By: Jacob Kessler
A tornado entered Williams County back on the night of March 27th, 1991. This F3 rated tornado crossed into the county and headed for the area of Nettle Lake in Northwest Township.
It struck the area, destroying many buildings and injured 18 people as it continued its path up to the top end of the county where it jumped further east as it entered into Michigan.
During its lifecycle, a total of 42 people were injured, and one person was killed. This death did not occur in Williams County and the 18 injuries were noted as minor.
According to the Williams County Emergency Management Director at the time, Mose Mohre, the hardest hit area was to the south and southeast shores of Nettle Lake where cottages, mobile homes, campers and other property were destroyed.
Approximately 200 homes were either damaged or destroyed in the area. The 1881 section of the Nettle Lake United Brethren Church was also destroyed.
Many people have stories to tell about what happened that night. Barbara Clevenger Fogel is one of those people and has been posting her twister story online for the past few weeks.
Her story begins at the Edon-Northwest School where they had a tornado drill that day in order to prepare for the severe weather that was possible.
“We had a tornado drill that day in order to prepare. At the time, we were still in the old building, and that day, as I led students down to the old basement, I happened to glance out the window.”
“The sky was rolling, and the wind was really blowing through the trees. I thought to myself, we are going to get hit.”
She described the calm before the storm as a warm day with sunshine and blue skies. But there was a cold ominous mass heading their way that would smash into their area, sending the warm air aloft, and creating a perfect environment for severe storms and tornados. Later that day the ingredients came together, and a tornado was born.
“It was about 8:30, storming, and we were watching Unsolved Mysteries. Suddenly, I heard it, a sound I was warned I would remember the rest of my life. A freight train. A jet. I screamed, “Get to the basement!”
“By the time my hand was on the cellar doorknob, the tornado had passed, the power was out, and looking out the window, I saw nothing but an endless wall of pitch black that seemed to go on forever.”
“Blackness was everywhere as we stumbled around in the dark to find flashlights and candles. When I looked out the kitchen window to the east, I could see the red taillights of a vehicle that obviously could not get down Highway 49.”
“I learned later that our neighbor to the south had lost his barn, and what was left of it was in the road. When daylight broke, we were like so many others in this part of Northwest Township, in the dark.”
“Luckily, the phones still worked off and on, so I was able to call my mother in Camden and let her know we were okay.”
“I had no idea how much damage the tornado had done; I just knew it went through very close and that we still had our home.”
“I decided to venture out into the blackness and check on all the outbuildings and animals. It was so eerie out there as I left the house, but I was determined that nothing was going to stop me.”
“Heaving a sigh of relief to see that the barns and shed were standing, I checked on the dogs, who were just fine.”
“All horses were accounted for, and the only one who seemed uneasy was my horse Donny, who kept pacing back and forth in his corral, something he never kid.”
“I believe he had the daylights scared out of him when the tornado came through, and it was several hours before he settled down.”
“The reports were coming in right and left on the radio. Destruction in our township, and the bulk of it was Nettle Lake. My heart broke for my people; I wondered about my students, especially.”
“I prayed no one was hurt or even worse. When it was announced that the church on the east side of the lake was gone, it really hit me how bad things must have been.”
“The radio announced that school was closed and that Mr. Adams (Kent), our superintendent, had opened the Cooney school as a shelter for those whose homes were damaged or destroyed.”
“There were pleas to avoid certain areas because of downed trees. Those who had not been affected left their homes in search of those who needed assistance.”
“Help was coming from all directions, and that moved me deeply. I realized that Easter weekend was approaching and wondered how it would affect those who had lost so much.”
“Jill’s statement had me wanting to see Nettle Lake, so I loaded up the girls and headed out to see how far we could get.”
“The morning was clear, cold, and sunny, and you would never know, unless you scanned the landscape to the south of us, that a tornado had gone through.”
“As we crested the hill, the view we took in was an absolute nightmare. Like some horror movie from which we would be able to escape.”
“For as far as we could see, the south end of the lake looked like a giant had taken a blender, turned it up on high, and splintered and mixed the shore, the homes, and the trees. “
“My heart sank when I saw that Clyde Payne’s log cabin that he had painstakingly built himself was nothing but match sticks.”
“Shady Shores, known for its beautiful grove-type camping, was gone. Piles of shredded trees, cottages, campers, and whatever else were everywhere.”
“Barns were down, livestock killed, and houses that still managed to stand were stripped of eave spouting, siding, even trees in their yards.”
“All us girls was doing was sighing and weeping. Later I was remembering the Palm Sunday tornadoes in 1965 when I heard witnesses of the Nettle Lake tornado share strange scenes.”
“People talked about pieces of straw being driven through two by fours, for example. I never saw that, but I saw Clyde Payne’s log cabin left in pieces, while a house trailer, slightly to the north and across the street, remained intact near the lake.”
“Later I was told a story in more detail about that situation, and I couldn’t help but believe it was a Providential miracle.”
“Two students of mine, both brothers, were ordered by their grandmother to get out of that house trailer and take cover in the cabin, probably because it was sturdier.”
“The tornado was getting closer, blowing through trees to the southwest of the lake. The grandmother screamed at the boys, who already left ahead of her, that they would not make it in time to the cabin, and they needed to come back.”
“Good thing they did, even if they took cover in a horse trailer, something most of us have heard that one should never do. The house trailer was spared, and the cabin was destroyed.”
“Over on County Road Q, where more damaged occurred, the frame of a pole barn being built stood untouched.”
“Across the road and a little further west, a modern one-story house was destroyed, but just a few yards next to it, and abandoned farmhouse, empty for years, remained straight and secure, probably almost as much as the day it was built.”
“We returned home and waited out the day, hoping for stories of survival and for the power to come back on.”
“A man stopped at our farm with a big tanker truck and asked if our horses needed water. We were so very thankful.”
“At some point that same day, the power was restored, and the folks in Northwest Township began to make their way back to normal.”
“There was a strong sense of community after the disaster, and people were out and about helping each other with the cleanup.”
Many people have stories to tell about the horrific damage that took place that day and changed the lives of so many people.
The tornado not only left a scare on the landscape but in the lives of those who lived there as well.
The area has since recovered, and in some ways has flourished. The hot summers bring people and nature to the 94-acre lake that is one of jewels of Williams County.
It goes to show that many things are able to be fixed through the passing of time. The powerful tornado that struck that day destroyed many things, but it did not destroy the spirit of those that lived there and continue to live there.
Jacob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org