Lansing Downbursts of October 24, 2001

Kazuya Fujita
Department of Geological Sciences
Michigan State University

Last Revised 1000 November 6, 2001

National Weather Service Damage Reports:

WLNS-TV Survey and Stormchase Photos Introduction

    Several possible tornadoes were reported in the mid-Michigan area early in the evening of October 24 in advance of a major, fast moving cold front. The storms were draped ahead of a front that extended south of a low pressure system that tracked along Lake Michigan. Two supercells were tracked crossing the greater Lansing area and both were initially reported to have produced tornadoes.

    The first supercell thunderstorm struck southwest of the village of Schoolcraft in Kalamazoo County at about 5:45 PM (track map above on MDOT State Highway Map base). Based on the National Weather Service (NWS) survey, the straight-line winds from the storm created a damage track about 2 miles wide through Kalamazoo County. Damaged facilities in Schoolcraft included the second floor of an auto parts store an indoor golf area; power was out in the area. Trees also fell in Scotts and in southern Portage. A total of 18 homes and seven businesses were destroyed in Kalamazoo County.  150 homes and eight businesses were damaged. Also hit were Galesburg and Gull Lake. The storm damaged or uprooted thousands of trees and damaged barns and homes; some homes suffered significant structural damage. Straight line winds are estimated to have reached 90 to 100 MPH. This storm continued northeast into Calhoun and County and was reported from the Nashville area in Barry County around 6:30 PM (local time) and cut a path across Vermontville, Mulliken, between Portland and Eagle, south of Westphalia (at 6:45 PM) northwest of St. Johns, and near Ashley in Gratiot County.  In Eaton County the damage path was one to 1 1/2 miles wide with wind speeds of 60 to 70 MPH. Damage consisted primarily of damaged and uprooted trees with limited damage to buildings. A large shed on Jones Road was demolished and other barns and sheds were damaged and knocked off their foundations, including a barn on Grange Road with major roof damage. The storm tracked for about 45 minutes to one hour between Nashville and Ashley and resulted in damage to homes and trees along the entire path.  One person was killed near Maple Rapids when a tree fell on his truck. Although Doppler Radar did suggest rotation and a hook echo was observed near Eagle on reflectivity, the NWS reports that there is no indication in the damage pattern that a tornado touched down.  There were, however, reports of funnel clouds aloft. This storm generated a tornado in northern Indiana and southern Cass county prior to striking Schoolcraft (see NWS report).

    The second supercell storm tracked from Marshall to Owosso starting about 6 PM (track map above on MDOT State Highway Maples. Purple line is downburst series track, red dots are areas of significant damage, red lines are tornadoes).  The storm was identified by WLNS-TV as a possible tornado in the Dimondale area at 7 PM as it tracked northeast across southern Lansing and western East Lansing. Damage was reported from areas further south and the NWS has ruled the damage as due to straight line winds as well.  The storm was tracked in detail by Doppler Radar and broadcast in real time on Channel 6 (WLNS-TV) and indicated a path that continued north of Park Lake, over Laingsburg and to Owosso around 7:35.  Tree damage has also been reported from the Laingsburg area. This storm produced two small tornadoes south and east of Saginaw (see NWS report)

    The National Weather Service investigated the damage in Michigan on October 25.

Survey Times and Procedures

    A survey of the damage path of this event in Ingham County was conducted in the evening of October 25 between Trowbridge Road and Lake Lansing Road, approximately 24 hours after the event, and a second survey extending from Pennsylvania Avenue south of Jolly Road to Saginaw Street was conducted on the morning of October 26, some 40 hours after the event.  The area between Saginaw and Lake Lansing Road was surveyed on the evening of October 26, 48 hours after the event; in this area, considerable clean-up had already occurred. A supplementary survey was conducted of the area around Kalamazoo and Harrison Roads, University Avenue, and the Towar Gardens area on the afternoon of November 1, eight days after the event.  Although most debris had been cleaned up, considerable tree damage was evenident in the University Avenue area.  Downed trees were still in place along Kalamazoo.  The Towar Gardens area is more difficult to intepret as damage was minor and much of it away from the streets.  However, the consistency of the damage track suggests it occurred on October 24.

