I. Introduction

Five people were killed and 79 were injured when a F3 tornado struck Kalamazoo, Michigan on May 13, 1980. F3 tornadoes are characterized by wind speeds of 158 to 206 m.p.h. Two churches, 47 homes, two factories and 22 other buildings were destroyed. Another 253 homes, 156 businesses, and 4 factories were damaged. Thousands of windows were shattered. About 1,200 people were left homeless (Grazulis, 1993). President Jimmy Carter declared Kalamazoo County a federal disaster area. The Kalamazoo Gazette published its first extra edition since August of 1945, marking the end of World War II.

In this review, we will begin by examining large scale synoptic conditions over the United States on May 13th. Mesoscale analysis including hourly surface charts focused on the Great Lakes region will be presented. We will also analyze Flint,  Michigan (FNT) and Peoria,  Illinois (PIA) observed soundings. Numerous instability and shear parameters as well as information derived from hodographs will be reviewed.

In an attempt to reconstruct the storm environment as accurately as possible, we will also modify soundings for surface temperature and dew point values based on surface observations recorded at the Kalamazoo airport just before the tornado developed. The hodograph generated from the 1200 UTC FNT sounding will also be modified based on Kalamazoo surface wind speed and direction before the tornado struck. All of this data will be tied together with our research findings from developing the Significant Tornado Climatology for Lower Michigan, in an attempt to better understand the environment in which this killer tornado developed.

  1. Introduction
  2. Methodology
  3. Large Scale Synoptic Pattern over the United States on May 13, 1980
  4. Hourly Surface Weather Maps Focused on Great Lakes Region from 12 UTC May 13 to 00 UTC May 14
  5. Observed 12 UTC Soundings for Flint, MI and Peoria, IL and Data Derived from them
  6. Modified Flint Sounding
  7. Flint and Peoria hodographs from 12Z observed soundings
  8. Modified Peoria Hodograph (using 18 UTC surface winds in AZO)
  9. What are our most important significant research findings? What do we believe caused the Kalamazoo tornado? What can we learn from this? How can we use this information to aid in anticipating tornadogenesis in the Grand Rapids CWA?
  10. So what exactly happened? Chronology of events occurring between 3:30 and 4:25 p.m. EDT across Van Buren and Kalamazoo Counties.
  11. Tornado Victims
  12. Dr. T. Theodore Fujita’s Kalamazoo Tornado Findings
  13. A Personal Account of the Kalamazoo Tragedy
  14. Bronson Park Devastated
  15. Acknowledgments
Return to The May 13, 1980 Kalamazoo Tornado Case Study Main Page

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