Dexter tornado a grim reminder to prepare now for severe weather

The early arrival of spring weather has signaled the return of many treasured sights, sounds and activities — flowers blooming, birds chirping and Detroit Tigers opening day! Unfortunately, the arrival of spring also brings the promise of severe weather, and this includes the possibilities of tornadoes.

On average, every year there will be between 800-1,000 tornadoes in the United States. These violent storms will be responsible for about 60 fatalities and thousands of injuries. In Michigan, we experience about 16 tornadoes annually.

Tornadoes certainly do not follow any rules, but research reflects certain patterns. The majority of tornadoes occur between the months of March and July and between the times of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tornadoes average a path length of five miles, a width of 350 yards and travel along at around 40 mph. Tornadoes typically move from the southwest to the northeast. Tornadoes are rated on a scale of intensity from F0 (“Light”) all the way up to F5 (“Incredible”). The majority of tornadoes will be rated as F2 or lower.

The recent tornado in Dexter caused tremendous damage, including damage to more than 100 homes. Miraculously, there was no loss of life or serious injury related to the event. The Dexter tornado is estimated to have had winds swirling at around 135 mph and to have stayed on the ground for 30 minutes. The storm cut a path of destruction 10 miles long. The National Weather Service confirmed an EF3 rating for the Dexter tornado, making it the earliest storm ever occurring in Michigan at that high of a classification. The Dexter storm may be an isolated event, or it may be an indication that we are in for some severe weather this spring.

Livonia last had a brush with a tornado on Sept. 13, 2008. On that stormy Saturday night, at about 9:20 p.m., a tornado roared through Livonia along the residential area of Lyndon between Schoolcraft and Five Mile. That storm had winds estimated at 100 mph and was about 100 yards wide. There were no injuries or deaths connected to that event, but there was significant damage to trees, power lines and some homes.

As a reminder, a “Tornado Watch” is issued whenever conditions exist for a tornado to develop. Watches are usually for large areas (several counties) and are typically two to six hours in duration. Watches give you time to plan and prepare.

A “Tornado Warning” is issued by the National Weather Service whenever their radar indicates that a thunderstorm is capable of producing a tornado or when a tornado has been spotted by a credible source. Warnings are issued for more specific areas, such as part of a county and are usually in effect for 30 to 90 minutes.

The National Weather Service, meteorologists and public safety all do their best to monitor the weather and provide advance notice on severe storms whenever possible.

Here in Livonia, we receive information on severe weather directly from the National Weather Service in our public safety communications center. We also corroborate information received from citizen reports and trained weather spotters. In the event of severe weather, our outdoor emergency warning sirens will be activated and public safety will initiate an override message over Brighthouse cable television. These are examples of emergency warning. Further information will follow on Livonia Television, Livonia radio station 1670 on the AM dial, the city website ( and traditional media sources such as local television and radio.

In the event of a tornado warning, here are some actions you need to take:

  • Get indoors immediately.

  • Quickly move to the lowest level of a permanent indoor structure. In Livonia, this will most likely be the basement.

  • If you are in a structure without a basement, get to the lowest level. While not fool-proof, a general guide is to put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible.

  • Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls. Broken glass and wind-blown projectiles cause more injuries and deaths than collapsed buildings. Remember, if you can see the storm, the storm can see you.

  • If you are outside, and have absolutely no way to take shelter indoors, find an area that is lower than the surrounding ground and cover your head with your hands. Every effort should be made to take shelter indoors. There is no “safe” spot outdoors during a tornado.

    In other spring-related weather issues:

  • Livonia will be again be partnering with the National Weather Service and Wayne County amateur emergency radio operators to offer “Skywarn” training. Skywarn trains individuals on how to accurately observe and report on weather phenomena such as tornados. This year’s Skywarn training will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, in the auditorium of the Livonia Civic Center Library. The training is free and there is no registration necessary. The Livonia Civic Center Library is at 32777 Five Mile Road in the southeast corner of Farmington and Five Mile Roads.

  • April 15-21 is Severe Weather Awareness Week in the state of Michigan. For more information on the severe weather and things you can do to prepare for it, go to and look under the link for Hometown Security and Emergency Preparedness.

  • There are a number of relief efforts available for victims of the Dexter tornado. Anyone wishing to donate can check with the American Red Cross, United Way or the Dexter tornado relief fund at

    Spring is here, and we are all excited for the great things associated with the season. However, it also important to spend a few minutes to educate ourselves and our families about the measures we can take during severe weather, including tornadoes.

    Tim McGillivary is director of emergency preparedness for the city of Livonia. He can be reached at or (734) 466-2368.

  • More Safety Info:

    1. WHAT OTHERS SAY: Prepare and plan for severe weather
    2. Experimental Severe Weather Warnings Project
    3. Northeastern Louisiana is expected to receive severe weather through Wednesday …
    4. New tornado warning system could reduce your risk and save your life
    5. Fla. is No. 1 on tornado list


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