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High winds carve path of destruction

Straight-line winds of up to 70 miles per hour blew through the area Aug. 19 uprooting this 60-year-old silver maple tree on Park St. in the Village of Oxford. The tree drew quite a bit of media attention as it was featured on three local TV news broadcasts. For more storm photos see pages 12, 17 and 21. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
August 25, 2010 - It was not a twister, Dorothy.

There was much speculation by Oxford and Addison residents that the many downed wires and toppled trees stemming from the Thursday, Aug. 19 storm were the work of a tornado.

But, according to the National Weather Service, the area was hit by straight-line winds of up to 70 miles per hour that were the result of a long-lived supercell.

A supercell is basically a severe thunderstorm that rotates. This explains why some people thought they saw a tornado when the storm hit around 7 p.m.

"As the clouds were coming from the horizon, they were lifting from the bottom and going upward," said Addison resident Dave LeFevre, who watched the storm from his barn. "It was really strange. They were swirling all around here. It was amazing. I've never seen anything like it. It was pretty intense."

Of the four types of thunderstorms, supercells are the least common and have the potential to be the most severe as they can produce large hail, damaging straight-line winds and violent tornadoes.

Oxford Village resident Kathy Hummel was literally dwarfed standing next to the root ball of her uprooted 60-year-old silver maple tree. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
Whatever you call it, one thing's for sure, the storm did a significant amount of damage around here in a short amount of time.

The storm left many folks without power including 900 in Oxford Village, 800 in Oxford Township, 2,000 in Addison Township and about 200 in the Leonard area, according to DTE Energy Spokesman Scott Simons.

In downtown Oxford, most of the east side businesses had power, while the west side ofM-24 was left in the dark.

A total of 80,000 DTE customers in southeast Michigan lost power as a result of the storm. Most were in Macomb County where two tornadoes did touch down.

Noble Road, between Delano and Lake George roads, appears to have been the hardest hit area around here as it was littered with countless downed trees, limbs and branches.

"It was impassable," said LeFevre, who lives on Noble Rd. "I'm just glad nobody got hurt."

LeFevre had five large trees fall around his home, the original portion of which was built in 1836.

Fortunately, the falling trees only caused what appeared to be minor damage to his roof.

"I'm actually in the process of restoring this place and I just finished the roof last fall," LeFevre said. "This (damaged) side is the side I started on, so any of my imperfections I get to redo."

Chris Wilson, a groundskeeper at Mulberry Hills Golf Club, reported eight large trees down, mostly on the front side of the course on Noble Rd.

"I've lived out here since 1967 and I've never seen anything like this," said Mark Orchard, a retired Oxford Schools superintendent who lives at the corner of Noble and Hosner roads.

The only way Orchard and his wife could reach their home Thursday night was via an all-terrain vehicle.

Orchard was very impressed with how quickly the Road Commission for Oakland County got to work. Crews spent most of Friday clearing Noble and other blocked roads in Addison.

"I never dreamed they would respond this rapidly to these closed roads," he said. "At 9 o'clock this morning, this was all blocked. It's almost two o'clock and most of it's been cleared."

According to Addison Fire Chief Jerry Morawski, his department responded to approximately eight calls related to downed wires and trees, and one electrical fire at a house on Glen View, which is just west of Dequindre Rd., off Glen Meadow Lane.

The fire was inside a wall around an electrical outlet.

"We got it out pretty quick," Morawski said. "There was minimal damage."

The chief indicated the fire was possibly the result of a lightning strike.

Residents weren't the only ones who lost electricity. Addison's township hall and two fire stations were running on generators after the storm knocked out power to all three government facilities.

Over in Oxford, it appears the village sustained the most damage.

According to Department of Public Works Superintendent Don Brantley, the streets of Park, Hovey, Dennison and Mechanic were the "hardest hit."

"Of course, these are the areas that have the oldest, most mature trees," he said.

The storm's high winds uprooted a 60-year-old silver maple tree at 22 Park St., causing it to fall on the house next door, which is owned by Tim and Jillian Noonan.

"All of the sudden this wind came up out of nowhere and I heard this big crack," said Kathy Hummel, the tree's owner. "I looked out the window and all I could see were leaves in front of my neighbor's house."

"The house just kind of shook," Jillian said. "I thought it was just thunder, then all of the sudden we saw the tree leaves covering the whole side of the house."

Fortunately, Hummel's neighbors weren't hurt. However, the Noonans' house sustained both roof and structural damage (see photo on Page 12).

"The ceiling's caved in there (where the tree hit) and the wall's split and pulling apart," Tim said.

Although she's very pleased that no one was injured, Hummel's upset by the loss of her tree. Over the years, she worked very hard to maintain and preserve it.

"I love this tree," she said.

But life goes on.

"I'll plant another one," Hummel vowed.

Over on Hovey St., between Park and Dennison streets, the high winds caused another silver maple to crack at its trunk, fall over and block the street.

Fortunately, it didn't hit any houses, but it did knock down some phone and cable TV wires when it took out a utility pole.

Much of the tree, which was growing in the village right-of-way, was rotted and hollow inside. It actually had a hive of honey bees living in it.

"That tree had a lot of honey in it," Brantley said. "There had to be enough honeycomb to fill a five-gallon bucket, if not more."

Overall, despite appearances, Brantley described the storm damage in the village as minor. "We were fairly lucky," he said.

Out in the township, Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz indicated the damage was "actually not that bad."

"There was nothing really that major," he said. "The storm went through very quickly and a lot of the community got out right away. People were dragging branches and clearing roads as soon as the storm stopped."

The fire department was dispatched on 12 calls related to downed wires and trees, and while they were out and about, Scholz said his guys spotted an additional 15-20 downed wires.

During and immediately after the storm, the Oxford Village Police Dispatch center reported taking 127 calls in two hours and 10 minutes.

Twenty-three of those were 9-1-1 calls.

Dispatchers made 10 calls to DTE Energy to report downed wires for residents.

The dispatch center itself lost power and ran on a generator until Friday night when the facility's electricity was finally restored.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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