Source: Sherman Publications

Straight line wind storm ravages Lake Orion

April 16, 2014

By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

It was dubbed the Evergreen Storm.

When 36,000 customers of DTE Energy in Oakland County were still left without power as of Monday, April 14, one gas-fueled noise was apparent as drivers pushed through extra traffic: chainsaws chewing through logs left in yards and in some cases on local roads from the day before.

Officials estimate about 2,000 to 3,000 trees were uprooted on April 12 after a straight line wind storm plowed through the Lake Orion area. The storm started in western Michigan and moved through Genesee, Northern Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties, hitting Lake Orion area the worst in Oakland County.

Amazingly no injuries or deaths were reported from the straight line wind storm, apart from the trees.

Orion Township is working with Environmental Wood Solutions on Giddings Rd. to dispose of all the fallen lumber, stay tuned for a more detailed plan.

Although many thought the 60 to 70 mile per hour winds were indicative of a tornado, the environment wasn’t favorable, according to Dan Thompson, meteorologist at the National Weather Service Forecast office in White Lake.

“The wind damage is associated with the downward draft, winds that are descending from the cloud level to the surface,” Thomspon said. “You need to have a fairly low cloud base for a tornado, and ours was a little bit higher on April 12,” he said. Thompson did not predict any more straight line storms in the close future, but warned of a possible one to three inch snow accumulation Monday night, which happened.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office received 200 calls and the Orion Township Fire Department responded to over 100 calls for weather related service Saturday through Monday as people reported down power lines, down telephone poles, down trees, damaged housing and roads, alarms going off and other hazards. As soon as the storm let up, the fire department was out, and didn’t get off the clock until 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

Crews have been out the whole time, Fire Chief Bob Smith said, to address a second spurt of high winds which knocked down more lines early Monday morning.

More than 300 power lines were down, and about 15 telephone poles.

“If you go down M-24 and you look over on the lake side, everywhere you see with a blue tarp is all storm damage,” Operations Director and Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Stout said. “When you go west on Indianwood, all of those telephone poles snapped and were on the ground, in succession , all the way from Fernhurst to Central.”

At the Kroger’s on Lapeer, Stout said the telephone poles, partially made of steel, “folded like a piece of paper.”

The Orion Township Building Department tagged seven houses uninhabitable, building official Randy McClure said. Those residents had to evacuate their homes and will have to apply for repair and structural permits to rebuild, which can be done speedily by calling 248-693-8391 for immediate service. The storm also brought hail.

“We were outside grilling steaks and having a bonfire, and this storm rolled in out of nowhere, and it started hailing,” Russell Hastings III said, who lives on Jackson and Slater in the village. “I saw the trees go sideways. I saw half-a-tree go down in the street, and I thought, ‘oh man, it could be a tornado.’ So we all ran into the basement. Then I came up after the hail stopped, looked out my window, and there was a tree sitting on my truck,” Hastings said.

His dad, Russell Hastings Jr. of Rochester Hills, came out the next day to help him saw apart the fallen pine that damaged the siding of his newly purchased home and totaled his truck and his trailer.

Although it didn’t hail for more than 15 minutes consecutively in any location, Thomspon said hail as large as an inch in diameter hit the Clarkson area, with half-inch sized hail reported five miles north of Independence, and pea-sized hail reported throughout the Lake Orion area.

Both Orion Township Fire Chief Smith and Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh said the village was hit the hardest, particularly on the west side of Lapeer, but also the east side of Lapeer near Bunny Run subdivision.

Many of the trees in Evergreen Cemetery were knocked over, Chief Narsh said. “The wind took down all the beautiful pines because they were thick and full and offered resistance against the wind. The trees without the wind were left standing,” he said. About 85 percent of the village was out of power at the time of the storm.

The local damage corridor extended from north Clarkston Rd. to the south end of Oxford, and from Independence Township over to Oakland Township, Narsh said. Windows were knocked out of houses, chimneys toppled onto businesses and homes, business signs were knocked over, and what looked like mulch covered the downtown infrastructure and some county roads.

In many instances the wind flung uprooted trees onto homes, damaging roofs, garages and vehicles.

The roofs of two homes on Lake Street and Park Island were nearly demolished, along with many homes on Bunny Run, Indianwood Rd., and other areas throughout the community.

Telephone poles at Buffalo Wild Wings toppled onto parked vehicles Saturday night, leaving live power lines strewn all over the parking lot. Customers were prohibited from leaving for some hours until DTE Energy officials gave the O.K., but even then customers waited around for their cars, or other drivers to fetch them.

Damaged vehicles remained overnight in the lot.

Village resident Jennifer Salisbury didn’t know the storm was hitting until her mother called her shortly before 8 p.m. on Saturday.

“I just happened to look out the side window and it was black,” Salisbury said. “All of a sudden there was this big, green puff and that’s when the transformer blew by Elizabeth St. and Kroger, and from there it just came,” she said.

But as fast as it came, it left.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, there was that ice storm in April back about 12 years ago, but this is worse,” Salisbury said, referring to the damage in front of her son’s house from multiple dead trees that fell and blocked the road.

“People should get rid of dead trees on their property,” her husband, Greg Salisbury said.

Many residents have questioned why there was no siren to warn of the impending storm.

My gut feeling is that it happened so quick that nobody had time to react,” Chief Smith said. “By the time I could react I thought my house was going to blow away and I went to the basement, I made a phone call, and it was over,” he said.

The Emergency Operations Center at the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department sets off all the sirens.