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With nearly 15 years of on-air experience, Chief Meteorologist Eric Sorensen has tracked more tornadoes and winter storms than anyone else on Rockford television.
This year marks a decade of forecasting at WREX, the station he watched as a child. He has been honored twice with Silver Dome Awards from the Illinois Broadcasters Association and nominated for an Emmy Award for Excellence in Broadcast Meteorology. Readers of the Rockford Register Star have named him the favorite television personality two years in a row.
Eric's work isn't limited to television. His forecasts are heard during the afternoon drive on seven radio stations in the Rockford Metro. He is also very active on Twitter and Facebook.
Eric's pride and joy is "Project: Tornado" a weather program each May that teaches students about the power of severe weather. To date, more than 35,000 students have completed his course!
He attended St. Edwards Grade School and Boylan High School here in Rockford and Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. After receiving his Bachelor of Science Degree in Meteorology, Eric chased tornadoes and hurricanes while working at KTRE in Lufkin, Texas and KLTV in Tyler, Texas.
Meteorologist Greg Bobos comes to Rockford via WYIN in Merrillville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Indiana University and had internships at WLS-TV in Chicago and WRTV in Indianapolis. He is originally from Dyer, Indiana.
Greg didn't always know weather was the job for him. "I grew up wanting to be an astronaut because I was fascinated by the unknown. As I got older my interests turned toward the weather for the same reason, the thrill of the unknown and ever changing."
Greg is a movie buff as well as a television junkie. He's also good on the drums and has been in various bands during his high school and college careers.
Meteorologist Joe Astolfi was born and raised in Sandusky, Ohio, home to the world famous Cedar Point Amusement Park.
As a child, Joe would always flip through the television stations to catch all the different weather forecasts; his favorite meteorologist is Dick Goddard, Cleveland’s Tom Skilling. Joe moved to Illinois to attend Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Meteorology and Geographic Information Systems certificate from NIU in 2009. Ever since, he has lived in the Rockford area and is thrilled to be able to forecast the weather for northern Illinois.
In his free time, Joe enjoys outdoor photography, walking along one of the Rockford region's many nature trails, anything geography or weather related, and of course visiting friends and family. His favorite places to relax and take in the natural scenery include Sinnissippi Park and Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve. He enjoys visiting museums. Chicago’s Field Museum and Rockford’s Burpee Museum of Natural History are his favorites.
For all of you out celebrating the end of 2011 and the start of 2012, there will be some snowy and windy weather to accompany your evening! The New Year will come roaring in after midnight with gusty winds and rain transitioning to snow. After the center of low pressure passes by, winds will shift from the south-southeast to the west-northwest. We can expect sustained wind speeds of 30 to 40 mph with occasional wind gusts exceeding 50 mph! As of 9pm Saturday, a Wind Advisory has been posted for Sunday across the entire WREX viewing area. A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect for Green County, Wisconsin from 3am until 9am.
The rain showers could reach us as early as 11pm and snow should start to mix in around 2 or 3am. Snow accumulations are expected to be light in Rockford and points south, with 1 inch at most. However, the advisory areas north of a Monroe to Janesville line may pick up 2 inches or more. That snow, combined with a gusty wind, will impact travel conditions for a short period of time just before dawn. Roads may become slippery with blowing and drifting snow. Take caution if you are out driving from 2am until 9am. The light snow will linger into Sunday morning, becoming more scattered in nature by noon. High temperatures for Sunday will occur just after midnight and will tumble into the 20s during the day. Wind chills could drop into the single digits.
If you have New Year’s Eve plans to celebrate and ring in 2012, a sweater or cardigan is definitely a good idea to have on hand for Saturday night. But if you’re a night owl and plan on staying out into early Sunday morning, you may want to put on your winter coat! We will have a cold front moving through the Rockford region just as the clock strikes midnight. There is a chance to see a passing rain shower or even a snow shower mixed in. The big story with this cold front isn’t so much the precipitation, but the cold temperatures it will usher in. High temperatures on Sunday will occur just after midnight and will be tumbling all throughout the morning and afternoon. By midday, temperatures will be in the 20s with winds howling out of the northwest. Wind chills will be approaching 10 degrees, so bundle up! Oh, and Happy New Year! -JA
Most of our northern Illinois Friends on Facebook say they have mostly seen light to moderate rain this morning. That was due to the over running of warm air from the warm front which is just south of us and that is why our temperatures stayed above freezing.
