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.