Mike Hoffman examines tornado that seemingly came from nowhere

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - After the freak tornado in South Bend Sunday, I decided to go follow the track of damage to see things for myself.

The National Weather Service has classified the strongest part of this tornado as an EF2, a strong tornado, mainly because of the damage to a day care facility. But I found 2 distinct paths.

The first path was a very skinny path of damage, in many cases less than 30 or 40 feet wide. This was just east of Hawthorne, north of Roosevelt. I believe this was the thin, ropelike tornado caught in the video that Tricia Sloma took. This thin tornado was just to the right of the main rotating part of the storm.

The second path was probably out of the main rotation and was wider and stronger. This started south of the U.S. 20 Bypass and moved north for about 2 miles just east of Ironwood until it lifted near Inwood. This was the worst of the tornado damage. The Growing Kids Learning Center got the worst of it, with the CVS across the street seeing no damage whatsoever.

There are several reasons I’m calling this a freak tornado. First of all, the atmosphere was not set up for tornadoes in any way, shape or form. We were in the marginal risk for severe weather – that’s Level 1 out of five. But it was mainly for spotty damaging winds, not tornadoes.

Secondly, there was no thunder and lightning – none! So, this tornado dropped out of a heavy shower, basically.

And finally, Doppler radar was only showing rotation in this storm for five minutes or so, after the first part of the tornado had already touched down. That is why there was no official warning before the tornado hit Growing Kids.

Now, there were tornado sirens blaring across the county. In fact, after funnel cloud reports over northern Marshall County, both Marshall and St. Joseph counties set off their sirens. It is as the discretion of each county to set off the alarm because of reports from the field, even before an official tornado warning gets issued. And that’s what they did yesterday, which was a good thing.

Please do not blame anybody for this. It was a random event in a chaos science, and despite all the technology, it’s still an imperfect system. But it’s the best that we have, and we get it right most of the time.

Here’s the amazing thing: Nobody died; in fact, nobody was even injured. We have to remember that this is the most important thing.

Yes, there was some luck involved. One family and pets were enjoying the evening outdoors on their patio. Seconds after the sirens blared, the tornado hit from behind their garage, so they didn’t see it and didn’t hear it; it just hit. The woman told me Monday that she held onto a wooden post as everything went wild around her. One of her dogs was picked up and swept away, found a short time later as it ran back from the other side of the house.

Another family was in their garage. A large tree slammed onto their driveway, barely missing the garage.

And finally, nobody was in the Growing Kids building. That, no doubt, saved lives.

So, remember that the weather is chaos and we are trying to forecast the future of chaos, which is impossible. During severe weather, we use all the technology that we have, but figuring out what a chaos science is going to do next is a real challenge. We all have to realize that random, bad, events can happen, even on the calmest and sunniest of days.