Canton tornado left no time for warning

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Amid escalating damage estimates, officials say the tornado that slammed Canton’s north side came so quickly it left no time to activate emergency warning sirens.

Canton relies on notification from the National Weather Service of imminent threats of severe weather such as a tornado.

“In this case, the National Weather Service had no advance warning because this thing literally just popped up out of nowhere,” Canton Municipal Services Director Tim Faas said. “It came in so quick and was on the ground for three minutes, then lifted away and moved on.”

No injuries have been reported.

NWS officials had indicated at 6:20 p.m. last Wednesday the potential for area wind gusts up to 50 mph. But, 23 minutes later an EF-1 tornado packing 90 mph winds struck, ripping roof sections off three commercial and industrial buildings on Lilley south of Joy, damaging cars, littering Canton-Plymouth Mettetal Airport with debris and tearing off part of the awning over fuel pumps at the Mobil gas station at Joy and Haggerty, Canton officials said.

“The brief duration and weak intensity of this tornado made the issuance of a tornado warning nearly impossible, typical of brief spin-ups that are embedded along a fast moving line,” the NWS said. “In many cases, such as this one, the tornado touchdown occurs largely between radar scans, leaving little opportunity for advanced warning.”

Deputy Fire Chief Chris Stoecklein said early damage estimates were $500,000 to three buildings along Lilley south of Joy, including NBJX, which has a local warehouse for auto parts, and two multi-tenant commercial facilities.

“I’m guessing that estimate is going to be very low,” Stoecklein said, adding later, “We had no injuries. Thank goodness this happened when it did because there was only one tenant in all of those buildings.”

The NWS website indicates the tornado first touched down in a neighborhood just southwest of Warren and Lilley roads, toppling trees and moving northeast toward the airport before lifting near Joy and Newport Drive.

The NWS said the tornado lasted from 6:43 p.m. to 6:46 p.m. and traveled two miles. It was deemed the first December tornado on record in Michigan.

Canton police issued a statement that Lilley Road had reopened to traffic about four hours after the tornado hit.

Stoecklein said Belfour, a property restoration company, was on-site for repairs to NBJX and the two multi-tenant commercial buildings.

“Some of them have structural damage,” he said, adding that roofs, trusses and some support walls had sustained damage.

Faas said it could potentially take up to three months for restoration to the local businesses. He said the heating and air-conditioning units were ripped off the buildings.

“Major sections of the roof structure were removed,” Faas said, adding that Canton police, fire, public works and building inspection employees were involved in the township’s response.

Carl McDevitt, NBJX warehouse manager, said Monday the company is moving materials from its warehouse to a place it is subleasing in New Boston because of structural damage.

McDevitt said it’s unknown when the Canton warehouse might be used again, though he said an adjacent office area received less damage and could reopen sooner.

Darrell Clem, Hometown Life 8:42 a.m. EST December 29, 2015
Wind damage could be seen along Lilley Road, south of Joy Road, after the tornado hit. (Photo: Bill Bresler | staff photographer)

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Kyrie Wagner

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