One of the Montris’ sedans was overturned when the twister touched down on their Ida-area farm Thursday night.
IDA, Mich. — From the back deck of his house, Lloyd Montri watched as a long, skinny, white funnel cloud began moving, picking up dust, and then making what he described as a low, growling sound.
His parents' two-story farmhouse was just across a field, a half-mile or so from his own, and his prayer went up, "Please, Lord Jesus, protect my parents."
What's been labeled a "weak" tornado by the National Weather Service tore part of the roof off their wood-frame house, blew out windows, leveled a barn and granary, and turned one of their two white Chevy Luminas upside down. Still, Jerry and Myrna Montri were able to walk out of the house "without a scratch," Lloyd Montri said.
"They were in the basement and not harmed at all," he said. "We're thanking God."
Jack VanDyke walks in the backyard of the Montri family farmhouse that was hit by a tornado Thursday night. The Monroe, MI area was hit by large storms, hail and a tornado causing damage to the Montri family farmhouse on Ida Center Road in Ida Township, Mich.
Despite reported sightings and touchdowns of six funnel clouds in Monroe County Thursday night, the damage was limited -- amazingly -- to the Montris' farm on Ida Center Road. The other twisters touched down in open fields and along roads, but did not hit any structures, said Mark Hammond, director of the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency.
"We were as lucky as we can be for a March tornado," Mr. Hammond said cautiously. "Yes, we did not get much damage from it, but I don't ever remember hearing of an F3 tornado like the one they had in Dexter in March. … If this is the trend were going to see, I'm a little nervous."
The National Weather Service office in White Lake, Mich., on Friday confirmed a single tornado near Ida. It gave the twister an F0 rating -- the lowest on the six-step Fujita scale -- and estimated its top winds at 85 mph, its maximum width at 50 yards, and said it traveled about a half-mile on the ground near Ida Center Road just east of Lewis Avenue.
The tornado that hit a subdivision near Dexter, Mich., northwest of Ann Arbor, was confirmed as an F3, with maximum winds of about 135 to 140 mph. Along its 7.2-mile path, it destroyed about a dozen houses and damaged more than 100, but no injuries were reported. The weather service said it was up to 800 yards -- nearly half a mile -- wide at times.
Jeff Boudrie, a GIS specialist with the Monroe County Planning Department, stopped at the Montris' home Friday to take photographs of the damage for a countywide assessment. Other than a flooded home in Monroe Charter Township, he said, the Montris' farm was the only other property damage in the county that had been reported from thunderstorms that raked southeast Michigan -- and later northwest Ohio -- with heavy rain and occasional hail.
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"They did what they were supposed to do. They went in the basement," Mr. Boudrie said. "That's probably what saved their lives."
Ida and Summerfield township firefighters who were stationed in the area during the storm quickly converged at the Montris' house Thursday evening to make sure they were OK.
"By the time I walked up, Dad was coming out this back door," he said. "They were able to walk out of the house of their own free will."
Friends and family members gathered at the Montris' house Friday to see what Mother Nature wrought, to check on the elderly couple's well-being, and to begin formulating a clean-up plan.
The Monroe area was hit by powerful storms, hail and a tornado causing damage to the Montri family farmhouse.
Debris from downed trees and what were the barn and granary was strewn across the fields and in the shallow ditch along the road. Broken glass, boards with protruding nails, and random items like a cotton plaid shirt and an old tire lay in the yard. The Montris' lawn tractor was upside down in the barn's wreckage.
Lloyd Montri's wife, Vanessa, said her family was in their basement until the tornado warning ended about 6:30 p.m.
When they came upstairs, the sky was calm until they saw the funnel cloud approaching: "I'd never seen a tornado before. It was just like it was in the movies."
Jerry Montri had lived in the house his entire life, reared three sons and three daughters there.
Family members said, coincidentally, a tornado had struck the house a century earlier, in April, 1912.
Hail was reported at numerous locations in the region.
Some areas of Toledo got hail twice on Thursday -- once during the predawn hours, then again Thursday night.
The slow-moving thunderstorms also caused widespread urban and stream flooding.
Official Thursday rainfall totals at Toledo Express and Detroit Metro airports were 0.81 and 0.37 inches, respectively, while National Weather Service radar data and spotter reports showed areas of significantly heavier rainfall nearby.
Tornadoes in southeast Michigan this early are "extremely rare," Mr. Dodson said.
March 15, he said, is the third-earliest date on record for a tornado in the area. The earliest was a tornado that hit Wayne County on Feb. 28, 1974, while two years later a twister touched down in Lenawee County on March 12.
The latter day matches that of a tornado that struck central Michigan's Midland County on Monday -- the earliest in that area's recorded history.
Staff writer Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report
Contact David Patch at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419- 724-6094