Project: Tornado sign-up has begun

BEGINSAttention teachers and principals! We want to come to your school!

Every year, we put together an extensive education campaign called “Project: Tornado.” the 13 Weather Authority team travels to at least one school every day for an entire month! Our visits in gymnasiums and auditoriums are complete with interactive demonstrations, documentary video produced here at WREX, and ending with a question and answer session. Every student will go home with a full-color booklet so the information is shared with family and friends. Best part of this? It’s a free service of WREX!

We are very proud to have seen 35,000+ students complete our course in the past seven years. If you’re interested in our program, click here.


Posted under Project: Tornado, safety

This post was written by Eric Sorensen on March 24, 2014

Fewer Tornadoes in 2013: Nationally, Not Locally

Even though we are heading into the colder months, it is important to remember that severe weather and tornadoes can happen anytime during the year. 

With the main tornado season behind us, both Illinois and Wisconsin have had less tornado activity than expected. This follows the national trend.  Only 770 tornadoes (as of this blog post) have been reported across the United States, fewer than any year since 2005.

Illinois & Wisconsin Tornadoes since 2004

Illinois & Wisconsin Tornadoes since 2004


Just 20 tornadoes have been reported in the Land of Lincoln from January 1st through today (October 16th).  The number is even less for Wisconsin, with 15 confirmed tornadoes.  Illinois sees 54 tornadoes on average every year; Wisconsin averages 24 tornadoes.

One of the main reasons why this year’s tornado count is so low was the weather pattern during Spring.  Spring was filled with extended periods of rain and slow-moving weather systems, which helped keep temperatures down.  Tornadic thunderstorms often thrive when there is a clash of airmass and temperature, something which did not happen much in 2013.

As we transitioned to Summer, the jet stream–which drives our weather–moved well to the north along the Canadian border, keeping much of the nation in a 3 month period of drought.

Believe it or not, 40% of Illinois’ tornadoes this year occurred in the Stateline area!  With 8 tornadoes between May 19th and June 24th, we had an above average year.  Since 1950, the Stateline sees 3 or 4 tornadoes on average per year. 

In 2013, most local tornadoes were brief and rated EF-0.  But on June 12th, an EF-2 tornado touched down in western Carroll County near Savanna and Mount Carroll.  On the same day, an EF-1 tornado pushed through southern DeKalb County near Shabbona.

2013 Local Tornadoes

2013 Local Tornadoes

The year is not over, but hopefully we will not have to endure anymore tornadoes.  They can and do occur at anytime of year (Caledonia Tornado in November 2010, Poplar Grove Tornado in January 2008).



Posted under 13 Climate Authority, news, Project: Tornado, science, severe weather, statistics, tornado, weather

This post was written by Joe Astolfi on October 16, 2013

Stateline Tornadoes Since 1950

A recent report shows that the United States has had fewer than normal tornadoes during 2013.  Illinois and Wisconsin, as a whole, have witnessed the same trend.  That is not the case locally, however.

Number of Local Tornadoes by County Since 1950

Number of Local Tornadoes by County Since 1950

The Stateline had 8 confirmed tornadoes so far this year, all occurring between the end of May and the end of June.  Since 1950, our local area averages 3 to 4 tornadoes every year.  Within our 13 county area, Lee & Whiteside County in Illinois and Rock & Walworth County in Wisconsin have picked up the most tornadoes since 1950.  We all have the same exact risk, however, as nothing in our geography prevents tornadoes from forming or the paths they take.

Let’s hope the national trend continues locally for the rest of the year!





Posted under 13 Climate Authority, news, Project: Tornado, severe weather, statistics, tornado, weather

This post was written by Joe Astolfi on October 16, 2013

Severe Weather Peaks

Last night brought the country our biggest tornado outbreak of the year with a confirmed F4 that touched ground in Easter Texas near Granbury. This mile wide twister has claimed 6 lives, has left 7 people missing, has injured dozens more and has detroyed hundreds of homes. This outbreak isn’t uncommon, however after last year’s relatively tame severe weather season, it caught many people off guard. It is important to remember that May is peak season for tornadic activity, with the peak for thunderstorm activity coming in July. -Greg12


Posted under Project: Tornado, severe weather, statistics, tornado, weather

This post was written by GregBobos on May 16, 2013

Project: Tornado Question of the Day

I had the opportunity to visit two schools on Friday for Project: Tornado 2013.  My first stop in the morning was near Poplar Grove at North Boone Upper Elementary School, where I spoke with 5th and 6th graders.  My second stop of the day brought me to Franklin Grove, where I spoke with 3rd and 4th graders at Ashton Franklin Center Elementary School.

