GAYLORD, Mich. (WOOD) — On May 20, 2022, an EF3 tornado tore through Gaylord, destroying mobile homes, damaging other buildings, flipping vehicles and killing two people.
The tornado managed to stay on the ground for 22 minutes, crossing just over 16 miles. Peak winds were estimated around 150 mph, placing it safely within the EF3 range.
The Gaylord National Weather Service was on heightened alert that day. Favorable wind shear was in place. The Storm Prediction Center had placed portions of northern Michigan under a slight risk (level 2 of 5) with a chance for tornadoes.
“The last time that the state saw an EF3 tornado was back in 2012 in the National Weather Service Detroit’s forecast area. On March 15, an EF3 tornado struck the city of Dexter,” Dan Cornish, a meteorologist for the Gaylord National Weather Service, said. “It definitely speaks to the rarity of this event.”
May 20, 2022, was the first time the city of Gaylord has ever been under a tornado warning. Cornish drew the polygon where the warning was in effect. Within a minute, it was sent out to the public. Otsego County does not have a siren system because it’s so rural. Instead, it uses a Code Red System to send out emergency alerts.
“As someone that is a part of this community, the Gaylord community, when you’re looking at a storm like that on radar that’s moving into a town where there’s people that you know and our families work there and workers have children there, it’s a somber moment as well,” Cornish said.
The west side of Gaylord got about 7 or 8 minutes of lead time before the storm moved in. The east side had about 11 minutes. While that lead time is typical for a tornado warning, it felt short to those awaiting their fate in town.
The Nottingham Forest Mobile Home Community on the west side of Gaylord saw some of the worst damage. Two people who lived there were killed.
The local Goodwill store, also on the west side of town, was demolished by the EF3 winds. Buildings in a strip mall on M-32 were damaged. Some cars parked along M-32 were flipped.
“They had just heard there was a tornado warning and it was only moments later when the thing came barreling through,” Joshua Olds, Goodwill director of donated goods, said.
About a mile away, Gaylord Chief of Police Frank Claeys was gearing up his staff to help. The tornado came through at shift change, so Claeys had nearly double the staff on duty.
“We had a pretty good plan and as the weather broke enough, we opened the door and our officers responded to check on our citizens,” Claeys said.
In the following days, the community got to work to rebuild. The tornado happened on a Friday; hundreds of utility trucks were sent to the small town, restoring power by the following Monday.
Almost one year later, some Gaylord residents are not back in their original homes. The local Goodwill store is in the process of being demolished with hopes to rebuild during the summer of 2023. In the meantime, a pop-up shop is open down the road.
Otsego County Emergency Manager Jon Demming said moving forward, his goal is to raise community awareness.
“It’s getting the word out fast enough and make sure that we are constantly educating the people,” Demming said.
That includes making sure people have several ways to be notified of severe weather warnings, like a cellphone, television and weather radio.
“You never know when severe weather might impact your town. It could be this year, next year, or you’re just never certain,” Cornish said. “So the best thing to do is be prepared. Have a plan in place beforehand.”