A Look Back 48 Years Ago and 11 Days Ago

We are 11 days removed from the EF-4 tornado that ripped through north central Illinois, beginning in Franklin Grove, stretching 43.5 miles through Flagg and into Fairdale. While locals and non-locals are pitching in on the effort of recovery for residents affected by 7 tornadoes on April 9th 2015, many are also remembering the devastation from a tornado that struck the Stateline nearly 48 years ago.

On April 21st, 1967 the city of Belvidere experienced a deadly tornado, with eerily similar damage to the EF-4 tornado on April 9th 2015, but this one was twelve times as deadly.

Let’s flash back to meteorology in the 1900’s. Right after World War 11, the weather community started the use of radars, which were around for about 30 years by the time the Belvidere Tornado occured.
4-9 radar imageIn 1948, less than 20 years before the 1967 tornado, Robert C. Miller and E. J. Fawbush correctly predicted the first tornado in Oklahoma.  10-15 years before the Belvidere Tornado, computers ran their first models of the atmosphere. Just 5 years before the deadly tornado hit Boone County, Keith Browning and Frank Ludlam published a detailed study of a supercell storm, the first one of it’s kind. In fact, it wasn’t until a few years after the Belvidere tornado that Dr. Tetsuya Theodore Fujita invented the “Fujita Scale.”

Are you catching my drift here? While the foundation and structure of much of meteorology was founded, knowledge and awareness was minimal on the atmosphere during the early and mid 20th century. This is a key contributor to the saved lives and safety of many Stateliners on April 9th 2015.

The tornado that devastated Boone County 48 years ago was rated an “F-4″ on the Fujita Scale. According to the Fujita Scale, an F-4 tornado *estimates wind speeds between 207 and 260 mph, and typical damage includes well-constructed houses leveled, weak foundation structures blown away, and cars thrown. We now know that the Fujita Scale could over-estimate wind speeds, which is why we now use the Enhanced Fujita Scale (another educational advancement).

Still, the damage we see in photos of the Belvidere Tornado in 1967 grimly mimic the photos being posted from Fairdale within the past 11 days.

According to Jim Allsopp, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service, the Belvidere Tornado first struck just before 4PM 2 miles southeast of Cherry Valley. It went on to destroy 300 new cars and 100 employee cars at the Chrysler Plant, which was only a fraction of the damage it would go on to create. The tornado moved on to the southeast side of Belvidere, where 127 homes were destroyed and hundreds more were damaged.

At the time, Belvidere High School had just dismissed students onto buses filled with elementary school students. 12 buses were rolled over and children were flung into muddy fields.


In 2011, Ken Anderson (left) told WREX, “My bus (#30) was moved 100 yards by the tornado. I was wedged under a seat, my shirt soaked red with blood. I saw one, little body half buried in the mud. That memory, an 11 year old should never witness. In this picture, I am on the left (shirt tail out). That concerned look on my face marked the end of my childhood.” At Belvidere High School, 13 people were killed and another 300 were injured, which was just a little more than half of the havoc caused that day.




Dale Marks also vividly remembers April 21st 1967, “They tell me I was lucky. I only had both legs and pelvis broken. Our bus was just on the north side of the school. I think there were five people killed on my bus.’
belvtor1The Belvidere Tornado of 1967 went on to kill a total of 24 people and injure another 500.
To read Jim Allsopp’s full synopsis of the event, click here. To read all of the survivor comments from 2011, click here.



The Belvidere Tornado of 1967 was an F-4 and was up to 1/2 mile wide. It traveled 25-28 miles on the ground.
fairdale1The tornado that hit Fairdale (left) eleven days ago was an EF-4 that was nearly 1/2 mile wide. It traveled 30 miles on the ground.
But, what about the fatalities and injuries? During the 1967 F-4, 24 people were killed and another 500 were injured. During the 2015 EF-4, 2 people were killed and 22 were injured.







Education and awareness are saving people’s lives.

