Why no warning before Douglas-area tornado?

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The last four tornadoes that touched down in West Michigan happened when there was not a tornado warning in effect.

Around 2:10 p.m. Friday, an EF-0 tornado touched down east of Douglas on Riverside Road. It demolished a barn and caused trees to fall. The people living there had no warning, but thankfully, no one was hurt.

“We had a severe thunderstorm warning with tornado possible mentioned in it that was issued at 2:12 p.m.,” said Jim Maczko, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids.

That was two minutes after the tornado touched down.

A tornado warning was issued seven minutes after the tornado touched down — which didn’t help because it was on the ground for a minute or less.

WHY WASN’T THERE A WARNING?

EF-0 is the lowest level tornado, meaning peak winds are between 65 to 85 mph.

“With Michigan tornadoes, these little EF-0s are a majority of our tornadoes. Fortunately, they typically don’t result in loss of life,” Maczko said. “They result in destruction of older outbuildings, maybe trees falling on homes and people that are safe within the homes.”

The NWS did not issue warnings before the last four tornadoes that touched down here in West Michigan — in Portland and Alto last summer and in the Wyoming/Kentwood area in 2014.

After last year’s storms, the NWS upgraded its equipment.

“We had increased scanning technology,” Maczko said.

The radar now scans every two minutes instead of five, but even that didn’t pick up Friday’s tornado until it was over.

“In the case of the storm on Friday, the storm was up and on the ground in between scans,” Maczko explained.

WILL WE EVER HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY TO GET A WARNING BEFORE A SMALL TORNADO TOUCHES DOWN?

“Ideally, yes,” said Maczko. “But on the horizon, I’m not sure if that’s in the near-term for us.”

The NWS says its recent upgrades help detect with the larger, more dangerous tornadoes.

The good news is tornadoes are rare in Michigan and strong tornadoes are even rarer. Generally, straight-line winds are the real concern here.

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