    All surveys were conducted by car and only examined areas visible from public thoroughfares.  Additional damage in industrial areas is likely.  Press reports indicating damage to such areas is included below.

    An additional surveys were conducted by bike along East Lansing bike and hiking paths in the Northern Tier on the evening of October 28 and around Kellogg Center and Jenison Fieldhouse on November 2.

    The results of this survey follow and suggest that tornadic activity was not involved, at least in the surveyed area.

Damage South of the Survey Area from Press Reports

    The storm cell that eventually struck the Lansing area initiated near Marshall just before 6:30PM, and proceeded north across Calhoun County at 50 to 55 MPH. According to the NWS, portion of a roof was blown off a hotel in Marshall and minor damage occurred as the storm moved northeast.

    The southernmost reports of significant damage associated with this storm are up to thirty homes damaged along the western side of Narrow Lake, twenty of them seriously.  Trees fell on homes, windows shattered, power lines were downed, and garages damaged.  Severe damage occurred to second floors. Power was out in this area for several days. A tornado sighting was reported from an observer on Baseline Highway in this area whose mobile home was smashed into a second mobile home. A metal silo was demolished in the area.  Press reports indicate a house was moved off of its foundation in the Eaton Rapids area.  Power was also lost in Eaton Rapids, resulting in school closures on October 25, and a billboard was blown over on M-50 west of Eaton Rapids.  The damage track appears continuous from Eaton Rapids to Dimondale, damaging barns, tress, and garages. Based on these reports, wind speeds may have reached the lower end of F2 in this area; the NWS estimated wind speeds at 90 to 110 MPH (uppermost F1).  This area was affected about 6:55 PM.

    Downed trees and power lines were reported near the intersection of Columbia Highway and Canal Road.  Some homes, particularly garages, were damaged on the 9400 block of Columbia Highway.  The wind blew in garage doors which then resulted in roof collapses. Trees were also reported down in the Dimondale area, including a 50 ft pine tree which almost fell into M99, and residents reported a dark cloud. A total of 60 homes were damaged in Eaton County totaling over a million dollars in damage.

    In south Lansing, an 80 foot pine tree was uprooted on the 100 block of West Claremore puncturing the roof and damaging gutters.  The back of the Volunteers of America thrift store on South Cedar Street was damaged with holes in the roof, buckled floors, and damage to contents. Significant damage was reported north of the corner of Miller Road and Cedar Street and power was lost in this area.

South Lansing Damage

     Damage survey map of the southern downburst, extending from Pennsylvania Avenue to Mt. Hope Road.  Red dots are major damage to structures, orange dots are minor damage to structures (usually from trees falling on them).  Green arrows show the uprooting direction of trees or the fall direction of major branches.  Green x's denote minor to moderate tree damage.  The purple lines denote inferred wind flow lines, dashed where uncertain or less clear.  The survey did not extend west of Pennsylvania Avenue.  Base map (c) Universal Map Company.  Click on image for detailed view.

    No damage was noted along Keystone or Enterprise or was obvious on Pennsylvania Avenue south of Jolly, although this may be a result of the lack of large trees in the area. The area west of Pennsylvania was not surveyed. A possible damaged sign was in the parking lot of a closed store at Pennsylvania and Dennis and represents the southwesternmost damage noted.  Trees were damaged north of Lansing Christian School and along Dennis and Elas Court.  Uprooted trees were first noted along at the corner of Devonshire and Barr.  Six large utility poles, 18 inches in diameter, were snapped 20 feet above the ground and toppled on to Jolly Road between Tranter and Pennsylvania Avenues, and Jolly was still closed to traffic through this area forty hours after the storm (see Lansing State Journal for photo).  Some of the utility poles looked like they had been snapped in the middle.  Press reports indicated that trees were downed on the 5000 block of Devonshire, and that some shingles were removed from the roof of a garage.