However, near-freezing to freezing temperatures created slick conditions in southern Wisconsin as freezing rain, sleet and snow fell through the early morning hours. As we head further into the morning hours, rain will likely move into far southern Wisconsin, while light snow accumulation will be possible in the Madison area.
Rain chances will likely continue for northern Illinois throughout the morning hours with a rain/snow mixture developing by later this afternoon. Minor accumulation is possible. This wintry mix will finally end later this evening with clearing skies overnight. This will cause our temperature to fall into the lower and mid 20s, which could create a few slick spots for early Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, another warm front will slide to our north producing temperature in the mid 40s under mostly sunny skies.
A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect through noon Friday for Southern Wisconsin and may be issued before the morning commute for Northern Illinois (if conditions warrant).
Freezing rain, sleet, and snow will accumulate by morning. Even though snowfall accumulations for Southern Wisconsin will be light, there is a threat of a tenth of an inch of ice accumulation. This will cause roadways to become slick and hazardous.
Allow extra time to get to your destination Friday morning.
Temperatures will rise above freezing areawide around 8pm on Friday bringing an end to any icy conditions. -ES
The driving force behind the very mild weather in December was less affected by La Niña and more affected by the North Atlantic Oscillation.
In the fall, most Meteorologists believed we were in store for a cold, snowy winter. The reasoning behind that is the fact that most recent La Niña winters have been cold and snowy. It was easy to make that cause and effect analysis.
So, why has it been warm and wet? We have to look more closely at the NAO. [The graphic to the left is a 'spaghetti plot' forecast of the NAO over the next few weeks. The dark line in the middle is the average...which goes negative by the middle of January.] The North Atlantic Ocean is the tilt of the jet stream east of the North American continent. When the NAO is negative, a large ridge is located over Greenland giving this pattern a nickname of “Greenland Block.” When the NAO is positive, there is low pressure over Greenland and high pressure over the eastern half of the continent.
Bottom line is if the NAO goes negative in a La Niña period we’re going to be in for quite a bit of snow! (Insert dramatic *duh, duh, dunnnnnnn* here.)
As I walked my dog this afternoon with just a sweatshirt on, it reminded me of the winters I worked in Tyler, Texas. Tyler is situated in Northeast Texas, about 90 miles east of Dallas. While the summers saw many 100 degree days, temperatures in the heart of winter were in the 40s and 50s.
Today’s high temperatures reached into the upper 40s across Northern Illinois. These temperatures are more typical for Amarillo, Tulsa, Little Rock, Nashville, Atlanta, and Richmond! So picture the weather map with Illinois situated over Oklahoma and Texas. This is what the weather is like there around the New Year.
Warm air overnight produced a batch of freezing rain/drizzle this morning. This created very slick conditions on roads, sidewalks, and driveways.
Another low-pressure system will slide through the area later tonight and into Friday morning. This will lead to another round of wintry weather, which will make our roads slick and slushy overnight and into your Friday morning commute. The precipitation will likely start as rain this evening, then changes into a wintry mix of rain and snow during the overnight hours. Moments of freezing rain and sleet are possible. Some areas in southern Wisconsin could receive up to an inch of snow accumulation while northern Illinois will likely see more of a light slushy accumulation.
Over the next five days, several clipper systems will bring some accumulating snows to the Upper Midwest. Unfortunately for snowlovers around here we won’t get much. There’s a chance of a light wintry mix late tonight and again Thursday night into Friday. However, the accumulating snows will remain north of the IL/WI border.
Even though we won’t get the ground white around here, it’ll still get mighty chilly next week. The reason being? We’ll put down snow to our north which will won’t allow an advancing Arctic airmass to modify before entering our neck of the woods. Right now we’re projecting high temperatures in the middle 20s with nighttime temperatures in the low teens (and perhaps single digits). It’s not anything too out of the ordinary for January, however it will be a shock to our system after such a warm December. -ES
A “low impact” light wintry mix is anticipated late tonight into early Thursday. Roads could get slick between 1:00am and 8:00am, just in time for the morning commute. Especially prone are bridge decks and overpasses as they will be colder early on.
Precipitation may begin in the form of light snow with only a dusting possible.
