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Rain-wrapped tornado touches down in Barry County

Rod Crothers' three barns, which contained farm equipment, were destroyed when a tornado touched down by Barryville Road Sunday. Hydrologist says this region is getting about two years' worth of rain in one year.

Taylor Owens

Staff Writer

An EF-0 tornado with winds around 80 mph touched down for three minutes at 6:25 p.m. Sunday, just southwest of Maple Grove.

The tornado traveled from Barryville Road, where it knocked down three barns, traveled northeast across East Cloverdale Road and ended at Marshal Road, taking down trees and a power line in its wake, the National Weather Service reported.

NWS Grand Rapids Meteorologist Ernie Ostuno surveyed the damage Sunday after the tornado hit. He said this type of tornado is common in Michigan, weak and short.

Most tornados in Michigan are small and last only a few minutes, Ostuno said, because this area does not have the conditions of The Plains states, where a mix of cool and warm air from the Gulf region mix to create super cells.

The last tornado in Barry County was of similar size and strength, an EF-0, near Little Long Lake in Prairieville Township on Sept. 1, 2018. Its winds reached 75 mph and uprooted trees.

The EF-0 refers to the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which is used to grade the strength of tornados from 0 to 5. According to NWS, a 0 tornado is defined by wind gusts that reach from 65 to 85 mph. An EF-5 tornado has wind speeds over 200 mph. Wind speeds are estimates determined by the damage a tornado causes.

Because the tornados in Michigan are smaller, the warning time tends to be shorter.

And high-humidity tornados can be rain-wrapped, like the tornado Sunday, meaning the funnel itself cannot be seen, which can make them more dangerous.

While the tornado destroyed three barns including Rod Crothers' farm equipment, which was insured, other barns and even vehicles close by remained untouched.

Ostuno said the wind likely hit those barns on their proverbial broadside, which knocked them off their foundations and they collapsed.

Barry County 911 dispatch reported some downed trees and power lines, and dispatched the Barry County Sheriff's Office to the destroyed barns.

A tree collapsed on the property of Hastings City Council Trustee John Resseguie on East Thorn Street, crushing a new truck bed and breaking the window of a van he was fixing. It also poked a hole in the roof of his garage, and tore down the power line to the garage.

Resseguie said he was lucky, since he normally has two tractors he parks in the spot where the tree fell, but they happened to be elsewhere when it fell.

Ostuno wasn't the only scientist from the NWS Grand Rapids office checking the situation in Barry County this week.

Hydrologist Andy Dixon went to Crooked Lake Monday to check on the flooding there.

Dixon said the entire midwestern United States -- and southwestern Michigan in particular – has experienced far more rainfall than usual for the past six years. The average rainfall for the area before 2013 was about 35 inches per year, but the annual average since then has added an extra 20 to 30 inches. Dixon said it is almost to the point where southwestern Michigan has two years' worth of rain per year.

Dixon said there is no specific reason for the extra rainfall, and it is likely a combination of long term climate cycles overlapping to increase rainfall across the region.

Meanwhile, Dixon said he does not see any sign of the rainfall letting up soon.

Even if it did, Dixon said groundwater levels are slow to react, and it will take years of significantly less rainfall for the water level to return to where it was before.

“You don't snap your fingers and things magically go back to normal,” he said.

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