GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The National Weather Service says the damage in Kent and Ionia counties during Wednesday night’s fast-moving storm was caused by high winds, not tornado touchdowns.
The agency estimates sustained winds of 65 mph to 80 mph caused the damage that carved a 50-mile path from Walker to Lake Odessa, damaging homes, uprooting and snapping trees and knocking out power to thousands of people.
The NWS says wind gusts topped 100 mph in hard-hit northeast Grand Rapids and there were “brief swirls,” but there was little evidence of “lofted debris” — a hallmark of tornadoes.
>>App users: Watch drone footage of the damage in Grand Rapids here.
‘THE WHOLE ROOF IS GONE’
The area of Livingston Avenue, Hastings Street, Fairview Avenue and Trowbridge Street NE in the Belknap Lookout neighborhood took the brunt of the storm in Grand Rapids.
“We just heard a huge manic motion, trees whirling outside, glass breaking,” resident Jarrod Schaffer. “We headed down to the basement because the house started shaking.”
His neighbor’s house was torn apart. on Thursday, you could see the bathroom and bedroom from outside.
The high winds peeled off the roof of an apartment complex at Fairview and Hastings, sending it across the street.
“It’s just a complete loss. Everything is gone. The whole roof and ceiling is gone. Everything is under water,” said Lyndsey Williams, who lives in the apartment building. “We lost everything.”
She and her boyfriend were out to dinner when the storm came through and Williams said many of her neighbors were also out. They returned to find themselves homeless.
“The roof is in the street,” she said. “You walk through our apartment and it is all sky.”
Williams and her boyfriend said they are staying with friends for now. The American Red Cross is helping with groceries. They have started a GoFundMe account to help them cover all the costs they’ll have.
“Just trying to pick up the pieces and find a new place to call home,” she said.
“The trees really came down and landed all over, broke poles, all that. And even when the storm hit we thought there was a tree down right next to us and not a roof in our backyard,” Melissa Homann, who lives on nearby Livingston Avenue NE, said.
Livingston was already torn up for repaving.
“The cleanup and everything is definitely going to be a prolonged experience. I think that it’s not going to be an overnight thing,” she added.
The high winds also downed hundreds of trees in a wooded area just east of Grand River Drive NE in Ada. A homeowner there told News 8 the path spanned about a quarter-mile behind his home on Rustic Meadow Drive NE.
Dogwood Court was impassable, a mess of toppled trees and downed power lines. One man who lives along the road, John Stevenson, spent Thursday on his ATV. It was the only way he could get around.
“Power lines are all over our driveway, so we can’t go down there,” he said.
Charlene DeYoung couldn’t get down the road to her son’s home. A tree fell on it, but everyone is OK. The problem now is that he and his fiancee are supposed to get married at their home on Saturday and their property is in ruin. Trees fell on both their cars.
“I’m going to get to them one way or another,” a determined DeYoung said.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department said that two houses in Ada Township were significantly damaged.
Elsewhere, homes were hammered by hail and flash flooding covered streets.
>>Photos: Sept. 11 storm damage in W. MI
ROAD CLOSURES AND POWER OUTAGES
On Thursday afternoon, Kent County Emergency Management asked drivers to avoid the following debris-covered roads, citing downed utility lines:
- Grand River Drive from Michigan Street to Carl Drive
- Michigan Street from Taos Avenue to Grand River Drive
- Conservation Street from Pettis Avenue to Dogwood Avenue
- Dogwood Avenue from Pettis Avenue to Conservation Street
- Pettis Avenue from Honey Creek to Egypt Valley Avenue
Tens of thousands of people lost power because of downed lines and blown transformers. Kent was the hardest hit of any county in the state with more than 31,000 Consumers Energy customers without service at one point. The Jackson-based utility company said crews were aiming to restore power to everyone by the end of the day Friday.
Everyone is urged to stay away from downed power lines or objects in contact with a downed line and report it by calling 911 or Consumers Energy at 1.800.477.5050.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department said that in the three hours after the storm, the county and Grand Rapids dispatch centers took a total of 580 calls. There were no reports of injuries.
Anyone who needs help after the storm can call the United Way’s 211 for resources.
TORNADO VS. STRAIGHT-LINE WINDS
After a storm passes, it is often essential to have experts on the ground to see the damage firsthand.
Pictures and walk-throughs in damaged areas on the ground can reveal the true storm strength and confirm what instruments like radar spotted higher in the sky.
Storm damage can help forecasters determine whether the wind damage was tornado or straight-line winds. The biggest tell is if debris was thrown in many directions or in one direction.
Rotation is needed to throw debris in many directions, and that is usually one of the first signs that can tip off surveyors that a tornado was a culprit for the damage rather than straight-line winds.
Additionally, damage allows surveyors to pinpoint just how strong the wind at ground level was. This is highly dependent on how strong the objects are that were hit. Weaker objects will usually sustain more damage. Things like tree rot or weaker structures must be taken into account before a wind speed can be accurately calculated.
—News 8’s Heather Walker, Lynsey Mukomel and Donovan Long contributed to this report.