A bit more moisture is anticipated for Thursday night into Friday morning. Another wintry mix of snow and freezing rain is possible. This could mean some accumulations of ice up to 1/8″. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if we were put under our first advisory of the winter season…most likely a Freezing Rain Advisory for slick roadways early Friday. -ES
Indiana State Fair Collapse – Seven people were killed and more than 40 injured when a strong gust of wind toppled a lighting grid on the main stage at the Indiana State Fair on August 13th. Many people were waiting for Sugarland to perform when a 70 mph wind gust rolled through the fair toppling the stage, crushing many people. The band had performed here in Rockford just a day earlier.
A warning was given to people in the area about 10 minutes before the collapse, however many didn’t heed the warning. Numerous lawsuits have been filed on behalf of the victims.
Video: WTHR-TV report
Southern Plains Heat, Drought, and Fire – 2011 marked the hottest summers on record for Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana. Wichita Falls, Texas was one of the many cities tallying more than 100 days of 100 degree heat.
According to the Texas Forest Service, nearly a half a billion trees have been killed just this year alone. In a Reuters report, Forest Service Sustainable Forestry chief Burl Carraway said the tree loss is in both urban and rural areas and represents as much as 10 percent of all trees in the state! One of the hardest hit areas is in East Texas, known as the Piney Woods, one of the country’s leading areas for wood and paper production. It’s not yet clear what long-term damage there will be do those industries.
The drought caused a massive wildfire on September 4th near Bastrop Texas. By the time the fire was put out on October 10th, 1,600 homes were lost. Two people were killed. The total losses to crops, livestock, timber, and homes (burned by fire) may exceed $10.0 Billion and rise as drought continues.
Video: KXAN-TV report
Halloween Nor’easter – A strong, cold storm system brewed just off of the Eastern Seaboard in October causing a very rare early season Nor’easter for many big cities, including New York. This was only the 4th time New York City saw measurable snow in October. Snowfall ranged from a few inches to over a foot in higher elevations of New England. Because it occurred just two months after Hurricane Irene, may trees were already stressed. Because most trees had not shed their leaves, breaking limbs took out power lines. The record blackouts that occurred during the hurricane were surpassed as 3.3 million people saw power disrupted, some for as many as ten days.
36 people died as a result of the storm. Damage estimates are near $4 billion dollars.
North Carolina Tornado Outbreak – To put our number seven weather event in perspective, consider this fact: The United States averages 160 tornadoes every April. In just three days, between April 14th and April 16th, a mind-boggling 178 tornadoes touched down! Most occurred in North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia. Damage totals surpassed the two billion mark. 38 people died as a result of the tornadoes, 22 of which in North Carolina alone.
What’s interesting is this outbreak produced very few tornadoes classified as “intense.” There were 14 EF-3 tornadoes and no EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes.in North Carolina].
Video: WRAL-TV coverage as a tornado moved into downtown Raleigh.
The Good Friday Tornado – Just six days after the tornadoes struck North Carolina, a major U.S. city saw the strongest tornado in four decades. During the evening hours of Good Friday, April 22nd an EF-4 tornado ripped a 21 mile path of destruction through St. Louis County, Missouri, St. Louis City, Missouri, and Madison County, Illinois.
Even though an extremely strong tornado devastated a highly-populated metropolitan area, there were no fatalities. This is attributable to the fact the National Weather Service office averaged 34 minutes lead-time before the tornadoes. In addition, wall-to-wall television coverage, social media reports, and quick reaction by the public makes this event a success story when it comes to large urban tornadoes.
The tornado will be remembered because it struck St. Louis’ Lambert International Airport, blowing out windows and peeling a large section of roof from Concourse C. Five people were injured at the airport but many pilots and passengers on waiting aircraft weren’t notified of the tornado warning. This has opened up dialogue so airport passengers and pilots are notified of weather hazards while on the ground.
January 24, 1967 was the last time an EF-4 tornado struck St. Louis. The paths of both tornadoes are eerily similar.
Video: Raw footage from inside St. Louis-Lambert Airport as tornado struck.
Groundhog Day Blizzard – Midwesterners won’t soon forget the weather from Groundhog’s Day 2011 as 1-2 feet of snow fell from northeastern Oklahoma to lower Michigan. The hardest hit states were Missouri and Illinois. The City of Chicago was brought to a standstill after 20.2 inches of snow fell. Hundreds of people were stranded on Lake Shore Drive during the rush hour as a bus jack-knifed. For 8 hours, responders worked to free the stranded motorists all while dealing with heavy snow and 60 mph wind.
