The Glen Lake Wind Storm of the Century

I grew up in Michigan, so I’m used to spring and summer tornado warnings, siren tests every first Saturday of the month, the necessity of basements to hide in during actual tornadoes. But sometimes all it takes for massive amounts of damage in a short period of time is a powerful storm streaking along in a straight line. On August 2 of this year, the worst storm in local history hit the small town my family and I have vacationed in nearly every year of my life. It didn’t last long, but the damage the storm left behind shut Glen Arbor down for a week.

glen lake wind shear

Welcome to Glen Arbor

I wasn’t there when the storm hit, but some of my family was, and they said it was astonishing how quickly it came on, and how intense it was. What looked like a summer thunderstorm rolling in from the horizon turned into a roaring wind that knocked people over as they tried to get to shelter. No one died during the storm, and there were only a few injuries, which is very lucky.

Winds hit 70 miles per hour in the general area, and up to 100 MPH in the Glen Lake area. Something called wind shear–the change in wind speed or direction with height in the atmosphere–made the winds fiercer and longer lasting than they would have been in a regular storm, and that’s how we got the severe straight-line winds that ripped up hundreds of old-growth trees, knocked out power lines across the county, and threw tree branches on moving cars. (I like the idea of a wind shear just shearing the landscape, cutting along like a razor, but I guess that’s getting a bit fanciful with the language since it doesn’t necessarily mean straight-line winds.)

Here’s some video I took of the destruction. This was taken days after the storm, and you can still clearly see its effects.



We were without power for our entire week up there, which was kind of a bummer at night but mostly annoying because the power was connected to the plumbing. So my sainted dad went down to the lake a couple times each day and trudged back up the stairs with a 40-gallon bucket of water to fill the toilet’s water tank so we could flush.

It was a little like indoor camping, except we hadn’t been planning to camp. Six grown adults smell after a few days, especially when there was no biodegradable soap so we couldn’t wash in the lake, just hope being in it helped a bit. It was too bad not having a stove to cook food on, but we made do with sandwiches and meals out at restaurants in neighboring towns that had power.  

Of course for many people, whose homes and businesses had trees sticking out of them at the end of it, it was worse than inconvenient. We did our best to support the local businesses that were still open, especially as it was high season and this is going to make or break people for the year.

It’s hard not to revert to old dynamics when you gather as a family, isn’t it, so although everyone did their best not to complain about the less comfortable conditions we were in, my siblings and I did grumble a bit, and my parents let slip some frustrations as well. The only person who didn’t once complain was my 82-year-old grandmother, who lived through World War II on the southern coast of England and thus sees everything as an improvement on that. We did our best to imitate her.

During the days, we read on the deck and swam in the lake, chatted with each other and dozed in the sun. During the evenings my dad played guitar and we sang until the sun was truly set, and that is no bad way to spend a holiday.


Below are some photos I took of the destruction around Glen Arbor, and around the lake. At one point we had to turn the car around because the road was impassable. Impressively, this was all cleared up in less than a week.


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