   Roof damage was observed at Capital Area Community Services building at Tranter and Rensen (photo far left) and trees were uprooted at the east end of Rensen.  The press reported significant damage to the CATA garage on Tranter.  Sections of the roof, including ventilation and 6,000 pound heating units, were ripped off and sent into the parking lot around 7:00 PM. Doors were blown open, windows smashed and there was water damage inside the garage; damage is reported in the tens of thousands of dollars.  Large trees were downed along the banks of Sycamore Creek at Cavanaugh and considerable tree damage and debris, possibly from the CATA garage, was observed along the creek behind 1622 Cavanaugh (photo above).  Damage occurred to trees behind the New St. Paul Church and next to homes along Cavanaugh. A moderate branch also was downed in the yard of a building at the corner of Cavanaugh and Aurelius.

    Large trees we uprooted and fell almost to the due north at the western ends of both Irvington and Rex and along the 1800 block of both streets.  A large tree may have fallen into a house on the east side of the 4000 block of Aurelius; damage to the southwest corner of the house was visible from the street and a large branch was down in the front yard. Minimal damage was noted along Provincial House east of Aurelius, possibly due to the lack of large trees.  Minor and major tree damage and uprooting, however, was noted on the 2000 and 2100 blocks of Wabash, and likely some damage occurred along Robinson and Scarborough; these streets were not surveyed.  A very large tree was uprooted in the front of 2900 Manley, and other tree damage occurred in the 2900 and 3000 blocks.  Utility lines were also downed in this area.  Two portions of Stoneleigh had uprooted trees, the 3000 block and the last three or four trees on the east side Stoneleigh (photo above; trees have been removed), as well as the last two on the west side, before Forest  Elsewhere in this neighborhood, trees were uprooted or severely damaged at the corner of Trudy and Forest (southwest corner) and on both sides of Forest at Staten Avenue.

    A utility and light pole was broken mid-way just east of the US-127 overpass at Forest (photo left), and a tree was uprooted at the west end of the University Club parking lot; this tree fell to the west and is one of the only trees that did not fall in a northerly direction. The press reported that additional utility poles were knocked down at Forest and US-127, caused an accident, and closed the southbound lane for a while. Several additional trees suffered major damage on Forest up to Collins Road.  Minor tree damage was observed on both sides of Staten Avenue at Truma Circle and a small branch was downed on Wabash at Leawood.  Also in this area a TV antenna was knocked over at 2720 Geert and it is possible that additional tree damage occurred to homes at the northeast end of Geert that had been cleaned up by the time of the survey.  Damage along Mount Hope appeared very limited, although the press reported some downed trees.  Several trees were damaged or uprooted along the northern edge of Forest Akers Golf Course. The press also reported a Funnel cloud sighting from Potter Park, however, this seems unlikely.

East Lansing Damage

    Damage survey of the northern downburst (probably two or three downbursts).  Symbols as discussed above under the south Lansing survey.  Note curving wind flow lines.  It is possible there are two downbursts; the first starting in Spartan Village, the second around Michigan Avenue. Click on image for detailed view.

    In the Spartan Village area, some broken branches were observed along the southern part of Middlevale and Crescent Roads, and a soccer goal located south of Crescent may have been knocked over by the storm.  This is the end of the damage from the CATA downburst.  The second downburst starts with uprooted trees observed at the north end of Middlevale along with large branch damage.  A few small trees located in the median of Trowbridge Road were uprooted, but major damage begins to the north.  Minor roof damage, consisting or ripped gutters and torn sections of roofing, occurred to the Ramada Inn.  Some trees had branches broken that fell to the northwest just north of the Ramada Inn. Some large tree damage appears to have occurred in the Arbor Forest apartment complex, especially at the northern end of Palmer.  Major tree damage occurred in the playground and park on the east side or Arbor Drive; here tress were uprooted and fell to the northwest.  Tree damage was also noted at the corner of Trowbridge and Arbor, and at the west end of Tanager.  A small branch appeared to be down just by the freeway north on-ramp.  The press reported that additional utility lines were downed in this area. Power was lost in the Trowbridge Shopping Center.  There may have been minor damage to the roof of the Shoprite grocery store.

