The tornado story I won’t ever forget

In a decade and a half of broadcasting, there are only a handful of people whose words stick in my head year after year. Bonitta Hammett is one of those people and I won’t ever forget her story.

While working for KLTV in Tyler, Texas in 2002, my colleague Morgan Palmer and I made a two-day trek to Central Texas to document the fifth anniversary of the Jarrell, Texas F-5 Tornado. We got to the town of 1,000 and stopped at a diner along the frontage road on I-35. Our News Director at the time often found news stories by overhearing what the “old timers” were talking about at the local diners. Feeling like outsiders, we went in and started asking folks for their memories. Everyone was so friendly to offer their story. After listening for a while, it became clear that the people there didn’t see us as outsiders at all. Someone said “You need to talk to the Hammett family.” Being such a small town, it was easy to get their phone number. We gave it a call and scheduled an interview for the afternoon. In the hours before the interview, Morgan and I walked down to the spot where whole houses were taken down to their slabs. It was really hard to understand. Even to this day, if I didn’t walk those streets, I wouldn’t get it. The Asphalt street in one neighborhood was ripped up by the tornado, leaving only a dirt path. We found the memorial and playground, erected on the site of where the tornado did the most damage. I remember spinning 360°, looking for some sort of debris leftover after five years. Sure enough, on the edge of a field, I spotted an engine stuck in a tree.

While I was in charge of telling the weather story behind Jarrell, Morgan focused on the people involved. Bonitta was a child when we sat down with her in 2002 but she spoke as if she was an adult and the tornado happened yesterday. Her house was flattened during the tornado while she and her mom took refuge in the bathtub. After it ended, the bathroom door wouldn’t open so they had to escape through the window. On the other side of the bathroom door was nothing. The car in their garage was never found and only pieces of the engine block were recovered weeks later.

Yesterday was the 17th anniversary of the tornado that killed more than two dozen people in this very small town. The tornado formed to the northeast and moved to the southwest…completely opposite of the direction of most tornadoes. One of the folks in the diner told me that when some people at the factory caught a glimpse of the funnel, they went to see if the tornado had hit their homes. Little did they know the tornado was moving into town, and not moving away. Those people ended up directly in the path and died.

I wonder what Bonitta Hammett’s life is like today. For being such an adult back then, I’m optimistic she turned out alright. It’s odd to think that she’s in her 20s now, especially since she doesn’t age in my memory.

-Eric Sorensen

Share

Posted under tornado

This post was written by qni_it on May 28, 2014

Tornado touches down in Northwestern Illinois

 

 
1901503_10151969495261899_1006802090366936110_nShortly before noon today, a small but powerful supercell thunderstorm formed over western Ogle County and produced a tornado. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the funnel hit the ground along IL26 in northwestern Ogle County, just northwest of the town of Forreston. As is the case with weather systems like this, the tornado didn’t last long and was probably on the ground for just a few minutes. Luckily, the tornado did not near any towns or farms as no damage was reported.

shearToday, a stationary front lies right over Northern Illinois with temperatures near 70 south of the front and 40s in South-Central Wisconsin. This front allowed for thunderstorms to form. There was just enough wind shear (southeasterly wind at ground level with a south-southwesterly wind aloft) to produce a spin-up tornado. While the shear is still present in the atmosphere this afternoon, there aren’t any organized thunderstorms. It’s not likely that we’ll much more than a few quick-passing showers for the remainder of the afternoon.

Quite a few folks have asked if this was a “cold air funnel.” Actually, this was not. This will go down as a true, full-fledged tornado…the first for Northern Illinois this year. The first in the nation for the day, having occurred around noon.

Based on the circulation on radar and eyewitness reports, here is the approximate location of the tornado this afternoon:
tornado_map

We’ll keep watching out today and every day. But the tornado today is a reminder that everyone should have a safety plan! Do you have a weather radio yet?

Share

Posted under tornado

This post was written by qni_it on April 29, 2014

Tornado season will ramp up in a few days

Severe weather season has been quiet so far. According to The Weather Channel, this is the longest fatality-free start to storm season in 99 years! While we can hope that string of good luck continues, the pattern will certainly get more active in the days to come.

stormthreat

This map shows the threat areas forecast by the Storm Prediction Center. Instead of showing you each day’s risk area, I superimposed all of the areas on one map. Parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are in the risk area for three days. An outbreak of severe weather is possible this weekend, which could affect the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Wichita areas. Tornadoes will be possible.

For us in the Upper Midwest, we’ll be far removed from the most unstable air. A chilly, over-running rain event is set to begin Sunday, possibly lasting through Tuesday of next week. Saturday’s high temperature will be 56 with sunshine. Rain and 52 for a high on Sunday.
2

Share

Posted under severe weather, tornado

This post was written by qni_it on April 22, 2014

47th anniversary of the Belvidere Tornado

Today marks the 47th anniversary of the tornado that devastated the growing Boone County town. The storm killed 24 people, many on buses at Belvidere High School. Here is a tribute video that was put together in 2012.

