Storm was a rare micro downburst, weather service says; witnesses saw funnel clouds

April 13, 2014
Bert, left, and Logan VandenHuevel outside their house on Washington Road.

Bert, left, and Logan VandenHuevel outside their house on Washington Road.


By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

SUMMIT TWP. — Saturday night’s destruction was caused by a rare micro downburst, according to the National Weather Service.

A mobile home flipped over at the Ron Lundberg Farm on Washington Road.

A mobile home flipped over at the Ron Lundberg Farm on Washington Road.

However, some eyewitnesses claim they saw what looked like funnel clouds moments before the heavy winds hit southwestern Mason County.

Sally Weisner looked out her window Saturday night around 8:15 p.m. and saw what she described as a “tail” coming out of a cloud in the west. She and her husband, Larry, live on Lattin Road, just east of Bass Lake, where a major portion of the storm damage occurred.

A few miles to the north, Jeff Bartosiewisz was at his mother’s house at the corner of Pere Marquette Highway and Meisenheimer Road when he saw what he described as a funnel cloud.

“The National Weather Service says no tornados,” Riverton Township Fire Chief Joe Cooper, who has been the emergency incident commander, said. “We had a rare micro downburst. Cold air came across Lake Michigan and hit warm air and dry spots in the atmosphere. This caused super accelerated wind and forced it straight to the ground.

“When this type of pattern hits the ground it can go in any direction. The NWS says looking at our pictures we had winds around 80 to 85 mph and possibly 100 mph.

“Tornados make suction and pull everything in. We have no evidence of that.”

What’s erie about the situation is that a tornado hit the same area on the exact date 42 years ago, April 12, 1972. Leslie Cooper, who lives on Meiseheimer Road between Pere Marquette Highway and Brye Road with her husband Duane, recalls that tornado like it was yesterday. She said she remembers taking her 2-year-old son, who is now the fire chief, and heading into the basement.

Barn at the corner of PM Hwy and Meisenheimer Rd.

Barn at the corner of PM Hwy and Meisenheimer Rd.

Sunday morning, Duane and Leslie were out cleaning up their yard, which suffered heavy damage. Hardest hit was a corkscrew willow tree in front of their house. The willow tree has been there for over 30 years and has been the scene for many family gatherings.

The Coopers recently bought a playhouse for their grandchlidren. It was located on the northwest side of the house. Leslie said she saw the playhouse fly across the yard and land on the southeast side.

Duane is an avid antique tractor collector. One of his prides and joys is a 1940 Toro golf course tractor that used to work the greens at Lincoln Hills. A big tree landed on the Toro.

Several miles to the southeast, Bert VandenHuevel and his son, Logan, were busy cleaning up the damage to their house on West Washington Road just south of the Mason County line in Oceana County’s Weare Township.

“I was sitting out in my mancave when I heard what sounded like a freight train,” VandenHuevel said. “I swear it was a tornado.” A section of a large tree landed on top of VandenHuevel’s house causing severe damage. “I’m thankful my wife, Marie, wasn’t in the bedroom when that tree hit,” he said. “Water started gushing inside the house after that.”

Just across the street, a mobile home owned by farmer Ron Lundberg, was flipped over. A nearby barn suffered major damage with part of its roof coming off. The adjacent house also had damage. Lundberg said he just had the mobile home, which is used for migrant housing, fixed up.

“They are supposed to be coming here in about a month and now we’ve got all this damage,” he said.

Leslie Cooper cleans up damage in her Summit Twp. yard.

Leslie Cooper cleans up damage in her Summit Twp. yard.

Around the corner, to the northeast on LaSalle Road, the Steve Beard farm had some of the worst damage in the area. The winds completely flattened a barn. Beard is reported to be gone to Florida. A grain bin came apart and the top of it traveled about a half mile landing in a field behind VandenHuevel’s house. “I’m glad that thing didn’t come down on my house,” he said.

Deana Smith, who lives on the southwest corner of Pere Marquette Highway and Meseinheimer Road said the historic barn on the property she rents suffered major damage. Her son, Jeff Bartosiewisz, said he heard what sounded like a freight train and he told everyone to get in the basement. Bartosiewisz then spent several hours helping others out.

The barn’s west side suffered major structural damage.

“That barn is a historical landmark out here in Summit Township,” Smith said, holding back tears. The barn is owned by Bill Gillespie. “Nothing inside got damaged, but it’s just a shame. It’s a beautiful barn.”

Smith said she was amazed at how many people have been by to help.

“I moved here three years ago from Grand Rapids and people there just don’t help like they do here. This community is wonderful.”

Much more damage occurred in the Bass Lake area. Mason County Sheriff’s Office deputies reported that entering on South Lakeshore Drive is nearly impossible.

All the property owners interviewed said they had insurance.

We will have more updates as they come in. More photos at


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