Department of Geological Sciences
Michigan State University
Last Revised November 5, 2001
StormTracker 6 (WLNS-TV) site on the tornado by Rob Dale. Has detailed Doppler radar images.
National Weather Service statement on this tornado.
Damage survey maps
Late in the afternoon of September 9, 2001, a series of fast moving thunderstorms embedded in a strong southwest flow ahead of a cold front passed through south-central Michigan (infrared image from 6:45 PM local time far left, source NOAA; surface synoptic map from 8:00 PM local time near left, source Unisys Corporation, click here for explanation). One storm that passed over northwest Eaton County generated a small tornado which has been rated as F1 by the National Weather Service (NWS). The tornado resulted in a few injuries and over four million dollars in damage. The tornado damage path extended from just south of the intersection of Royston and Lansing Roads, about one-half mile northeast of Potterville, and ended just north of Saginaw Highway on the west side of Lansing. Since this survey was conducted on the ground and only from public highways, some damage located behind homes and in the rear of property was not identified.
survey was conducted of the storm track on September 10, 11 and 14.
The September 10 survey was conducted in the morning, approximately 15
hours after the storm and extended from Pinch Highway to Willow Road.
The September 11 survey was conducted in the afternoon, approximately 45
hours after the storm, and covered the area south of Mt. Hope Road.
An additional survey was conducted nearly a week after the storm after
identifying additional damage observed from the freeway. Results
of the survey are presented in this report and on the accompanying maps.
The first identifyable damage are some damaged trees in front of homes on Lansing Road between Main Street in Potterville and Royston Road. At this point, the tornado was probably not yet on the ground. The area to the southwest of this site has few trees and extrapolation of the damage path would place it on I-69. There are also downed small branches at Windsor Steel, 4780 Royston Road. At 6:34 PM local time (EDT), the storm destroyed a horse barn in the 6000 block of Windsor Road (photo above) and damaged some trees on the opposite side of the road. The NWS estimates that the storm was about 150 ft wide at this point and on the ground.
The storm damaged small branches and twisted small saplings as it traversed just north of the corner of Pinch Highway and Nixon Road. The tornado crossed the Canadian National Railroad tracks at Nixon Road and did minor roof damage to two homes just north of the tracks. The storm then proceeded to down branches in the yards of homes in the 7400-7500 section of Billwood Highway and do considerable damage to trees along an access road on the opposite side of Billwood (photo left). The trees are bent both to the east (dominantly) and west in this area.
There is no apparent damage along Oak, but some of the smaller vegetation near the corner of Oak and Guinea is bent, possibly by the storm, and there was one small broken branch on the east side of Guinea. The high-tension power line along Oak was unaffected. The tornado then crossed I-69 where the NWS reports it tipped over a semi trailer, injuring a few people. Radio reports indicated that occupants of this trailer saw the funnel cloud. Minor damage occurred in the Michigan Department of Transportation Warehouse area. Based on views from I-69 and from the gate to the storage area, several trees were damaged and guardrails were tossed around. One guardrail flew out of the facility and ended up on the embankment of the Davis Road bridge over I-69. The next damage is observed at 8500 Davis Road, where a tree is down and there is minor roof damage. There is visible roof damage to a barn from the highway and the NWS and press reports indicate that several barns were destroyed and many trees uprooted or damaged in this area. Clean-up activity observed on September 15 suggests that a barn or similar structure may have been damaged or destroyed at 8487 Davis Road. The storm then intensified and crossed I-96.
The area immediately to the northeast of I-69 had the most damage. On the west side of Canal Road, the A-1 Auto Parts store at 3902 South Canal was severely damaged. Parts of the front and back of the store appear to have caved in (photo left). A double-wide mobile home at 3906 South Canal was lifted off of its foundation, although with no externally visible damage. Press reports indicated that the interior floor was buckled and plumbing fixtures stuck out from the walls. The sign for the Auto parts store was bent and debris and insulation from the store was sprayed into the fencing for the Board of Water and Light (BWL) Erickson Power Plant on the west side of the road (photo below).
Press reports indicate that some power lines were downed in this area. The characteristic yellow insulation was also found near the Meijer's distribution center on Creyts Road and one piece made it as far as Gull Drive, north of I-496. In general, the debris was blown almost directly to the northeast. A few trees south of A-1 Auto Parts along Canal were also damaged with small branches broken. One person was injured at A-1 Auto Parts when she was hit by glass. A building on the southwest corner of Davis and Canal Roads appears to have roof damage, possibly related to this storm.
On the east side of Canal, the redwood and fiberglass cooling towers of the BWL Erickson Power Plant were destroyed at 6:45 PM based on energy output logs. The six cooling towers, 60 feet tall, a total of 120 feet long and aligned southwest-northeast, were totally demolished. The replacement cost is estimated at four million dollars. The press reported that a sound like a train collision was heard when the towers were destroyed. The tornado reached its maximum strength in this area and is estimated by the NWS to have been 900 feet wide with windspeeds of nearly 110 mph (F1). Several trees in the power plant property have been uprooted or heavily damaged. Very little damage was apparent on Millet Highway, north of the power plant. Some branches were broken from trees on the north side of the road and there was isolated tree damage on the south side.
The next damage is observed at the west end of Sloan Road, where there is extensive tree damage north of the factory gate. Scattered debris and downed branches were observed in the Kennedy Masonry property at 6564 Sloan, across the street. Isolated branch and other debris were observed on the south side of Sloan, near Creyts Road.
An employee entrance gate to the Meijer's distribution center on Creyts Road had its roof knocked slightly off and small branch and other debris were found along Creyts Road just south of Mt. Hope Highway. Press reports indicate that the roof of the Meijer's warehouse (presumably the northernmost building off Creyts Road) and fencing were damaged and that at least four semi-trailers in the Meijer's parking lot were overturned and damaged.
On the north side of the 10000 block of Mt. Hope Highway, a large tree branch fell into a house (photo left). Minor tree damage was also observed on the south side of the road. Residents in this area told the press of seeing the funnel and hearing a roar like a freight train.
Continued . . .