LAKE MICHIGAN WAVES

Mark Fogle of Interlochen walks back to his vehicle at the Elberta Beach parking lot after checking out the Lake Michigan waves brought by Thursday’s winds.

TRAVERSE CITY — Absconding garbage bins, overturned welcome mats and the viscera of at least eight felled trees danced through Traverse City like tumbleweeds.

The crisp, blustering wind to blame whipped hair around heads and threatened hats, and persisted throughout Thursday.

The blow held steady at 25 mph — and peaked in Traverse City with gusts of 51 mph just before 7 a.m.

Two hours north, Pellston recorded the region’s peak gusts at 61 mph, added National Weather Service Meteorologist Monique Runyan. Sustained gusts across the mitten’s western tip averaged around 42 to 43 mph.

That’s no stiff breeze — NWS standards define such such strong wind as gale-force. And while an overnight calm brought respite from the cool, cut-through-jacket gusts, it was a temporary one. The air’s autumn-esque chill proved a marked change from mild weather and balmy temperatures earlier in the week.

And on Thursday, it kept at least a couple local crews busy.

Grand Traverse County Road Commission workers fielded calls throughout Thursday, said Superintendent Jay Saksewski.

By mid-afternoon, a good 8 to 12 fallen trees had been cleared — most of them partially or entirely blocking traffic, he added.

“Today alone, we had four different calls from Central (Dispatch) — that’s pretty significant when compared to a normal day where, you know, we don’t get any,” Saksewski said.

Runyan said the wind was driven by a deep, strong low-pressure system that, as of mid-afternoon Thursday, had moved toward Ontario.

With it went the storm’s strongest wind, Runyan said. Still, locals might want to secure their lighter garden decor and stow the garbage cans, lest they venture onto neighboring properties Friday as well.

“I know my trash cans ended up in the next yard,” Runyan said. “Certainly, it could produce some tree damage, some shingles off roofs. Anything loose could be blown around all over the place.”

Road Commission crews have kept it under control, but local fire departments are ready to jump into tree-clearing action themselves, if need be.

Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department Chief Pat Parker said he’d seen not a single downed wire nor toppled tree Thursday afternoon — at least, none his firefighters were called to assist with.

“We’re prepared for that and our people are loosening up, but nothing yet,” Parker said, adding his stations are prepared too — armed with generators just as eager for some action. “Our crews went through their trucks today and made sure the chainsaws were all sharp and fueled up, just kinda getting prepared for what happens.”

He knows better than to relax — in past years, the off gust or random bluster can easily bring in 30-some calls within hours.

“We’re prepared for that and we have our stations staffed,” Parker said. “Have incident, we will be there.”

It seems a universal mindset — vigilance doesn’t hurt.

Four dedicated Road Commission patrol crews spent Thursday — and may well spend Friday — on the road clearing smaller issues. Still being in winter-mode has its perks, Saksewski added: like having around-the-clock staffing built-in.

“Our guys never have trouble,” Saksewski said, noting the teams’ wealth of training in safely, effectively removing completely collapsed trees, and those leaning up against other trees, power lines — really, trees leaning up against just about anything.

“We have a series of chipping machines, a fleet of chainsaws, a bunch of men and women with strong backs and good work ethics,” Saksewski said. “They’re ready for whatever Mother Nature can throw at us.”

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