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

So long, Rockford

550032_10151663061114167_1410337480_nI started this blog on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, tracking all of the weather ever since. As the Chief Meteorologist, I had a rule that everyone had to update the weather blog once per shift. My apologies that this week I’ve broken my own rule…as I’ve had a lot to do.

A week from Monday (July 7th, 2014) I will begin forecasting the weather for a new TV station in a new town. I am so excited to bring what I’ve learned to WQAD-TV in Moline, Illinois. The move brings me back to mornings, where it all began here at WREX some 10 years ago.

Of all of the jobs I’ve had, I learned the most here. I came with 5 years of experience and leave with 15. I take the job more seriously and I take life more seriously these days. But moving two hours to the southwest means that I will immensely miss my friends, co-workers, and the wonderful people who make up this city, my hometown. I feel sad not because I would’ve done anything different, but because I feel like I’m quitting on all of you. Just remember, I won’t be far away. And I need to be able to bring my talents to the folks in the Quad Cities.

Social Media didn’t exist when I started this job. Now, I’ll be able to continue following the weather for Northern Illinois. Just now, I will add more of Western Illinois and Eastern Iowa! Please find me. I am on Twitter and Facebook. And I promise in the next few weeks I’ll get on Instagram.

Thanks for believing in me for ten years! I will always be proud to say I’m from Rockford.

Be well and keep in touch.

Eric Sorensen


Posted under news

This post was written by qni_it on June 27, 2014

Volcanic Eruption in Alaska

A volcano on the Alleutian Islands is now erupting. Pavlof Mountain is the name of the volcano, which has sent a plume of ash and steam more than 20,000 feet into the atmosphere. Luckily, this is far from populated areas and is not near any aircraft routes, but still bears watching. Seismic activity has also been noted near the volcano.

Some amazing photos have been shared with the National Weather Service Alaska. Click on their Facebook page for more information.



Posted under news

This post was written by qni_it on June 2, 2014

Great Lakes: Greatest ice in 34 years!

CaptureThe Great Lakes are almost completely frozen over! Theoretically, you could skate from Milwaukee to Michigan. NOAA says the ice is covering 90.5% of the surface of all five lakes. The largest amount ever recorded was back in 1979 when ice covered 94.7% of the Great Lakes. If the cold weather continues, there’s a chance that record could be broken in the next few weeks!


Posted under news

This post was written by qni_it on March 4, 2014

Ten worst/weirdest things about this winter

Giant snow drifts & potholes – While potholes occur due to freeze/thaw (which we haven’t had too many of), pothole season is going to last longer into March. On top of that, we’ve had to deal with monstrous snow piles on the sides of roads. A snowmobiler was seriously injured last month as he lept over a pile and crashed into a pick up truck. In some spots, the snow was piled up higher than the road signs! On top of that, the drifting snow this winter has been extreme, especially in rural areas.

Dirty cars: all winter long! It’s been so cold and so snowy, there aren’t any dry, warm days to get the jalopy shined up. I actually feel bad for my car because I can’t remember the last time I had it washed! When was the last time you washed your car? Did you give up on it back in January?

Animals having a hard time – It may not get our attention, but imagine all of the animals who have had to get through the extreme winter. Last fall, I noticed the squirrels gathering lots and lots of acorns. I wonder how they knew? From horses to cows, eagles to finches, and even our four-legged friends, it’s been a hard winter.

Too many snow days! At last count, Freeport, Illinois had canceled school 11 times due to the snow and cold. Luckily, with the extreme temperatures behind us now that we’ve entered March, we’ll only be able to add up true snow days from here on out. Problem is we usually see 4.8 inches of snow in March and we’re already up to 4.5 inches and it’s only March 3rd!

Extreme Bills.  The extreme cold is now causing extreme sticker-shock when it comes to gas and electric bills! The cold weather from this winter has meant that some bills are twice as much as they were a year ago.

Alaska’s Warmer – With the jet stream bringing warm, Pacific air north into Alaska, Anchorage’s temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s for most of the winter season. Many dog-sled races had to be canceled earlier this winter due to warm, muddy conditions. All the while, temperatures were below zero as far south as Memphis and Nashville!

January 10th Flash Freeze – Our January thaw wasn’t nearly warm enough. On January 10th, temperatures rose into the middle 30s. Light snow changed to rain as temperatures rose above freezing. However, the evening commute was a nightmare because the ground temperature remained below freezing. The Illinois State Police said there were “hundreds of accidents in Ogle County alone! In Boone County, dozens of cars were stranded for six hours on Illinois 173, because of two jack-knifed semi trucks.

Freezing Water Mains – I’ve lived in Northern Illinois the majority of my life and I’ve never heard officials at the water department urging people to drip water pipes. Because it’s been so cold, the frost layer has gone so deep, it has frozen water mains. The problem is if the pipe freezes on its way into your home, you may have to wait quite a while for it to thaw out. And there’s good news if you’ve been dripping faucets. Some communities are pledging to give you some money back on your water bills.

