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A tornado is a column of violently rotating winds extending down from a thunderstorm cloud and touching the surface of the earth.
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A severe thunderstorm produces large hail that is one inch in diameter or larger, damaging winds of 58 mph or greater, and/or a tornado.
A funnel cloud is also a column of violently rotating winds extending down from a thunderstorm; however, it does not touch the earth as a tornado does.
Michigan experiences an average of 15 tornadoes annually. Since 1950, 243 persons have been killed due to tornadoes. During this same time, Michigan has experienced 1,009 tornadoes.
Most tornadoes occur during the months of May, June, July, and August primarily 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 at an average speed of 30 mph. 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 five 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 or 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 plan and prepare.
The NWS will issue a special marine warning for the Great Lakes and the connecting waterways when a strong or severe thunderstorm develops or moves over the water. The special marine warning is issued for boaters, both recreational and commercial. For residents and visitors of Michigan’s many coastal communities, the special marine warning provides valuable information about a storm that is about to move onshore.
A NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards with battery back-up capability is your best source to receive the warning. In some areas, civil emergency sirens may be your first official warning. In addition, if your television or radio has battery back-up capability, you may receive NOAA’s National Weather Service warnings from local media.