Share

Posted under tornado

This post was written by qni_it on April 21, 2014

There are 525,948 minutes in a year. How many are spent in a weather warning?

Most of the United States is relatively safe when it comes to severe weather. Of course, we think of Oklahoma and Texas as being prime spots for tornadoes. But a new map shows us the average amount of time spent in a weather warning per county. Daryl Herzmann of Iowa State University released some great maps this week. Take a look!

First, here is the average time spent in a Severe Thunderstorm Warning.
BkuFt3gCYAAUQiG
Of course, the higher likelihood for severe thunderstorms lies in the Tornado Alley state of Oklahoma. But notice the maximum over Eastern Tennessee and even Northern Ohio. It may be a little difficult to see the actual location of states because the dark black lines in this map represent the borders of the National Weather Service offices. Here in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin, we are serviced by three different offices, Milwaukee-Sullivan, Quad Cities-Davenport, and Chicago-Romeoville.

Next up, the map showing the average minutes of the year spent in a Tornado Warning:

tor

A few things on this map stand out. First, the larger counties within a tornado-prone zone have a higher chance of being within a warning polygon. Of note is the number of minutes in McLean Co., IL (Bloomington-Normal) which is the largest county in Illinois in bright red compared to Putnam Co., IL (North of Peoria) which is blue.

Daryl went further and took square kilometers into account with the following map. This one is telling! It shows the highest likelihood of a Tornado Warning (not necessarily a full-fledged, on-the-ground tornado) to be in Mississippi.
tor2

So, while we may think of Tornado Alley being Texas and Oklahoma, the higher threat of tornadoes may reside in the Deep South…at least looking at the data over the past 20 years.

Finally, for your viewing pleasure? The map for Flash Flood Warnings per county. It’s easy to see the highest probabilities for flash flooding in the past 20 years are in Southern Missouri and in the Desert Southwest.

ffw

Share

Posted under flooding, severe weather, tornado, weather

This post was written by qni_it on April 10, 2014

Why we escaped the tornadoes yesterday

We made it through one of the biggest November tornado outbreaks in history. However, Central and Southern Illinois were not nearly as lucky as we were in the northern third of the state. Here’s why:
1
This is a snapshot of Exactrack|HD from Sunday morning. You can see the tornadic storms in Central Illinois and in Southeastern Wisconsin. Even though the cold front was still to our west, the tornadic storms in Central Illinois distrupted the wind flow into the storms along the cold front. So, indirectly, the storms to our south spared us here in Northern Illinois.

Here’s a schematic of the event yesterday.

2
We did have funnel clouds reported early on across McHenry Co., up into Walworth, Racine, and Kenosha Cos. But the storms to our southwest just couldn’t materialize because the moisture and energy source had been decreased much like a kinked hose. Had the storms not developed around Peoria, the scenes of complete destruction would be much closer to home.

BZYc0l3CYAARtAy

When severe weather is forecast, it’s important to understand the risk. We, as well as every TV station in Illinois, forecast severe weather for Sunday. For us, I put the word “Active Storms” on the 7 Day Forecast Thursday at 5pm. Here’s a look at the Storm Prediction Center’s forecast map for severe weather along with the reports. That, right there is your tax dollars being put to a good use. -Eric

Share

Posted under tornado

This post was written by qni_it on November 18, 2013

Washington Tornado: EF-4

The National Weather Service has completed a preliminary survey of the damaged caused by yesterday’s tornado in Washington, IL. The results have lead the weather service to categorize the twister as an EF-4, the second strongest classification. This particular tornado is believed to have had wind speeds between 170-190mph. Here are the criteria for an EF-4.  24We will keep you posted as more develops! -Greg

Share

Posted under event, First Look, tornado

This post was written by GregBobos on November 18, 2013

Late-season thunderstorm outbreak possible Sunday

severeIf everything clicks into position, there is a possibility of a severe storm outbreak in the Midwest Sunday. But this is far from set in stone, obviously not a sure bet yet.

However, it is something to watch. There will be plenty of moisture available with dewpoints in the 50s expected. That’s what we would normally see in September, not November. The timing of a cold front could put it through the Rockford area during the early afternoon hours (peak heating), with a strong jet stream overhead. But, the timing is suspect. Right now, a few models bring it in too quickly (morning hours) which would preclude any severe storm activity.

calOne thing is for certain. We know severe thunderstorms and tornadoes can occur in November. This photo was taken November 22, 2010 shortly before a tornado struck Caledonia, Illinois. It’s hard to say if any tornadoes will be possible here Sunday, but I will say there is at least a tiny possibility right now. Stay tuned! -Eric

Share

Posted under tornado

This post was written by qni_it on November 14, 2013

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).

-Joe

Share

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!

-Joe

 

 

Share

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

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