Cryoseisms – We’ve talked about this several times this winter. And I can’t remember having to spend weather time on TV discussing it before. Cryoseisms, or “frost quakes,” are caused by water seeping deep into cracks in the ground. Then during times of quick temperature falls, the water turns to ice, expanding with an audible pop. These cryoseisms have awoken animals and people alike, with 9-1-1 centers seeing a spike in people reporting gun shots. Luckily, it’s just Old Man Winter celebrating his triumphs!

Polar Vortex – This became a household term this winter with repeated cold fronts. The temperatures dropped into the teens and twenties below zero many times this winter. The cold even caused snow to fall on the beaches of the Carolinas and on Bourbon Street in New Orleans! But as Meteorologist Greg Bobos said so eloquently back in January, the abnormally cold air isn’t because the Polar Vortex moved here. Think of the Polar Vortex as a chain-link fence. The dog inside of the fence is the cold air. This winter, there were holes in the fence that allowed the dog to get out. We all know you can’t move a fence into someone else’s yard. And we all should know that the Polar Vortex can’t move this far south.

Honorable Mentions:

Amy Urbanski nosebleeds form the dry air because the heat is ALWAYS running

Laura Polly Esther Mink-Coller My husband would say it’s the lack of leg-shaving on my part.

Shayna Ferguson The countless wet butts from the snow falling in the car when you open the door no matter how much you brush off first!

Carol Juhlin-Myers The dogs using the sidewalk as their restroom because the snow is piled too high for them to get into the yard.  (That’s happened at the Sorensen homestead. As if I haven’t shoveled my driveway enough, I have to do it for another reason!)

Connie Garry I’m going the other direction: 1.we didn’t have a tornado in January.

Kim Baker-Swartz It’s like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps going and going and GOING!

Wendy Helmer Everybody complaining when there’s nothing they can do about the weather

Glen Zeal Snowing Every Weekend….Can you tell I have a snow business?….lol


Posted under news

This post was written by qni_it on March 3, 2014

This Winter vs. 1970s Winters

Meteorological winter will wrap up at the end of the month. Typically the coldest three months of the year, meteorological winter includes the entire months of December, January, and February. As we all know, this winter has been exceptionally snowy and cold. In fact, we are currently the 4th coldest winter on record!  Amazingly, the top 3 coldest winters in Rockford all occurred one after another in the late 1970s.


The winters of 1976-77, 1977-78, and 1978-79 were the coldest, taking into account high and low temperatures.  The winters of 1977-78 and 1978-79 hold the title for the 13th snowiest and 2nd snowiest, respectively.  The snowiest meteorological winter was 2007-08 with 65.1 inches.


With our current forecast through the end of the month (Thursday & Friday), we have a good shot at tying for the 3rd coldest winter! But what happens after meteorological winter?

March 1st is the start of meteorological spring. Meteorological spring encompasses March, April, and May. The average temperature  for the season is 48.9°F.  If we look at the harsh winters of the late 70s, many of them ended up with below average spring temperatures.  One year that bucked the trend was 1977: coming off of the 3rd coldest winter was the 2nd warmest spring on record!

Near the Chrysler Plant in the late 1970s

Near the Chrysler Plant in the late 1970s

Snow is likely during the first half of meteorological spring; it’s even possible into May.  However, after snowier-than-average winters in 1977-78 and 1978-79, spring snowfall was actually below average.  Hopefully that is a sign of things to come as we head through the next several weeks! Winter 2013-14 is, after all, the 9th snowiest on record.

Meteorological Winter vs. Meteorological Spring

Meteorological Winter vs. Meteorological Spring

In the weeks to come, there are a few signs that temperatures will warm above average. Unfortunately, it’s not until the middle of March! Looking beyond spring, the three late 1970’s meteorological summer seasons ended up just slightly below average on the temperature trend.



Posted under 13 Climate Authority, climate/climate change, cold blast, news, photos, record weather, snow, statistics, weather, winter weather

This post was written by qni_it on February 26, 2014

Halfway Through: Where We Stand

You’ve probably heard Eric, Greg, or myself talk about meteorological winter.  Meteorological winter encompasses the entire months of December, January, and February.  This timeframe is slightly different from our typical astronomical winter (the time between the winter solstice and spring equinox).  One of the main reasons meteorologists use months in their entirety is for the ease of record-keeping.

Now that we’ve had a refresher course on meteorological winter, warm-weather fans will love this next fact.  We’ve already reached the halfway point of meteorological winter!  So let’s look back at the first half of meteorological winter 2013-2014.

Snowfall at Chicago Rockford International Airport for the first half of winter was 8 inches above normal.  From December 1st through January 14th, 25.4 inches of snow fell at the airport.  Compare this season’s halfway-mark total of 25.4 inches to last season’s halfway-mark total of 2.7 inches and we’re in a different ballgame.  However, last winter ended up with a final total of 40.5 inches of snow.  As we all know, snowfall can vary greatly from month to month.  The amount of snow we see during a “normal” winter season averages out to 36.7 inches.

