Ah, Michigan in spring -- when the weather can't decide if it wants to be a picturesque spring paradise or a winter a winter wonderland. In 1965, West Michigan experienced one of the wildest weather rollercoasters imaginable. March dropped a record three feet of snow on Grand Rapids, and the temperature on March 27th was a bone-chilling zero. But, in true Michigan fashion, it would hit 72 degrees by April 11th. And, of course, because we can't do anything halfway in Michigan, the warm weather brought an explosion of deadly tornados. Lots of them.

Related: Michigan Counties Among Nations Most at Risk For Tornadoes In '24

April 10-11, 1965, will forever be remembered as Mother Nature's rampage weekend. A strong low-pressure system moved from the Central Plains into southern Lower Michigan, dragging a warm air sector that pushed Grand Rapids into the 70s. Meanwhile, a line of thunderstorms brewed over Iowa, charging up like a rowdy crowd before a rock concert.

Michigan's Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak of 1965

The home of the Brewer family on Samrick Avenue after the tornado.
Photo courtesy of Lee Nelson / Weather.gov
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The then U.S. Weather Bureau (renamed the National Weather Service in 1970), who would later rename "forecasts" to "watches" thanks to this event, issued a tornado forecast at 1 p.m. for northern Illinois and parts of Iowa and Wisconsin. By the afternoon, tornadoes were already wreaking havoc in southern Wisconsin, killing three people. As the storms crossed Lake Michigan, the wind-blown chaos moved east.

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By 6 p.m., tornado forecasts expanded to include the northern half of Indiana and Ohio and the southern half of Lower Michigan. Aware of the destruction happening to the west, Michigan's weather offices started issuing bulletins across television and radio. However, they avoided using the word "tornado," fearing it would incite panic. However, the squall line intensified, and soon enough, using the T-word would be unavoidable.

Tornadoes Touch Down in Michigan

The Allendale to Cedar Springs Tornados 35 mile long path. Google Maps / Weather.gov
The Allendale to Cedar Springs Tornados 35-mile-long path. Google Maps / Weather.gov
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Kalamazoo, Allegan, and Ottawa Counties were among the first to be hit. A tornado near Kalamazoo injured 17 people. In Burnips, Allegan County, another tornado claimed a life. Allendale saw a tornado begin its 35-mile path of destruction, wreaking havoc in Alpine Township, Comstock Park, Rockford, and ending near Cedar Springs.

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Five people died, and over 100 were injured, with one succumbing a few days after the storms, raising the death toll to 6. Montcalm and Gratiot Counties also saw significant damage, with numerous farms hit especially hard.

The Palm Sunday Tornadoes of 1965 Included a Night of Terror for Lower Michigan

Photo credit Dale Myers, courtesy of Ron Wilbanks via Weather.gov
Photo credit Dale Myers, courtesy of Ron Wilbanks via Weather.gov
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The most severe destruction happened further south, where two tornadoes tracked from the Indiana border through Branch and Washtenaw Counties, barely a mile apart and less than an hour apart. These tornadoes left 44 dead along their 80-mile path of devastation. Residents hit by the first tornado found themselves diving for cover again as the second followed close behind.

The Palm Sunday Tornadoes Ohio Devastation

What was left of the Swan Inn at the intersection of Alpine Avenue and 6 Mile Road in Alpine Township, Michigan
Photo credit: Walter L. Nelson
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Sadly, our neighbors to the south did not escape the destruction of the Palm Sunday Tornadoes of 1965. A tornado in Toledo's northern suburbs flattened entire blocks, tossed vehicles like Matchbox Cars, and killed 18 people, including five who were in a bus that was thrown and dropped upside-down.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Pitsch Sr. via Weather.gov
Photo courtesy of Stephen Pitsch Sr. via Weather.gov
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As the night wore on, more tornadoes hammered Ohio from Lima to Strongsville, resulting in over 40 more deaths.

The Palm Sunday Tornadoes Aftermath and Legacy

One of the two large tornadoes that tracked through eastern Branch County, Michigan
Photo courtesy of Steve Carlson / Weather.gov
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By the time it was over, the Palm Sunday Tornadoes of 1965 had caused over 50 funnel cloud storms and claimed more than 250 lives across six states. This line of storms stands as a grim reminder of nature's unpredictability and power.

The Swan Inn in Alpine, Michigan following the Palm Sunday Tornadoes of 1965
Photo courtesy of Margaret Tanase via Weather.gov
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The Palm Sunday Tornadoes of 1965 forever changed how we understand and prepare for severe weather, leaving lives shattered, homes in shambles, and an entire state in shock.

2024 Michigan County By County Tornado Risk Projections

Roof Gnome, using FEMA data and analyzing nearly 950 counties throughout the United States at moderate to high risk for tornados, was able to rank 34 Michigan counties for storm risks in 2024 and projected financial impact. Here's a county-by-county look at Michigan's Tornano Vulnerability.

Gallery Credit: Scott Clow

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