The Storm Prediction Center was able to put out the risk of severe weather nearly a week ahead of the April 9th event. The Chicago National Weather Service was able to implement watches and warnings with ample time to get to safety before these tornadoes struck communities. In fact, Ogle County Sheriff Brian Van Vickle stated, “I don’t think you could’ve asked for better warning.” Local TV meteorologists were able to give in depth explanations on air and online about WHY that Thursday could end with severe weather. We all could do this because of advancements in the world of meteorology.
4-9 radar image 2

In my opinion, the most important thing meteorologists can do is continue to explain to you WHY we could see dangerous weather, WHY we saw dangerous weather, or WHY we ended up not seeing dangerous weather. We’re living in a world with Google at our fingertips, with politics overlapping into sciences, and with education being pushed on everyone. We have been raised and trained to ask questions. Why would you believe something just because someone told you? You have the right to question. I think it’s our job to explain to you why it’s a threat, not just the fact that it’s a threat.

In my opinion, one of the most important things we as a community can learn from both of these deadly tornadoes, is the importance of heeding warnings and continuing to educate yourselves and listening to “the why” instead of chalking it up to “sensationalism,” “hype,” and even “TV ratings.”

Because awareness and education is one of the biggest contributing factors in the difference in death and injuries during severe weather.


Posted under event, history, news, safety, science, severe weather, statistics, tornado, weather, weather geek

This post was written by Morgan Kolkmeyer on April 20, 2015

Record dry air (nearby)

April 14, 2015: Did the air feel really dry today to you? It did in Chicago today, where the dry air tied a record at O’Hare airport.  The relative humidity dropped to 13%, which tied April 8, 1971, April 11, 1956, and May 10, 1934 for the driest relative humidity on record for Chicago. For reference, the human body generally feels comfortable at 45% relative humidity, so 13% is very dry!

Relative humidity readings at 4 pm today

Relative humidity readings at 4 pm today

If you are wondering what or how we figure out the relative humidity of the air, here’s a crash course (get ready for a lot of science!): humidity describes how much water vapor is in the air. We can measure this with absolute humidity, which is the mass of water vapor divided by the mass of dry air at a certain temperature. The hotter the air, the more water vapor it can hold, and so the value for absolute humidity is higher.

To get to relative humidity, we use the ratio of the current absolute humidity to the highest possible absolute humidity at that temperature. At 100% relative humidity, the air is completely saturated and can’t hold any more water, usually creating rainfall as the moisture falls out of the air.

An area of high pressure results in downward movement in the atmosphere. This dries the air out, and is why we don't usually have clouds or active weather under high pressure.

An area of high pressure results in downward movement in the atmosphere. This dries the air out, and is why we don’t usually have clouds or active weather under high pressure.

Why did the air feel so dry today? We did have an area of high pressure right overhead, which may have contributed to the dry conditions. High pressure promotes downward movement in the atmosphere, which counteracts what you may have learned in elementary school about the water cycle- instead of the air rising, then cooling and condensing into clouds, downward moving air dries out.  This is one of the reasons why the air was so dry today.



Posted under event, record weather, science, weather

This post was written by Alex Kirchner on April 14, 2015

What is a satellite tornado?

April 13, 2015: You’ve likely heard or read about this term since the April 9th tornado outbreak in the Stateline: satellite tornado.  So, what is it?

A satellite tornado refers to a tornado that forms within the same severe thunderstorm of a much larger, more intense tornado.  The smaller tornado orbits around the larger tornado, much like a satellite does around a larger body in space.  The tornadoes are completely separate from the primary, massive tornado. The cause of satellite tornadoes is unknown at this time; however, if conditions were ideal enough to produce a large, violent tornado, then it seems reasonable that secondary tornadoes could form too.

Approximate paths of the EF-4 tornado and two satellite tornadoes

Approximate paths of the EF-4 tornado and two satellite tornadoes

So far, at least two tornadoes have been identified by the National Weather Service as being satellite tornadoes to the massive, devastating EF-4 tornado that hit near Rochelle, Ashton, and Fairdale on April 9th.  One was a weak EF-0 tornado that touched down briefly east of Lindenwood and I-39. The second was an EF-1 tornado that formed northwest of Kirkland, then moved to just north of the Boone Co. line.

The NWS is still investigating the damage from last week’s tornado outbreak, and more tornadoes may be identified, as well as additional tornadoes designated as satellites of the violent EF-4. This information may change a little, so we will keep the updates coming as we get them.



