Unusual Warmth Sets Stage for Rare Michigan Tornadoes

March 18, 2012; 5:21 AM ET
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This is a still image from a video recorded at Hudson Mills Metro Park in Dexter about 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 15, 2012 by Matthew Altruda from Tree Town Sound on Ann Arbor's 107.1 FM.

Unusual warmth surging across the eastern two-thirds of the nation this March is responsible for rare tornadoes that struck southeastern Michigan on Thursday.

May-like warmth has been gripping much of the Midwest and East this month with more than 1,000 record high temperatures falling this week alone in the U.S. So far this March, the average temperature in Detroit, Mich., is nearly 11 degrees above normal.

On Thursday, temperatures soared well into the upper 70s across southern Michigan, more than 30 degrees above normal for the date. The warm, moist air in place on Thursday helped to fuel thunderstorms capable of spawning tornadoes.

One tornado touched down 3 miles south of Columbiaville, Mich., late Thursday, causing damage to trees and power lines. The twister left behind a trail of twisted debris in a mile-long path.

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Farther south, a tornado caused extensive damage near Dexter, Mich. The tornado damaged more than 100 homes with more than a dozen severely damaged. Scores of trees and power lines were toppled in the tornado's path.

Patti Vanriper, employee of La Fontaine Chevrolet in Dexter, Mich., described the scene as "horrifying."

"There are roofs torn off houses, and debris is blown all over. It's really scary," said Vanriper to AccuWeather.com's John Marsh late on Thursday.

An EF0 tornado was confirmed in central Monroe County, 3 miles south of Ida, Mich. The tornado tore the siding and shingles off of a house, tipped a car, destroyed a shed and knocked trees over.

"A tornado near Detroit is about as rare of an event as you can get in March," according to AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity.

Before the tornadoes struck southeastern Michigan on Thursday, March 15, 2012, there have only been 10 other tornadoes in recorded history to touch down in southeastern Michigan before April 1. Tornado statistics for the region date back to 1950.

The 10th tornado on that list includes a twister that struck Coleman, Mich., on March 12, 2012.

The typical peak in tornado occurrence for Michigan is May into June when warmer, more humid air arrives farther north across the U.S.

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