A tornado tore through the community of Dexter in Washtenaw County, Michigan during the late afternoon Thursday, causing widespread damage. Over 100 homes in and around Dexter were either damaged or demolished when the slow moving twister struck. No deaths or serious injuries were reported although affected residents are stunned and shocked as they do not see many tornadoes.
Remnants of homes and businesses were strewn throughout yards and streets in the Huron Farms subdivision of Dexter, which saw the worst damage. Streets in that area were jammed with cars as commuters were returning home from work early Thursday evening. Emergency crews from many surrounding area communities rushed to Dexter to assist with search and rescue operations and to help secure homes and clean up the widespread mess.
In spite of the enormous destruction, safety responders were able to quickly mobilize to see what needed to be done. Both the Salvation Army and American Red Cross were in Dexter Thursday evening, as were physicians and nursing personnel who came to help those with injuries. Many homes in Huron Farms were torn to pieces with their walls, roofs and windows blown off. The National Weather Service called the tornado “significant”. The twister was on the ground for a half an hour, and cut a path of destruction ten miles long. Emergency contractors were working in Dexter to secure buildings all night long.
Hail the size of golf balls and five inches of rain fell over portions of Washtenaw County during the storm. Many properties and streets were flooded in the area. A reported tornado also touched down in Lapeer County with no damages reported there. The storms that slammed southeastern Michigan were a result of unseasonably warm air. Temperatures were hovering between 75 to 80 degrees Thursday afternoon. Around 9,000 homes and businesses were without power Thursday evening resulting from numerous trees, powerlines and poles being knocked down.
All streets and roads in Dexter were shut down as darkness fell. Police were directing traffic. Search and rescue teams were going door-to-door looking for anyone who needed help. A local school was turned into a makeshift shelter. Nearby Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti put out an all-campus take-cover as the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area late Thursday afternoon. At the University of Michigan hospital in neighboring Ann Arbor, patients were taken away from windows and moved into hallways as the severe weather struck.
A storm system that is over the western portion of the US will contribute to a three to four day wet period for portions of Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas later this week. Heavy rains with thunderstorms could unleash large hail, strong winds and a few tornadoes. Some areas could see rainfall amounts between three and five inches while others could get over eight inches of rain.
This amount of rain could result in flash floods. The National Weather Service is expected to post flood watches in anticipation of the approaching system. There are many campgrounds located in this part of the United States where many college students will be spending time on spring break. It is therefore advisable for residents and visitors to the Ark-La-Tex region to keep an eye on weather conditions, reports and warnings.
The Storm Prediction Center or SPC stated Tuesday that a dip in the jet stream over the Southwest will break away from the jet stream to its north and stay in the same region for several days. This is going to result in long-term heavy rain over a large area of the country from the mid South to the western Gulf States starting Thursday and enduring throughout the weekend.
This is the time of year in which home and business owners should be reminded of the dangers of flooding and of the importance of readying their homes and businesses for the possibility of flooding. Flash flooding often occurs in low lying areas in under six hours which is caused by heavy rain. A flood doesn’t have to be a catastrophic event and cost home and business owners thousands of dollars.
If you live in a area which is prone to flooding (Little Rock, Nashville, Tulsa), you should purchase flood insurance now as it takes three months for it to take effect. Do not think that you can rely on government disaster assistance as most of this money is provided in a form of a loan which has to be repaid with interest. This is also the time of the year to make a flood plan which includes making an evacuation route. You should store important documents in a safe, waterproof location and conduct an inventory of your belongings along with taking photographs of your valuables.
Older children and adults should know how to shut off electrical power, gas and water in their homes. If a flood is imminent, it is important to put outside furniture away and to secure unstable items like outside fuel tanks. If you have a sump pump, be sure that it is working correctly. Furnaces, water heaters, washers and dryers should be set up and off the floor on cement blocks. Stay updated about the weather by watching TV reports and listening to local radio for upcoming evacuation instructions.