Last 5 Winter Seasons Snowfall During the First Half (Dec 1st - Jan 14th)

Last 5 Winter Seasons
Snowfall During the First Half (Dec 1st – Jan 14th)

The warmest temperature in Rockford between December 1st and January 14th was 52 degrees on December 4th.  The coldest temperature—still fresh on many of our minds—was a low of -18 degrees.  This extreme temperature occurred twice.  On January 3rd, the low of -18 degrees replaced the 1979 record of -16 degrees. On January 6th, the low of -18 degrees was just one degree short of the 1988 record low of -19 degrees.

Below zero temperatures occurred on 15 days during the first half of this winter, including a period of 40 consecutive hours between January 5th and 7th.  Last year, we had zero!  In fact, the for the entirety of last winter, only 2 days fell below zero!

Looking at temperature averages, we have been running below normal since the start of winter.  December’s average high was 28 degrees and average low was 10 degrees.  This was 5 and 8 degrees below normal, respectively.  So far for January, our average high is 23 degrees and average low is 4 degrees.  This is 6 and 10 degrees below normal, respectively.

The outlook for the rest of January will include a higher-than-normal chance for below normal temperatures.  But remember, meteorological spring is just a month and a half away!



Posted under 13 Climate Authority, news, record weather, snow, statistics, weather, winter weather

This post was written by qni_it on January 15, 2014

DirecTV vs. The Weather Channel

directvAt Midnight Tuesday morning, DirecTV has threatened to pull the plug on The Weather Channel. The feud is because of a carriage dispute (the amount of money The Weather Channel receives per subscriber of DirecTV). Carriage disputes aren’t new. They go on between local affiliates and cable providers and in this case, The Weather Channel and DirecTV. The Weather Channel is asking for an additional penny per customer. Right now, DirecTV pays The Weather Channel $0.13 per customer, per month for the programming. An additional penny may not sound like much, but DirecTV has 35,560,000 customers and that amounts to The Weather Channel getting an additional $4,267,200 annually!

But the question at hand here is not whether they deserve a 4.2 million dollar raise, rather if not having TWC is a safety issue.

TWC would like you to believe you’re less safe. When I was a kid, we didn’t have Cable TV. I think it was called “Cablevision” in Rockford back then. Once my brother, sister, and I were successful lobbying my dad for cable, I fell in love with The Weather Channel. But were we less safe before we had it? Personally, I don’t think so. We had a NOAA Weather Radio in the house (that would go off all the time). My family felt comforted and safe because Gilbert Sebenste and Eric Nefstead were always on Channel 13, warning us about severe weather.

Take the Moore, Oklahoma tornado from May of last year. Moore is located within the Oklahoma City television market. And on that day, local television affiliates in OKC achieved over 90% share. That means that nine out of ten televisions were on local stations. So, even if The Weather Channel was a logical choice for Oklahomans to get weather information, it was way less than 10% of the share that day. So, I personally don’t buy the “You won’t be safe without The Weather Channel” argument.

Looking at the Nielsen ratings in the past few years, WREX rates solidly #1 during times of severe weather, followed distantly by the CBS and ABC affiliate, followed after that by The Weather Channel. Now, am I knocking the good work by my friends and colleagues in Atlanta? No. There is an enormous amount of value in The Weather Channel’s programming. Nationally, The Weather Channel does more to educate Americans about Meteorology than anyone else on broadcast television. And their internet share reaches more than any other national weather outlet, warning more people about severe weather than anyone else. So there is incredible value in their brand.

But will my neighbors who have DirecTV be less safe after midnight? No. And that’s because in addition to the Meteorologists here at the 13 Weather Authority, there are two other weather teams dedicated to covering severe weather. On top of that, add WREX’s educational program “Project: Tornado,” outdoor warning sirens, and new wireless alerts to make Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin safer than ever.

As a DirecTV customer, I’ll miss the ability to tune into “Wake Up with Al” in the morning, but in the meantime, I’ll get to know the Meteorologists at WeatherNation.

What do you think? Chime in on our Facebook page! -Eric


Posted under news

This post was written by qni_it on January 13, 2014

Gaining Daylight

Since December 15th, our sunset times have been getting later.  Since December 21st—the winter solstice—our total amount of daylight has been getting longer.  Since January 10th, our sunrise times have returned to getting earlier with each passing day.

Gaining Daylight

Gaining Daylight

The amount of daylight we receive will continue to increase through the summer solstice in June.  We’ve gained about 19 minutes of daylight since the winter solstice.  In just one month’s time—February 13th—we will gain an additional 1 hour and 7 minutes! 



Posted under news, statistics, sunlight

This post was written by qni_it on January 12, 2014

Looking on the Bright Side

For those of you who dislike our lack of daylight this time of year (including yours truly), I’ve got great news!

Between December 3rd and today—Saturday December 14th—Rockford’s sunset time was 4:24pm.  Beginning tomorrow and lasting through June, we will see increased daylight at the end of every day!  Sunday’s sunset will be at 4:25pm.


Keep in mind that daylight as a whole will not increase until after next weekend.  The Winter Soltice arrives Saturday, December 21 at approximately 11:17am CST.

Here’s to looking on the bright side!



Posted under news, statistics, sunlight

This post was written by qni_it on December 14, 2013