Nearly five dozen motorists were stranded along Illinois Highway 47 near Huntley, Illinois for nearly 12 hours. Another three dozen motorists became stranded on Illinois Highway 72 in Northern Illinois. Cell phone calls from motorists were played on local media as snowmobile clubs raced to the rescue.
At its height, 100,000 people were without power in Northern and Central Illinois. 80 traffic accidents were reported in Northern Illinois due to the snow. 1,100 flights were canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Insured losses were greater than $1 Billion with total losses near $2 Billion. 36 people died as a result of the blizzard.
Video: WLS 6pm newscast
Mississippi River Flooding – It rained three times as much as it should have this spring along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In addition, many places within the watershed saw near record snowfalls. This combined to produce an historic flood along the Mississippi and its tributaries. Estimated losses are in the three to four billion dollar range with at least six deaths. On May 2nd, a decision was made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to blast away the Birds Point-New Madrid Levee system. This saved the town of Cairo, Illinois from inundation. Unfortunately, it meant that $317 million worth of agriculture and property was inundated and destroyed.
Within a week, the floodwater reached Memphis, Tennessee inundating much of the city. By the second week of May, the waters were receding in Illinois and Missouri but the devastation was just beginning downstream. For the first time since 1973 the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana was opened. This allowed the flooded Mississippi River to change course and flood the Atchafalaya River basin instead. This saved New Orleans from epic flooding but caused flooding of small towns, homesteads, and low-lying agriculture areas of Southern Louisiana.
Total estimated damage of the Mississippi River flooding: $5 Billion.
Video: KTVI live report as levees were breached intentionally.
PBS Report on flooding in Louisiana
Hurricane Irene – The only hurricane to make an impact on the United States coast in 2011 did more than $10 billion damage and killed 56 people. The ninth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season formed in the Windward Islands and moved west making a landfall in Puerto Rico, severely flooding many locations, killing one person.
Irene intensified into a Category 3 hurricane while passing the Bahamas before making a landfall on North Carolina’s Outer Banks on August 27th as a Category 1 hurricane. After reemerging over water and weakening to a tropical storm, Irene came ashore a final time near Brigantine Island, New Jersey early on August 28th.
Forecasts were dire in New York City. Enough so, that the MTA ceased all train service the night before landfall…the first time in history mass transportation was halted. This was done to protect the assets of the train cars in the event of inundation. Conditions never reached the serious projections in New York City causing many to blame local media for blowing the storm out of proportion.
Unfortunately power outages were record-breaking and within 36 hours the state of Vermont experienced the worst flooding in state history.
Video: Jim Cantore reacts to Vermont flooding on The Weather Channel
Midwest Tornado Outbreak (Joplin) – When most people think of “Tornado Alley,” few people think of Missouri. However the city of Joplin, Missouri was brought to its knees as an EF-5 tornado touched down on May 22, 2011.
Between May 21st and May 26th, 185 people died as a result of 180 tornadoes. Most of the deaths occurred within the city limits of Joplin, Missouri on the afternoon of May 22nd as an EF-5 tornado devastated much of the town including the largest hospital in the region.
Earlier in the day, a deadly tornado was spawned in the Minneapolis area. At about the same time as the tornado in Joplin, tornadoes were spawned in the Rockford metro. WREX performed non-stop coverage, even while evacuating the studio as the tornado moved close by. Due to our coverage, the real extent of the damage in Joplin wasn’t seen until the next day.
Tornadoes were reported in fifteen states. Damage from the outbreak is estimated at $9.1 billion.
Video: The Weather Channel was chasing the storm along Interstate 44 and was able to broadcast live within minutes in Joplin.
2011 Super Outbreak (Tuscaloosa) – Between April 25th and April 28th, 353 tornadoes touched down killing 346 people. The outbreak was the largest in United States history with more twisters than the 1974 Super Outbreak.
Many major cities were directly impacted by strong tornadoes including Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville, Alabama and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The most notable tornado from this event struck the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama on April 27th. The tornado was on the ground for nearly 81 miles and was as wide as 1.5 miles. It killed 64 people and injured 1,500. It was given a final rating of EF-4 with wind of 190mph. The three-day outbreak caused $10.2 billion in damage.
To put this disaster in perspective, the costliest natural disaster in United States history was Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which was ten times more costly and killed five times as many people.
In total, 546 people lost their lives because of tornadoes in 2011. That’s more people killed because of twisters since 1936, long before widespread mass communication via television, radio, and social media.
Video: ABC33/40 coverage of Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado as it happened.