Tornado slams Dexter

By Zach Bergson, Online Editor
and Adam Rubenfire, Daily News Editor
and Anna Rozenberg, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 15, 2012

DEXTER, Mich. — As a result of a storm that brought significant rain, severe hail and gusting winds to campus yesterday, several University buildings sustained damage, while a tornado ravaged the nearby towns of Dexter and Pinckney.

No casualties or injuries were reported by the Washtenaw County Emergency Management agency as of 11 p.m. yesterday. However, at the University, significant leaking was observed in the center hallway connecting Mason and Angell Halls. At the intersection of South State and Arch Streets, about 2 feet of standing water slowed cars traveling near South Campus, and water reached the hoods of parked cars in front of the Stephen M. Ross Academic Center and the Athletic Ticket Office.

A tornado warning for Washtenaw County was issued after 5 p.m. yesterday evening, and the University’s Emergency Alert system was activated, sending text, e-mail and voice messages to students, faculty and staff. The system sent students four messages regarding the initial tornado warning, an extension of the warning, spotting of funnel clouds and tornados, and finally the expiration of the warning and a subsequent thunderstorm watch and flood warning.

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said she did not have any details regarding the leaks in Angell Hall, but said there was “apparent water” inside the Ross Academic Center.

University of Michigan Health System spokesman Ian Demsky said there was a small leak in a stairwell in the Comprehensive Cancer Center and that precautions were taken to protect patients depending on their condition and their location in the hospital. He said blinds were closed, some patients were moved into hallways and other interior spaces, and blankets were placed over several patients to protect them in case of shattering glass from a tornado impact.

Brown said the typical response to a tornado warning depends on the amount and type of calls DPS receives. For example, Brown said if there is a power outage on campus, police officers are often required to respond to calls of individuals stuck in elevators.

Still, if severe weather is reported close to the University, Brown said officers will take necessary precautions to protect themselves.

“If it’s really coming to campus, then they’ve got to take cover for themselves,” Brown said.

Ann Arbor Police, Housing Security, and Hospital Security could all be heard over police radio yesterday afternoon performing checks to ensure that University buildings took necessary precautions to protect students, staff and faculty.

LSA senior Courtney Fletcher said she had been stuck in Angell Hall for more than three and a half hours waiting for the worst of the weather to pass.

While the weather may have interfered with her day, Fletcher was not bothered studying in the hallways alongside the leaks.

“I mean it needs to be fixed, but now they know what’s going on so hopefully they fix it as soon as possible,” Fletcher said. “I’m not worried about anything going wrong. It’s leaking but most buildings leak.”

Because of the inclement weather, Central Student Government had to cancel its presidential and vice presidential debates that were scheduled for yesterday evening.

CSG President DeAndree Watson, who was taking shelter from the storm in the Michigan Union, said time spent taking shelter from the storm allowed him to get some work done.

Watson said conditions at Angell Hall as a result of the storm are not fit for students at the University.

“We get heavy rainfall, we start leaking and use trash cans at the University of Michigan — I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Watson said. “We’re going to push hard to make sure we improve our facilities.”

A tornado that spurred from the storm damaged and destroyed several homes in nearby Dexter and Pinckney in northwest Michigan.

Dexter resident Victor Hola, a nurse at the UMHS Cancer Center, said the roof and garage of his home near Hudson Mills Metropolitan Park were torn apart by the tornado. He said he didn’t suffer any injuries, but was driving home when the tornado touched down in his neighborhood.

Scott Ferguson, Hola’s partner, said he did not hear any tornado sirens go off when the tornado warning was issued because his neighborhood — located about five miles away from the Village of Dexter — does not have an alert system. However, Ferguson said he heard the warning over National Public Radio broadcasts and quickly took shelter in the basement with his dog and cat.

Though he sustained no physical injuries, Ferguson said the tornado ripping through his home was a terrifying experience.

“I’ve never been so scared in my entire life,” he said. “Think of ten freight trains coming at you all at once and you can’t move … that’s what (the tornado) was like.”

Hola added that his neighbor’s garage and roof were also torn off during the storm. The first responders in the neighborhood worked to remove fallen trees and repair down power lines that littered the streets.

In an e-mail interview yesterday, Perry Samson, a professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, wrote that yesterday’s storms came as a “surprise” to him so early in the year.

“Usually this time of year we’re worried about ice storms and/or episodes of dense fog,” Samson wrote. “This warm weather is remarkable.”

Samson wrote that the cause for the storm isn’t clear, as it could be the result of several factors.

“No scientist worth their salt will say this is due to global warming because we know the only thing normal about weather is that it's rarely normal,” Samson wrote. “On the other hand, no scientist worth their salt will claim with certainty that this is not related to a larger trend as we frankly don't know with confidence how the warming of the globe will affect specific weather phenomena. We’d need to see a trend on top of the wild fluctuations that normal weather presents.”

Samson added that examining causes behind rarities in weather is a major aspect of his course, AOSS 102.

“I am working on a review of today’s events and remain a bit perplexed to be honest,” Samson wrote. “This storm happened away from any major fronts and away from the jet stream where we normally expect such storms to develop. It was remarkably slow moving (hence the flooding) and there were few indicators in advance that the atmosphere contained significant convective potential.”

His class will be conducting a donation drive for the Washtenaw County chapter of the American Red Cross today and Monday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. in his class in Angell Hall Auditorium C. Samson wrote that he will personally match the first $500 of student donations received during both class periods. Students looking to contribute should bring cash or checks donations made out to the American Red Cross. During those class periods, Samson will also conduct an initial review of the severe weather.

—Daily News Editor Adam Rubenfire and Daily Staff Reporter Anna Rozenberg reported from Ann Arbor. Online Editor Zach Bergson reported from Dexter.

—The Associated Press also contributed to this report.