East Lansing Microburst of July 2, 1997

Kazuya Fujita, Michael A. Velbel
Department of Geological Sciences
Michigan State University


Annette J. Prince
Special Education District of Lake County, Illinois

July 8, 1997; Revised web version, November 6, 2001

Introduction and Survey Procedure

    A microburst occurred during a severe thunderstorm associated with a fast-moving cold front between 4:13 and 4:18 PM local time on July 2, 1997, in central East Lansing.  The microburst moved from the west-northwest to the east-southeast from just west of Harrison Road and Saginaw to Park Lake and Grand River Avenue.  A survey of the damage resulting from the microburst was conducted by foot on the evening of July 2 and by car on the morning of July 3, three to 26 hours after the downburst. Damage to trees was classified as severe (shown as red on the survey maps, below), moderate (shown in orange), and minor (shown in green).  Severe damage consisted of toppled trees and damage to homes. Moderate damage consisted of major branches broken off. Minor damage ranged from single branches torn off trees to piles to debris.  Additional damage not visible from public thoroughfares is likely.
    The storms of this day killed seven people in eastern Michigan and caused considerable damage in the Holly and Detroit areas.  13 tornadoes were reported, most of them along an west to east track from south of Ithaca at 3:30 PM to north of Lapeer at 5:30.  The storm that struck East Lansing resulted in a F1 tornado near Fowlerville at 4:40 PM which scattered debris and travelled towards Hartland.  This storm continued to the east-southeast and struck the Ann Arbor area around 5:40 PM and Detroit between 6:00 and 6:30.  A F2 tornado struck Highland Park and Hamtramck. Large hail was also locally reported.

Damage Survey

    The most severe damage occurred between the East Lansing Public Library and Hagadorn Road. Minor F0-level damage occurred to homes primarily in the Bailey neighborhood along Snyder Street.  The main microburst centered near Collingwood and Snyder as evidence by the radial tree fall pattern (see map; photo of tree uprooted on Gunson north of Snyder left).  The wind diverged into three branches east of this location with the northern, most damaging, branch following Synder Street. The central branch moved east-southeast to Cahill Street and died out in Meridian Township east of Wardcliff Elementary School.  Damage patterns suggest that another, weaker,  pulse of air may have come down near Hagadorn and Cahill and then diverged. The southern branch died out near Albert and Gunson. Almost all trees fell to the east with a small scatter to the east-northeast and east-southeast.
    Press reports indicate that a truck was hit by a falling tree at Butterfield and Synder. Three trees were uprooted from the front yard of a home on the 600 block of Gunson, pulling down utility lines, and a house and garage were damaged by a falling tree on Gunson.  Also on Gunson, a light pole was snapped in half.  Two cars traveling on Abbott Road were hit by trees.  Trees were reported to have fallen into Abbott Road between Elizabeth and Beech, but not damage was apparent during the survey.  Trees also fell into Old Hickory Lane and Dunbar Court near East Lansing High School.
    Funnel clouds aloft were sighted near the microburst trace, near Abbott and Burcham, near Hagadorn and Haslett, and on Okemos Road.  The latter two sightings occurred about 4:00 PM and would put the downbursts to the right of the vorticity, consistent with other downburst occurrences.  Lightning strikes occurred on the campus of MSU and power outages occurred in the Lansing area.

Survey Maps

Western part of the survey area.  Plotted on 1:24,000 USGS topographic map of the East Lansing quadrangle enlarged to 1:12,000.  Red dots denote severe damage to trees, orange dots denote moderate damage, and green dots denote light damage.  Black arrows denote fall direction of trees and major branches.  Purple line outlines damage area and blue lines are suggested wind flow lines.

East half of survey. Symbols as above.

More Photos (all photos by Kazuya Fujita)

   Damaged tree at Chittenden and      Damaged roof by tree impact at       Debris in Snyder Street on the
   Kedzie                                            Butterfield and Collingwood             morning of July 3

  Roof damage on Snyder
  near Kedzie

Sources and Acknowledgments

Last Revised November 8, 2001

Copyright © 2001 Kazuya Fujita.  All rights reserved.