Storm of the Century in Sleeping Bear Dunes

On Sunday, August 2, winds up to 100 miles an hour swept off Lake Michigan and across the Northeast Lake Michigan coast, downing thousands of trees and shutting off power, phones and internet. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (aka The Most Beautiful Place in America since Good Morning America Viewers voted it that in 2011) and surrounding towns were among the Ground Zero spots.

The storm, called a straight-line windstorm, hit sometime after 4 in the afternoon on a day that looked at one point like it might clear after a morning thunderstorm. The wind and rain lasted just 20 minutes—but long enough to topple power poles and ancient trees like dominos. Trees with girths three-and-four feet in diameter and that had towered a hundred feet into the sky for centuries, smashed cars, blocked roads and driveways and ripped holes in roofs. The juggernaut sliced through the park’s popular Alligator Hill hiking trails and D.H. Day Campground—full at the most popular summer weekend of the year. It went on to scour the forested landscape along Big Glen Lake. There are five roads in and out of Glen Arbor. Fallen trees and power poles blocked them all.

Glen Arbor went nearly a week without power. Two weeks after the storm, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and CR-675 has only just completely reopened. The beautiful, once shady, Northwood Drive that runs along Glen Lake’s north shore, is still not open to through traffic.

So much destruction, yet here are the miracles:

Miracle 1. No one was killed.

Miracle 2. While one man was seriously injured when a tree fell on his car while he was driving on Dunn’s Farm Road (CR675) in Glen Arbor, rescuers were able to extract him from his vehicle on a road that was so clogged with fallen forest and power lines that it didn’t open until 10 days after the storm. Since Glen Arbor was virtually shut off from the outside world by fallen trees, the heroic, resourceful rescuers boated him across Glen Lake on a pontoon where he was transported to Munson Hospital in Traverse City.

Miracle 3: The thousands of people in harms way that day all made some minute decision that saved their lives by nano-seconds. Nearly everyone has a story of “I could have been on that road; I could have been in the driveway; I could have been hiking …”

Carol Worsely, the owner of Thyme Inn in Glen Arbor, was sitting at her desk above a garage behind the inn when she sensed the sudden stillness before a storm and hurried downstairs. Seconds later a mammoth pine sliced through the roof landing on the desk.

Fifteen minutes before the storm hit shore, the campers in D.H. Day Campground heeded the calls that came from park officials to take shelter in campground buildings.

Somehow a group of hikers caught on Alligator Hill—the worst ravaged area in the park—managed to escape falling trees. Though it took hours for rescuers to locate them and direct them out of what had become a thick jungle of grounded trunks and canopy, the hikers were able to escape without injuries.

Miracle 4: The community—stressed and in some cases traumatized, un-showered, lacking freshwater, flush toilets, fresh food—stayed calm and giving in the storm’s aftermath. Upscale Blu Restaurant served the food it was preparing for a Sunday night crowd at the peak of summer to the town hall to share with whomever needed it. Neighbors with chainsaws and rakes showed up. Businesses with generators shared their power for recharging cell phones and providing drinking water.

Miracle 5: Many homes were damaged—but none collapsed killing or injuring anyone—a testament to an honest and skilled Northern Michigan building industry.

Miracle 6: None of us, at least those old enough to read this, will live long enough to see the forest restored. But we will witness it begin to heal as early as next spring.

Help support the Glen Arbor area by volunteering or donating. Learn more here!

 

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