Posted under science, severe weather, tornado, weather

This post was written by Alex Kirchner on April 13, 2015

Thursday’s Severe Threat

The threat for severe thunderstorms still exists on Thursday.

Before we get there, we see the development of showers and thunderstorms overnight on Wednesday, producing a quarter to a half inch of rainfall. As of right now, these thunderstorms do not look to have the capabilities of turning severe. Same story as we head into early Thursday morning. Scattered showers and possibly thunderstorms can occur. The chance of these posing a severe threat is low, but I DO NOT want to rule out the chance completely.

4-8-15 timing








The Storm Prediction Center has much of Illinois (including the Stateline) under an enhanced risk for severe thunderstorms.

4-8-15 spc convective outlook








We start to see the potential for these to turn severe as we head into the early afternoon. As of right now, it looks like thunderstorms will continue to develop and pose a severe threat between 1PM and 6PM on Thursday.

If these t’storms turn severe, the possible threats include damaging winds, large hail, and isolated tornadoes. Now is the time to start thinking of your safe place at home, work, and school. Please remember, tornado sirens are for outdoor warnings within ear’s reach. A NOAA Weather Radio is a great way to receive weather alerts indoors.

4-8-15 expect









In the hours ahead, key ingredients to producing severe thunderstorms can change quickly. We will continue to analyze new information throughout the day. Chief Meteorologist Alex Kirchner will have the latest on 13 News at 5, 6 and 10 tonight, to let you know if the timing or the threat for these storms changes.
Keep up with us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/13wxauthority and online at wrex.com/weather for the latest information.



Posted under rain, science, severe weather, tornado, weather, Wind

This post was written by Morgan Kolkmeyer on April 8, 2015

The Easter ‘Punny’ is Here!

We’ve got an EGGStraordinary forecast in store for the Easter bunny this year! As you SCRAMBLE to find plastic eggs during your early egg hunts, morning temperatures will rise to the middle to upper 40’s. HOPPING into the afternoon, temperatures will SPRING into the low to middle 60’s! HOPfully you like your Easter eggs SUNNY SIDE UP, because we’ll CRACK open the clouds and make way for sunshine. Unfortunately, we won’t have an EASTERly wind, as a high pressure system will funnel in a southwesterly wind throughout the day. To all the CHICKS out there, your HARE may be blowing around so you may want extra hairspray. Winds will be gusting up to 30mph. Don’t worry, it should still be an EGGSHELLent afternoon.









If you’ve had an OEUF of the clear sky, we work in some clouds later Sunday night, with a slight chance for a SPRINKLE.

Have a great Easter, YOLKS!



Posted under humor, rain, science, sunlight, weather, weather geek

This post was written by Morgan Kolkmeyer on April 3, 2015

Unusual March

We’ve been so excited for the temperatures this March, the lack of rain and snow has gone unnoticed.

During the month of March, Rockford usually sees 2.3″ of rain. So far, we’ve seen less than half an inch! On average, we usually see almost 5″ of snow. Cut that in half- that’s as much as we’ve seen so far this month.

march so far

However, we could add to that as we head into the start of next week. We’ve got a chance to see some snow heading into Monday, which would bring us a little closer to that average mark.

Not only have we had very little snow and rain this month, but the precipitation that we’ve gotten, all fell in one day (March 3rd)!


Posted under 13 Climate Authority, rain, science, snow, weather, weather geek

This post was written by Morgan Kolkmeyer on March 20, 2015

Disappearing Snow

February 11, 2015: Last Friday, the official snow depth for Rockford (measured at the Rockford airport) was measured at 12″.  Heading into today, the depth is down to half that value.

The temperature and snow depth trend from February 6th to the 10th.

The temperature and snow depth trend from February 6th to the 10th.

The above freezing temperatures over the weekend went a long way to melt off some of the snow. That is the primary reason for losing plenty of snow pack. The difference between this weekend’s melting and ones previous this winter is the added influence of a higher sun angle and the increase in daylight.  This is why we were able to melt 6″  of snow in roughly 3 days rather than taking more time than that.

Changing the sun's angle to the ground changes the intensity of the sun's energy on the ground.

Changing the sun’s angle to the ground changes the intensity of the sun’s energy on the ground.

