Why tornado warnings were not issued Tuesday night

Posted at 4:11 PM, Mar 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-02 17:10:40-05

NILES, Mich. -- The severe thunderstorms that rolled through West Michigan on Tuesday night ended up spawning three tornadoes. Niles, Dowagiac, and Vandalia were all impacted by EF-1 tornadoes, with maximum winds ranging from 105 to 110 mph.

(For more information on the storms and damage, click here.)

These tornadoes, however, came without a tornado warning from the National Weather Service. The NWS office in northern Indiana is responsible for issuing warnings in Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph, and Branch counties in southwest Michigan.

They say it was an unusual event that was difficult to predict due to the time of year. Michigan hadn't seen a February tornado in more than 40 years.

Still, they hope to do better next time severe weather threatens.

"We lick our wounds ourselves, too, because we wish we could do 100 percent all the time," says Michael Lewis, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "And we worked long, hard hours there and we had a lot of people looking at the radar."

Lewis adds that a severe thunderstorm warning was in effect when the tornadoes touched down.

"So with the folks up there, what we've been saying is wind damage, whether it was from a tornado or thunderstorm winds, is still wind damage," he says. "And there is still a threat for life, and that's why we put out warnings. Our mission: to save lives and minimize loss. And that's what we were trying to do with those warnings."

The tornadoes were also difficult to detect because they were only on the ground for a few minutes, which made them difficult to see on radar. Plus, they occurred at night and were difficult for spotters to see.