Editor’s note: This is taken from a longer story we did on the worst natural disasters in Michigan history.
In early June 1953, more than 100 people lost their lives in one of the deadliest tornado events in Michigan.
The Flint-Beecher tornado was rated an EF5, the highest rating on the Fujita scale of damage.
Winds were in excess of 200 mph as the nearly half-mile-wide tornado traveled a 27-mile path through Genesee and Lapeer counties.
About 340 homes were destroyed, and hundreds more houses, farms and businesses were damaged.
What kind of conditions cause a tornado?
In general, it starts with different wind directions creating a “spin” in the atmosphere.
Air travels in and out of storms, commonly known as updrafts and downdrafts. A tornado is a rotating form of an updraft, visible by the funnel cloud that touches the surface of the ground. The rotation happens when there is just the right amount of change in wind direction and speed, called shear, as you go higher above ground.
Each weather event is different, but there are indicators that forecasters can look for. Tornadoes spawn on days that are moderately hot and humid. Conditions on the surface may be good, but what happens a few hundred or thousand feet above us is even more important. That includes too much or too little moisture, temperature, wind speed and topography.
Statistically speaking, areas that are flat tend to get more tornadoes.
What season is Michigan most likely to experience tornados?
Based on climate data, Michigan is most likely to see a tornado starting in March. The risk increases northward throughout the spring and summer months.
In middle to late June, Southern Michigan sees the greatest chance of tornadoes. At that time of year, there is a 0.2% chance to 0.6% chance of a tornado on any given day. Areas in Northern Michigan stay in the daily range of 0.1% to 0.4%. As we get closer to September and October, the area of higher chances retreats back south. Michigan keeps at least a 0.1% chance of tornadoes through late October.