TRAVERSE CITY — Jan Cleland's typically brief, uneventful walk home from her niece’s house took an ominous turn when dark clouds rolled overhead, the vanguard of a furious storm that caught Cleland by surprise.
“I watched and said ‘My God, the sky is turning green. I better get home,’” Cleland said.
She quickly headed east on 12th Street’s south sidewalk, but then thought better of it and took shelter in a neighbor's house after a wind gust tore apart a tree across the street and sent a mass of waterlogged branches crumbling to the sidewalk below.
Cleland pointed to the mass of splintered wood and drenched leaves that plastered the north sidewalk as she shared her close-call story with neighbors who idled near the Pine Street intersection.
“I was there,” she said. “Isn’t this wild?”
Cleland was one of many left surveying the damage after a massive storm pummeled bayside neighborhoods and downtown streets with 70 mph winds and torrential rain. Wind snapped tree branches, knocked out power and prematurely closed the curtain on outdoor portions of the Traverse City Film Festival.
Paul Barbas watched the clouds barreling in off Grand Traverse Bay, full speed out of the west.
Barbas, owner of Opa! Coney and Grill, arrived at the Open Space in Traverse City Sunday to prepare gyros and other food for visitors who planned to watch a movie outside. But as temperatures dipped the wind gathered strength and toppled recycling bins, portable toilets and soda coolers.
Barbas figured the show wouldn't go on.
"As you turned around, almost like a domino effect, it just started getting worse and worse until everything collapsed," Barbas said.
Jim Keysor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, described the spate of storms that battered the Grand Traverse region Sunday as "a long-duration, multiple-round event."
The system's last round mostly affected Traverse City as it moved through the area at about 4:30 p.m., he said.
The Traverse City storm cell battered equipment and tents at the Open Space as volunteers prepared for the closing night showing of "The Lego Movie." Sustained winds between 60 and 70 mph snapped trees along Grandview Parkway in the wake of an ominous wall of clouds that hovered over the city before the deluge began.
Keysor said the string of evening storms stretched from Benzie to Kalkaska counties and dropped hail in some areas. Forecasters received reports of 1-inch-diameter hail in Suttons Bay where two storms marched through during the day.
“I haven’t seen a storm like this in 30 years,” Wendi Schieber said as she watched from her porch while city traffic crews directed congested traffic near Pinecrest Avenue.
Schieber she was relaxing at home when her cellphone began to buzz with news and alerts about the coming storm. She watched the sky turn green before she decided it was time to head to her basement for safety.
“This time the weatherman got it right,” she said.
Svea Wikstrand, of Traverse City, was on the third floor of Wilson's Antique Store downtown about two miles from Schieber when the power suddenly cut out.
"It was pitch black; the third floor doesn't have windows there," she said. "They had to come up with flashlights to help us come down."
Nearly 17,800 Consumers Energy customers in the area were without power at 8:30 p.m. Consumers Energy Spokesman Dennis McKee said workers were trying to restore power and would work through the night.
“These are very, very severe storms, and high winds in rural areas of our service territory affecting trees are causing significant numbers of outages,” McKee said.
Traverse City Light and Power Executive Director Tim Arends said Sunday evening that about 3,000 customers lost power at the peak of the outage, with about 800 restored by 7:15 p.m. The area near East Bay Boulevard and Eastern Avenue will take longest to restore, but everyone else should have power by Monday morning, he said.
About another 8,300 Cherryland Electric Cooperative customers were without power as of 8:30 p.m.
Dispatchers for Grand Traverse County stayed busy as people called in downed power lines and trees, some of which blocked roads. Dispatch Supervisor Patrick Andresen said there were at least 65 calls about trees down or trees that fell on lines that didn't present immediate danger.
"All the fire departments and crews are out working, but it'll take a while," Andresen said.
The conditions combined to make driving chaotic in some places.
A stop for a cup of coffee kept Leif A. Gruenberg, 56, of Kewadin, from being stuck on the road as the storm front hit. The shearing winds that toppled trees came as a shock to Gruenberg, though perhaps not as much as the behavior of his fellow drivers as he cautiously wheeled down U.S. 31.
It was “mayhem,” he said. Cars didn’t heed emergency vehicles or crews out with chainsaws trying to clear tree limbs.
“I would say the thing that was most poignant about it was the lack of wisdom and concern of drivers,” he said.
Moviegoers at the Lars Hockstad Auditorium had no idea a storm raged outside until the power shut off briefly during a film.
Bill Cartwright and his wife Sandy said the theater went pitch black.
"But soon everyone had their glowing cellphones out to see," Sandy Cartwright said.
The outage at the auditorium lasted only a few minutes before being restored.
Yvonne Babin, of Port Huron, was in a Film Festival screening at the Inside Out Gallery's theater the Buzz when the storm hit.
"When we got out of the theater, there was a lot of water coming in on the floor from the garage door there," she said. "The volunteers did a good job mopping that up."
The storm's impact spread well beyond Traverse City. Brandon Gamelin stood outside his home on Grandview Road in Leelanau County and surveyed the storm’s aftermath. A big limb from a locust tree lay across a set of power lines, and that extra weight splintered a power pole at the edge of Gamelin’s driveway.
“It just snapped that thing like a twig,” Gamelin said.
Downed tree limbs turned Grandview Road and nearby side streets into obstacle courses, and Elmwood Township fire crews had to chainsaw the tops from two massive trees that fell across M-22 north of Carter Road.
The roof of All About Water, a kayak and standup paddleboard business in Cedar, was blown off during the storms. Business owner Jeff Gagie said the building's slanted roof came off and flew into a van and trailer holding kayaks.
“I think it was a combination of the wind and the rain that knocked the van and trailer over – that’s a 15-passenger Ford van, it weighs thousands of pounds and it was just knocked right over.”
Staff writer MATT TROUTMAN contributed to this report.