A great question was brought up at AFC and it stumped me!  The question was: ‘How many tornadoes touch down each year in Illinois?’


After digging around for the answer, I found that 54 tornadoes occur in the Prairie State during an average year.  This climatological average was derived from all tornadoes that touched down between 1991 and 2010.  This ranks Illinois as 6 out of all 50 states for the most tornadoes per year!  Of course, this is a climatological average, so some years will see more and some years will see far less.  In 2006, 124 tornadoes were observed in Illinois.  In 2012, however, only 39 tornadoes touched down in Illinois.  Wisconsin averages 24 tornadoes per year, ranking it at 20 out of all 50 states.

Another statistic that better portrays the yearly tornado threat in Illinois is the average number of tornadoes per 10,000 square miles.  Illinois’ average is 9.7 tornadoes per 10,000 square miles and Wisconsin’s is 4.5 tornadoes per 10,000 square miles.  How big is 10,000 square miles? To give you an idea, the size of all 13 counties in the 13 WREX viewing area put together is just 7,695 square miles.



Posted under Project: Tornado, safety, severe weather, statistics, tornado, weather

This post was written by Joe Astolfi on May 10, 2013

Will you be awake if a Tornado Warning happens at night?

Capture2It’s a no-brainer that everyone needs a smoke-detector and even a carbon-monoxide detector. In most homes, we have several of them placed in different spots. But what would wake you if a tornado was bearing down on your house in the middle of the night? Sure, we’ll be tracking storms on 13WREX in the middle of the night. We just want to make sure you have a way to know in advance.

We have teamed up with Schnucks and Midland Radio to offer programmable weather radios at a discounted cost. You can pick one up at any Logli, Hilander, or Schnucks store in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin now. However, every Friday we will be out for two hours to program them for you! So if you just want your county programmed to sound for a Tornado Warning, we can do it for you. Last Friday, I had a couple buy a radio and I programmed it for their parent who lives in Waushara Co., Wisconsin.

We don’t know when the next tornado will touch down. It’s our goal to have as many people in the storm’s path be ready with a plan in place. It’s worth thirty bucks, don’t you think? -Eric


Posted under Project: Tornado, safety

This post was written by Eric Sorensen on May 8, 2013

Severe Weather Warnings Timelapse

Here’s an interesting perspective of 2012, in regards to severe weather.  This video highlights every single severe thunderstorm warning and tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012.  The time lapse video is just 30 seconds long, but incredible nonetheless.

Keep an eye on our local area…..not a whole lot happened in 2012.  In fact, only a handful of tornado warnings were issued for northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin this past year.  Thankfully, no tornado touchdown occurred in the local area.

Nationally, areas of the Ohio Valley and Tennessee Valley appear to have had the most tornado (red) warnings issued in 2012, including very early in January.  Also, notice the spike in tornado (red) warnings along the Gulf Coast toward the last week of the year.  This just goes to show that severe weather and tornadoes can occur in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter!



Posted under 13 Climate Authority, Project: Tornado, severe weather, tornado, weather, weather geek

This post was written by Joe Astolfi on January 3, 2013

Better Tornado Preparedness

Joplin Tornado - Courtesy NWS Springfield

We’ve all done it.  A Tornado Warning is issued, but we’ll continue on with our daily lives.  Change the channel, look outside, call a neighbor, but probably not go to the basement unless we see it coming.  Then, something catastrophic happens.  In May 2011, an EF-5 tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri.  Sadly, nearly 160 people lost their lives.  This was the first and only triple-digit-fatality tornado event observed since the Tornado Warning was introduced in 1957.  Many people in the Joplin area believed that the tornado was headed north of town, according to a post-disaster survey.  Furthermore, people don’t react and head for shelter so readily because often times when a Tornado Warning is issued, there is no physical tornado.

The National Weather Service is aiming to change peoples’ reactions and the way they perceive severe weather alerts.  While research is still ongoing, the National Weather Service found out through numerous surveys and studies that when a Warning is issued, people usually ask themselves one or more of these questions:

  • Where is the hazard?
  • Has it been confirmed?
  • How bad is it?
  • When will it arrive?
  • How long will it last?
  • What is the meteorologist’s confidence in it occurring?