In the heart of the winter, the sun is low on the horizon, so the sun’s energy is coming in at an angle, and isn’t all that intense. The daytime hours are also very short, so there isn’t much time to provide a lot of energy.

Now, the sun is higher in the sky, so the sun’s energy is more directed at the ground rather than at an angle to the side. Because the energy is more directed at the ground, the energy can be more intense, helping heat the ground or snow up quicker. The longer days means more energy being put into the atmosphere.





Posted under science, snow, weather, winter weather

This post was written by Alex Kirchner on February 11, 2015

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Now that we’ve officially entered the first week of Fall, we’ve all got sweaters, boots, apple cider donuts and football on our minds, right?


You may want to replace those boots with sandals and the apple cider with  lemonade. Feel free to keep the football thoughts though ;) Our first week of fall is actually taking steps toward more summer-like weather. Did you enjoy the weather yesterday? Plenty of sunshine, calm winds, upper 60’s. Get used to it!
9-23 blog1

Wash, Rinse, Repeat. That’s the forecast through the rest of the week. BUT before you throw in the soap….
9-23 blog 2


Turn up the heat.

We’ll see high pressure continue to bring us sunshine this week, as well as calm winds. We could pick up a few clouds toward the end of the week due to a disturbance to our west, however high pressure helps to keep rain chances away. In addition to the sunny sky and light wind, we’ll see temperatures climb.
Today, temperatures top out in the low 70’s. By the end of the week, we’ll be looking at temperatures in the mid to upper 70’s.

Happy Fall, all!

-Morgan Kolkmeyer


Posted under science, sunlight, warm up, weather

This post was written by Morgan Kolkmeyer on September 23, 2014

November: Primetime for “Frost Flowers”

Got your attention with that headline, didn’t I?

This morning I received an e-mail from Dick Roush of Freeport. He writes about the “Frost Flower,” and says “I’ve never seen anything like these in 80 years!” Take a look at this slideshow and see for yourself!

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Here’s how it works. The air temperature must be below 32°F with non-frozen ground. Conner says it’s likely to occur only once per year. “The water in the plant’s stem is drawn upward by capillary action from the ground. It expands as it freezes and splits the stem vertically and freezes on contact with the air.” The conditions for Frost Flowers only happen once because after it occurs, the plant’s stem is either destroyed or the expansion of the ice won’t allow it to happen again.

Frost Flowers are also referred as ice blossoms, ice castles, or crystallofolia.

This is a big reason why it’s great to hike Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin in the fall! -Eric


Posted under news, science, weather, weather geek

This post was written by qni_it on November 12, 2013

The Lake Effect

We had a nice light coating of snow cover the ground yesterday as a cold front tracked cross the area. That activity pushed to the south, and today we returned to bright sunshine, though far cooler temperatures. The frontal boundary that brought us the snow is now well to our south, however some places less than 200 miles to our east saw more than 6 inches of snow fall in a matter of hours this morning. That snowfall was thanks to the lake effect.Capture3

Lake effect snow isn’t something that we have to worry about near the Rockford metro thanks to our distance and location relative to Lake Michigan. But, some places actually see more snow caused by lake effect per year than they do snow caused by typical storm systems. The places that tend to see the most lake effect snow are located on the eastern and southern shores of the Great Lakes. Western and northern shorelines tend to see little to no lake effect snow thanks to their location. The key component needed for lake effect snow is a strong, cold wind that crossed a good distance over the warm water of the lake. Due to the fact that most cold winter wind blows from the west/northwest, areas that the wind reaches before it makes it to the lake will not see lake effect snow (aka western and northern shorelines). Capture2

The super cool air over the lake causes the warm air just above the surface of the lake to rise at it is blown and displaced from the surface. The farther the wind travels across the lake, the more warm air ir causes to rise, which in turn creates clouds. These clouds eventually pick up enough steam to begin producing snow, and once the snow begins, it will fall directly in the direction of the wind until the wind stops or changes direction. Thanks to the postitioning of the wind over the Great Lakes today, parts of far Northern Indiana saw their first real bout of lake effect snow this season. -GregCapture


Posted under cold blast, science, snow

This post was written by qni_it on November 12, 2013