Marc Stine was feeding his cows on Thursday in the central Michigan village of Vernon when he saw a funnel cloud on the southern horizon.
“It was coming over the trees there,” Stine said Friday morning, pointing across the street. “I didn’t feel right about it.”
He dropped what he was doing and made a quick retreat. When he returned, the cherry red barn he rents on Garrison was demolished and 1,000 bales of hay lay atop his three cows.
He thought the cows were goners, but discovered they’d laid down in what amounted to crawl space beneath the hay. Safe and sound.
“There had to be 30 people (helping) out here last night,” Stine said. “We got them out.”
Four tornadoes touched down as strong storms swept the state Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
Two in Shiawassee County left a trail of destruction that resulted in damage to at least 60 structures, officials said Friday. No one was injured.
The weaker of the two tornadoes was reported as EF-0; touched down for seven minutes at 6:47 p.m. Thursday and created a path of damage 6.4 miles long and 100 yards wide from near Bennington to about two miles southwest of Corunna. It struck the intersection of Bennington Greens and Innsbrook drives, where it snapped and uprooted trees and hit a farm, the National Weather Service said, lifting the roof off of an outbuilding.
Officials have confirmed a second, stronger tornado rated an EF-2 touched down in Shiawassee County the same night near Vernon, traveling from the intersection of Newburg and Bancroft roads to M-71. With winds up to 125 mph, the tornado tore through buildings and downed trees and power lines.
Meanwhile, In Genesee County, two EF-0 tornadoes ripped through, uprooting trees, downing wires and devastating a mobile home park, weather officials confirmed late Friday.
The first touched down at 7:09 p.m. at Nichols Road just south of Corunna in Flushing. It traveled northeast to Calkins Road, downing and snapping trees and collapsing a pole barn. The other, in Genesee Township, hit near the intersection of Stanley and Bray roads at 7:24 p.m. The tornado, which reached wind speeds of 80 mph, was at its strongest when it hit the Camelot Villas off Genesee Road where it flipped a mobile home onto its side, blew another off its foundation and damaged siding and roofing on other homes in the park.
Shiawassee County Undersheriff Robert Brancheau believes the second tornado hit the Vernon area about 6:50 p.m.
As of Friday morning, damage assessment teams had estimated more than 60 structures were damaged, including 12 that are a complete loss. No one was injured, Brancheau said.
He said the tornado seemed to hit almost immediately after the area was issued a tornado warning. The storm appeared to travel just north of and parallel to Interstate 69, between Bancroft and the village, Brancheau said.
Across the street from Stine's barn in Vernon, Dave Perri was seeking out a working generator Friday morning. The funnel cloud had crept up on Perri’s home from behind, taking out 30-foot pine trees, windows and door walls.
Just before it struck, Perri’s wife was on a walk with a friend and had sought shelter at a neighbor’s home when the skies turned turbulent.
“I couldn’t get to them, so I was freaking out,” Perri said, still shaken hours later.
Teams are still finding locations that were hit and identifying ruptured gas lines, Brancheau said. Michigan State Police emergency operations are assisting the damage assessment, he said, and providing a helicopter to survey the area from the air. Officials expected to have a dollar assessment of the damage prepared by late Friday.
In Genesee County, Vernon Diehl had returned to his home at Camelot Villa Community in Mount Morris when he looked out the window and the weather “went from clear skies to pouring rain.”
Strong winds kicked up a vacant mobile home nearby and pushed it onto its side while Diehl and his children looked on. Across the park, the wind lifted a separate vacant mobile home and wrapped it around a tree.
“It was very scary to see it lifted like that to be so close,” Diehl said. “We thank God that it missed us. It could have been us it lifted like that.”
Unusually warmer temperatures around 65 degrees helped spawn the tornado and brought driving rain into the southeast Michigan region that caused some flash flooding, power outages and other damage.
People with damage who have not already contacted law enforcement are asked to call a damage report line at (989) 743-2365.
About 1,900 people are without power in the Vernon area, Brancheau said. People should keep clear of the downed power lines in the area.
“We’re dealing with high voltage lines that are down right now,” Brancheau said.
Weather officials said there are "no severe" weather patterns expected for Friday as a cold front moves in and keeps temperatures in the low to mid-40s.
"We might be able to gain a degree or two during the day but that will be about it," said Bryan Tilley, a meteorologist with the White Lake Township office of the National Weather Service. Rain is expected off and on throughout the day as well, he said.
On Saturday, the high temps will be around 38 degrees and then up to 40 on Sunday. The normal high temperature is 45 degrees this time of March.
"It's easily a 20 degree temperature drop from yesterday," Tilley said.