People often dismiss severe weather alerts such as a Tornado Warning because often times there is no tornado.  A Tornado Warning is issued by the National Weather Service if tornadic conditions are observed on Doppler Radar and/or an actual tornado is observed on the ground.  Many times, a Doppler-indicated tornado is just that…..storm rotation on radar.  It has been suggested that the NWS issue some type of alert between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning.

Joplin Tornado Aftermath - Courtesy KVUE-TV

The general public, in a way, has been ‘trained’ to not react when the tornado sirens sound off.  A parallel that has been brought up many times is the story of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf.’  This is part of the reason why the Joplin tornado was so devastating.  Between 2008 and 2011, Jasper County, Missouri (where Joplin is located) was issued a Tornado Warning 34 times.  Of those 34 warnings, only 2 tornadoes were actually on the ground!

Other reasons why the Joplin tornado was such a catastrophic event include the fact that the tornado was invisible along most of its path.  The general public is solely dependent on the public warning system, although many advances with today’s social media (Twitter, Facebook, Text Alerts) have helped with getting the word out.  Also, there was some disconnect between the Storm Prediction Center and the National Weather Service Springfield, Missouri office.  The NWS office did not have enough updates, perhaps, during the event.

Another major problem was the Joplin warning siren system.  The sirens were not sounded properly for the tornadic storm that impacted the city.  They were sounded prematurely for another storm and the sirens were shut off before the threat had completely ended.

There were many things to learn after the Joplin disaster.  The National Weather Service has been working diligently to come up with better warning methods, more community input, better partnerships with local media and government.  In 2012, NWS offices in Kansas & Missouri began testing ‘Impact Based Warnings.’  This type of warning will use strong words (such as mass devastation, unsurvivable, and catastrophic) to connect the severity of a storm with its expected impact.  The goal is to more effectively communicate the dangers of an approaching storm so people can understand the risks they will face.



Posted under news, Project: Tornado, safety, severe weather, statistics, tornado, weather

This post was written by Joe Astolfi on October 9, 2012

VIDEO: “Project:Tornado” Special Report

Our weather team worked tirelessly all month long to educate more than 5,000 students on the power of severe weather. We wrapped up our Project:Tornado campaign with a half hour special that aired this past Sunday. Here are all four parts with no commercial interruptions:



Posted under event, news, Project: Tornado, safety, science, severe weather, statistics, technology, tornado, weather, weather geek

This post was written by Eric Sorensen on May 28, 2012

Project: Tornado Question of the Day

I had the chance to head to Freeport Middle School this afternoon for Project: Tornado and spoke with the entire 6th grade class.  While we were waiting for the video to load, I answered some good questions from the audience.  One question I was unable to answer was about EF-5 tornadoes.

Many of you are probably familiar with the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, used for measuring the strength or intensity of tornadoes.  Dr. Ted Fujita developed this scale in 1971 at the University of Chicago.  Tornadoes are ranked from EF-0 through EF-5, based on the amount of damage they cause.  Wind speeds (classified by the EF number) are then determined after the National Weather Service surveys the severity of the damage.  In 2007, the original scale was updated to reflect the continuing evolution of tornado knowledge and information.  That’s where the ‘E’ (enhanced) came from!

The question asked today was ‘How many EF-5 tornadoes have there been?’

Officially, there have only been 57 EF-5 tornadoes confirmed in the United States since 1950.  This is less than 2% of all tornadoes that have occurred in our country.  The most recent EF-5 tornadoes occurred one year ago.  The May 22, 2011 Joplin tornado moved through southwest Missouri, leaving nearly 160 people dead and causing $2.8 billion in damage.  Two days after that tornado, another EF-5 touched down in Oklahoma, killing 9 people.  Both of those tornadoes had wind speeds estimated over 210mph.

Only two EF-5 tornadoes have touched down in Illinois since 1950; three EF-5 tornadoes have moved through Wisconsin.  The 1990 Plainfield, Illinois tornado killed 29 people and caused hundreds of millions in damage.  The storm that produced that tornado formed in Rock County, put down a small tornado near Pecatonica in Winnebago County, and then continued southeast to the Chicago suburbs where a tornado intensified to EF-5 strength at Plainfield.



Posted under Project: Tornado, statistics, weather

This post was written by Joe Astolfi on May 23, 2012