Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 9, 2013

More storms on horizon following lightning strikes

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Lightning never strikes the same place twice, as the saying goes. Unless that place is Traverse City.

At least three lightning bolts hit in and around the city on Monday, and forecasters predict more nasty weather today.

Lightning from Monday’s storm damaged one historic structure, burned another and knocked out power to thousands of homes.

The worst reported damaged occurred early Monday west of downtown off North Long Lake Road, where lightning ignited a roughly 150-year-old barn.

Barn owner Bob Samuelson said the fire demolished the structure in about 30 minutes.

“There was no stopping it,” he said.

Samuelson said the wooden building was a homestead barn from the 1800s. State officials later used it and surrounding land to grow food for the Traverse City State Hospital, one of the barn’s many uses over the years.

“I had a book that told the whole story, but it went up with the barn,” Samuelson said.

Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department crews arrived at the burning barn at 3:30 a.m. Fire was so intense that firefighters focused on saving nearby storage structures, Metro Fire Chief Pat Parker said. Some dry wood inside the barn contributed to the fire’s savage nature.

“That was a heck of a fuel load,” Parker said.

Samuelson and several friends restored the barn as they grew up. It contained an upstairs living space, a wood burning stove and a workshop.

Samuelson said he plans to rebuild.

“The most valuable thing to salvage, which is not a small thing, is the memories,” he said.

Lightning also struck the towering dome of Traverse City’s Central United Methodist Church Monday morning. The church celebrated the 100th anniversary of its dedication last month.

The bolt dislodged several tiles and possibly led to some water damage, said Darcy Dewling, the church’s treasurer and executive assistant to pastors.

Dewling said people working in the church heard a “huge bang” when the lightning struck. The church’s lights flickered and it lost phone service, but no one was hurt.

Another bolt of lightning knocked out power to more than 3,300 Consumers Energy and 1,400 Traverse City Light & Power customers on Old Mission Peninsula at about 8:30 a.m.

The lightning struck and downed a 46,000-volt Consumers power line, which fell on a distribution line shared by both electricity providers, Consumers Energy spokesman Roger Morgenstern said.

Utility crews restored power on the peninsula by mid-afternoon Monday.

National Weather Service meteorologists said it’s hard to predict how much lightning a given storm will produce, but some types of thunderstorms produce more lightning than others. Meteorologists did not note anything irregular about Monday’s storm.

Monday’s dramatic weather was the result of a low pressure system that moved across Lake Michigan from Wisconsin. It affected much of the northern lower peninsula with most areas receiving between .75 and 1.5 inches of rain, meteorologist Dave Lawrence said.

Lawrence called the rain “much needed” after several weeks of dry weather. He said a cold front that’s expected to move through the area this afternoon and evening could bring more severe storms with high wind speeds.

“It’s something we’ll keep an eye on,” Lawrence said.