Today is the 39th anniversary of the Kalamazoo tornado of May 13, 1980.
The tornado first touched down in far western Kalamazoo County (wind damage from the storm was reported in E. Van Buren Co.) and moved west to east right through downtown Kalamazoo. It was on the ground for at least 11 miles and for approx. 22 minutes. The twister caused 5 fatalities and 79 injuries (treated at hospitals). These were the first tornado deaths in Kalamazoo County since August 1939. Huge trees were uprooted in Bronson Park and windows were blown out of downtown buildings. Here’s a couple of eyewitness accounts. The tornado caused over 50 million dollars in damage (in 1980 dollars).
Here’s video of the tornado approaching downtown Kalamazoo and video of the damage right after the tornado. Here’s the 10-minute story from WOOD TV “there were reports of 2 x 4s being driven into cement walls…a rowboat was found 5 blocks from where it was parked.” An initial report counted 47 homes destroyed with another 216 heavily damaged. 116 businesses were heavily damaged.
Kalamazoo Township to decommision their 9 tornado sirens. Richland tornado 9/1/18 (best toward the end of the video. Another view of the Richland tornado (note the larger rotation). Story from the Kalamazoo Library.
I had done the morning shift that day. Craig James had come in early to track the storms. I remember hand-plotting a surface weather map…showing the warm front between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids and low pressure over Southern Lake Michigan. I remarked that the map looked similar to a Texas case study that I had participated in at a meteorology conference. At the time, all we had was the 1957 technology radar (RCA AVQ10) that was designed for aircraft use. However, even with better radar, storm spotters are an important link to warning the public when these storms threaten.