    Significant damage was observed in the "Flowerpot" subdivision.  The dense foliage resulted in a number of large trees being uprooted and the building density resulted in significant damage to homes.  Downed tree branches blocked the south end of Larkspur and damage was concentrated along two tracks through the area.  The western track struck at about 1200 Daisy.  A car was hit by a tree in the driveway of 1155 Daisy (photo above left) and the house at 1210 Daisy was damaged by a falling tree (photo above right).  To the east, damage occurred in the 1000 block of Daisy and Lilac, with trees hitting roofs in this area.  Press reports state that a large branch went through the window of 1030 Liliac and three trees in the front yard were uprooted and a 63 year-old maple tree was badly damaged.  Five approximately 55 foot pine trees were also uprooted in the back yeard. 1038 Lilac appeared to have suffered particularly heavy damage by being struck by an elm tree and having the roof caved in; pine trees in the back yard here were also uprooted. 1022 and 1023 Marigold suffered roof damage.  Homes in this area lost a few shingles in addition to tree damage; this appears to be unique to this area.  A branch was also downed outside the Islamic Center on Harrison Road and a tree was uprooted and fell to the north at the corner of Marigold and Harrison.

   Three storage sheds behind the Michigan Police Post on Harrison Road were demolished and contents and parts of the sheds were sent flying towards Kalamazoo Street (photo above left). Three state owned cars, over one thousand feet of fencing, and a communications antenna were damaged.  Trees were downed at the eastern end of University Village and along the north side of Kalamazoo Street from the entrance of University Village (photo above right) to the east side of Harrison Road.  Some trees were uprooted onto sidewalks and the approach to the Breslin Center where a volleyball game was in progress at the time of the downbursts.  The spectators were not informed of the tornado warning nor was the game interrupted.  Trees fell into the Red Cedar River but there was almost no damage at the Brody dormitory complex.  One tree suffered significant damaga and a few branches were broken in the courtyard and large trees were uprooted on the southwest corner of Michigan and Harrison and one small tree was damaged on the northwest corner.  Several trees suffered damage behind 934 Michigan and 45 University Drive.  A number of maple trees were severely damaged along the 100 and 200 blocks of University drive, with one damaging a chimney.  Three trees were damaged at 813 Oak and one tree suffered major damage at the corner of University and Huntington. Small branches were broken off trees in front of the Kellogg Center and one tree was uprooted.

    On the east side of Harrison,a large number of trees were uprooted brtween Kalamazoo Street and the Red Cedar River. Two trees were uprooted on the south east corner of Kalamazoo and Birch, and a number of pine trees were damaged between Demonstration Hall and the Hockey arena.  Fallen trees created a log jam across the Red Cedar at the west end of the Kellogg Center parking garage.  A number of trees were broken 6 to 12 feet above the ground at the north end of the Jenison Fieldhouse parking lot.  Other trees were broken or uprooted along the sidewalk between Jenison and the baseball field.  A few trees suffered damage along the Red Cedar River behind the Kellogg Center.  The damage to the trees around Jenison suggest that the fieldhouse and the Kellogg Center parking garage may have channeled the wind causing increased damage to the trees adjacent to the Jenison parking lot.  Although it is hard to determine if this damage is continuous with that at Beal Entrance (below), the lack of damaged trees along the Red Cedar River on the north side of the baseball field suggest that there was a third downburst that came down over Michigan Avenue.

    A number of trees were severely damaged or uprooted at Beal Entrance and along the Red Cedar River. This damage is very localized to a small area around Beal Entrance and suggests this was the start of the next downburst. North of Michigan Avenue, utility lines were downed at the corner of Louis and Elm Place and power was lost in this area. Trees landed on cars at the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity on Louis St. This level of damage may suggest a third downburst.  Additional trees suffered damage along Oak between Elm and Grand River, mostly on the east side.  Large trees were uprooted or damaged on the north side of Grand River at Clifton Boulevard, and between Rosewood and Hillcrest.

