4 Threat for Severe Weather Mean For Northern Michigan?

When looking back at severe weather events, it is hard to find reports within the issued Moderate Risk Area. Wednesday (July 28th) was a prime example of that. However, not all level 4 risk days ended without a damage report. One event we looked into led to a tornado outbreak across Northern Michigan.

What is a Level 4 or Moderate Risk?

A Moderate Risk is a level 4 risk on a 5 point scale. Back in the early 2000s, the scale was only three levels – slight, moderate, and high. Since October 22, 2014, this was changed to five levels – marginal, slight, enhanced, moderate, and high. A level 4 risk means widespread severe storms are likely. Often times you are dealing with long-lived storms that are intense. This can include a large swath of damaging winds, large hail, and tornadoes. These outlooks are products of the Storm Prediction Center. We relay that information to you, the viewer. Here is the example from July 28.

Convective Outlook


Late July 2021

Wednesday, July 28, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) placed a MODERATE RISK for portions of Northern Michigan. The SPC is a group of meteorologists that specialize in forecasting severe weather across the nation. Wednesday was only the fourth time since 2007 that a county across Northern Michigan has been part of a Level 4 risk. Other locations south of M-72 and West of I-75 had a level 3 risk. The biggest concern was the wind threat and the possibility of a high wind event, bringing gusts to hurricane force (74 mph).

Because of the large amount of energy, the complex of storms had a mind of its own. More on what happened before, during, and after the event, check out Meteorologist Madison Ryke’s Explanation.

This is the traditional Severe Risk graphic you see, levels 1 through 5. It shows a level 4 and level 3 creeping into Northern Michigan.

Og Spc Past Moderate

This is the wind risk, levels 1 through 5 as well. We do not usually show this on-air unless it is significant. The higher the threat, the more likely you see storms that will contain damaging winds over 60 mph.

Spc Past Wind


June 2020

Four-Hundred and Fourteen days before Wednesday, there was a similar threat of dangerous thunderstorms. Storms on June 10, 2020, lead to several reports of damaging wind gusts. The event was most prominent across Southeast Michigan, with a few gusty winds grazing Central Lower.

This is the wind risk with the storm reports overlayed. Notice the wind damage reports are mostly across the wind level 4 risk area.

Spc Past Moderate3

That matches up nicely with the level 4 risk that afternoon. I have JUST the level 4 risk highlighted for June 10th.

Spc Past Moderate

The tornado risk was non-zero, but it was low. There were no tornadoes confirmed that afternoon.

2spc Past Moderate


June 2010

June 23, 2010, was a similar event to Wednesday. Only a few counties across the region were under a moderate (level 4 risk). Not only was there a general level 4 risk for severe storms, but a level 2 to level 3 risk for tornadoes and a level 4 risk for damaging winds gusts. Initially, there was a growing concern for storms. Due to earlier storms, the second wave had a hard time developing. So there was only one report of wind damage in Benzie county that evening, otherwise a quiet level 4 risk day. Another example of storm events not panning out as expected.

Spc Past Moderate3

Once again, I have the red highlighting the level 4 risk. No wind reports AT ALL in the level 4 risk area across Northern Michigan.

Spc Past Wind3

Only wind reports in our region were in the wind level 2 risk in Benzie county.

Spc Past Tor3

With a level 3 tornado risk in place, no tornadoes were reported in the region either.


2007 Tornado Outbreak

The last significant event across the mitten included a tornado outbreak spawning six tornadoes in four hours in 2007. An unusual fall pattern moves into Northern Michigan on October 18. Temperatures rose in the mid-70s, and abundant gulf moisture coincided with intense winds twisting from the ground to 30,00 feet.

850 071019 00

250 071019 00

The outlook featured only a few counties across Central Lower in the level moderate risk.

Day1otlk 20071018 1630 Prt1

The tornado and damaging wind threats were also a big concern that afternoon. The first image is the tornado threat from SPC and the second image is the wind threat. The tornado risk was a big concern, especially across Indiana and southern Michigan.

Day1probotlk 20071018 1630 Torn Prt1

Day1probotlk 20071018 1630 Wind Prt1

Notice the maximum threat is off to the south but, as a forecaster, the closer the moderate risk, the more alarming it is.

October 18, 2007, is a day the Doppler 9&10 Weather Alert Day would be in place. Here are the final reports from that day. Notice a LOT of red and blue not only across the state but across ALL of Northern Michigan.

071018 Rpts

According to the National Weather Service office in Gaylord, there were SIX confirmed tornadoes across northern Michigan. The event leads to over three million dollars in damage. Tornadoes touched down in Kalkaska, Oscoda, Alcona, Alpena, and Presque Isle Counties.
Not every severe weather threat is going to pan out. Mother Nature has her idea of what she is going to do when it comes to the atmosphere.

Mi Level 4 Risk Yn

In the end, some forecasts are a success, and some are not. In the end, our goal as a meteorologist is to safe lives. When it comes to dangerous storms, being overprepared is safer than not being prepared at all.

Categories: Weather