    Two large trees fell across Marshall, just east of Hillcrest (photo left); these had not been removed forty hours after the event. Other trees were damaged or uprooted along a swath between Rosewood and Sunset from Marshall to Clarendon.  Roof damage occurred where the trees fell on homes.  The trees fell very close to north through this entire region.  A particularly large tree fell outside 932 Westlawn.  The northernmost significant tree fell between 414 and 418 Clarendon. Gutters and the corner of an enclosed port was damaged at 1049 Sunset (corner of Oxford). One report indicates a destroyed garage in this general neighborhood.

    Limited damage was noted north of Saginaw Street.  Trees were uprooted at Spruce Hill and Cypress, and Bainbridge and Oxborough.  Minor damage was noted along Woodingham Drive.  A second band of damage is noted from the corner of Columbine and East Point, with extensive tree damage along Colorado.  A moderate sized bush was uprooted along the drainage ditch at Gainsborough.  Along the bike trail, trees were damaged at the north end of Colorado and about midway towards Abbott.  A tree was uprooted at 1929 Riviera in the Tamarack subdivision. Siding appears to have been ripped off of 1937 Riviera, and additional tree damage occurred at the end of Mendota and elsewhere along Riviera.  No obvious damage was noted along Lake Lansing Road, but some branch damage is likely to have occurred.  Based on the damage patterns, there are two swaths of damage with slight curvature to the west. The damage path is much more northerly here than in south Lansing.  No damage was noted along the Northern Tier bike paths in Abbott Road Park.

    One tree was uprooted on the east side of the Michigan State Medical Society building and some small tree damage occurred on the west side of Abbott at Rampart Way.

    A weak possible downburst may have struck the Towar Gardens area.  One tree appears to have been damaged on Lake Lansing Road between Gossard and Towar and branch damage is observed on Towar and at the corner of Biber and Pollard.  A downed tree along Biber west of Pollard may be related to the storm, but the fall direction and the coloration suggest it may be unrelated.  A better track of damage occurs between Gossard and Towar through a forested area and along Towar from the bike path to just north of County Line.  Most of the damaged trees are far from the street and difficult to see, but some of the damage looks fresh and the suggested damage track is consistent with farther south.

    One tree may have been damaged at 637 Whitehills and some branches were damaged along Alton between Burcham and St. Thomas Aquinas. On campus, branches were also damaged at Abbott Entrance and southwest of Morrill Hall. Minor branch damage was noted along Chittenden near Orchard and at Gunson and Snyder. Although Press reports indicated damage along Hagadorn Road between Grand River and Haslett Road, no damage was noted in this area except for damage to very small branches. The storm passed through this region around 7:15 PM. Heavy rain fell to the east of the storm track. Hail was also reported in the area.


    Although many people suggested that this was a tornado, certain lines of evidence point to straight line winds associated with rapidly moving downbursts.

    The most likely explanation for this is a series of fast moving downbursts that came down in a more or less linear path through the area. It is unclear at this time whether the damage in East Lansing was due to one or two downbursts.

Other Areas of Michigan

    This storm sequence impacted other areas of Michigan, including three confirmed tornadoes in southeast Michigan.

    Strong winds destroyed eight mobile homes near Tekonsha, and caused seven injuries around 6:30 PM.  Twenty other homes were destroyed in Calhoun County and winds of 90 MPH were reported. 20 other homes in the county were damaged. The storm then tracked across northwest Jackson, Ingham, and Livingston Counties causing minor structural damage and damage to trees.  A barn was blown away north of Webberville.  A small F1 tornado also occurred near Ransom in Hillsdale County.

   Closer to Lansing, a  F1 tornado was first reported south of Howell around 7:30 PM tracking to the northeast.  Damage was observed by the NWS starting two miles west of Heartland to three miles northeast of Davisburg.  Davisburg Elementary School was severely damaged by the tornado. At this point, damage became more consistent with straight line winds.  Tornadoes and/or high winds also struck the elsewhere in Saginaw, Lapeer, Bay, and Tuscola counties.  See the NWS report for details.

Sources and Acknowledgments

Copyright © 2001 Kazuya Fujita.  All rights reserved.