Project: Tornado- Getting ready for “tornado season”

May 10, 2016: It’s that time of year again!

The 13 Weather Authority has been visiting schools every spring for the better part of the last decade, educating area students about the science behind tornadoes, and severe weather preparedness.  We are kicking off another round of schools this week, visiting at least one a day through next Friday. Our goal is to make sure the kids in our area are less scared by severe weather, since they know what to do and where to go when severe weather strikes. We also hope the students we talk to every year share this information with their friends and family, so everyone in our community knows how to respond to severe weather.

The question for you is: do you know what to do? Are you ready for severe weather season?

Throughout the week and into next week, we’ll be bringing you a variety of topics to help you get ready, plus offer a few opportunities to view us live while we are in action at the schools for Project: Tornado, in addition to having a live chat about severe weather and getting ready for the season.

For starters, a little more about tornado season itself:


We typically see the majority of our tornadoes between April and June.  This is what we consider “tornado season” around the Stateline.  The reason for the season during this time frame is due to the “roller coaster” weather we usually get around this time of year; we bounce back and forth between very cool and very warm, giving us that contrast in air masses that promotes thunderstorm development. The winds throughout the atmosphere are in the right places to help with wind shear, or winds moving at different directions at different heights.  This provides the “spin” needed in the atmosphere for rotating storms and severe weather.

Severe weather set-up

IMPORTANT: remember that we can get severe weather and tornadoes at any time of the year! Tornadoes have touched down in northern Illinois in November (the Washington tornado in 2013 is an example), or even in January (the Poplar Grove tornado in 2008). As long as the conditions are set up right, we can get tornadoes even in the winter.

Most tornadoes pop up in late afternoon to evening hours in the Stateline.  Again, don’t think we can’t get overnight or early morning tornadoes, but the majority develop later in the day.  As you may have guessed, the later afternoon hours are the hottest parts of the day, so the amount of energy built up in the atmosphere is at its highest. If we can get something to act as a trigger, storms will explosively develop and lead to severe weather.

Since we are in the middle of May, we are smack dab in the middle of tornado “season”. If you aren’t prepared for severe weather already, this is the time to do it!

The National Weather Service has a great breakdown of the steps you need to take to be ready for severe weather. It’s called PPMA, or “Prepare, Practice, Monitor, Act”.


Right now you should be taking the “prepare” and “practice” steps.  I’ll talk more about all of these steps in the coming days, but here’s something to get you started:


-Start by reviewing your severe weather plan.  Do you know where to go at home, work, school, etc. if there’s severe weather?

-Do your family and friends know this plan, where to meet, and how to get a hold of one another before, during, and after severe weather strikes?

-What ways do you have to get weather information and severe weather alerts? Are all of these methods on, working, and in a place that you will be able to hear them in case of an alert?

Start going through these questions, and we’ll provide some tips and suggestions throughout the week!



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

This post was written by Alex Kirchner on May 10, 2016

Severe Weather Preparedness Week 2016

March 3, 2016: This week is Severe Weather Preparedness Week for the state of Illinois. Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, the state has its statewide tornado drill, so you likely heard the warning sirens, and your weather radio also may have gone off with a test message. The National Weather Service also held a storm spotter training class for Winnebago County.

The purpose of the week is to remind and refresh residents on the dangers of severe weather. Why so early in March, when there’s still snow in the forecast? Look at it this way- there’s still plenty of time to get ready and refresh yourself on your severe weather plan of action before the storms start to hit our area!

Billboard 2

So what should you do to get ready?  First, review your severe weather plan of action. Don’t have one? Here’s what you should think over and coordinate with your friends and family: where do you need to go to be safe from severe weather?  This includes tornadoes, severe thunderstorms with hail and high winds, and flash flooding. You may know where to go in your house or apartment, but do you know where to go at work, at school, at church, or anywhere else you visit frequently?  If you don’t know, start asking at those places or ask us at 13 WREX- we are hear to help!

Secondly, make sure you have multiple ways to get severe weather information.  This may include:

– outdoor warning sirens (***IMPORTANT***: remember that those sirens are only meant for people outdoors! You may not hear them in the house, so don’t completely rely on them!)

– local TV and radio stations

– a NOAA weather radio

– text message alerts or weather app alerts

– calls from family or friends to relay important information

– the internet

Multiple ways to get severe weather alerts is very, very important.  Only relying on one way to get warnings can lead to injury or worse, in case that particular method does not get your attention in time.

Severe weather season is coming up fast- while severe weather can happen at any time of the year (even in winter), our peak season for tornadoes is between April and June, with flash flood events mostly likely between July and August. Start getting ready now, and stay tuned for more information like this as we get closer to the start of severe weather season!



Posted under safety, severe weather, tornado, weather

This post was written by Alex Kirchner on March 3, 2016

One thing’s for sure; it’s going to be windy.

We’ve seen them before, thunderstorms (severe and non-severe) during the month of November in the Midwest. In fact, the anniversary of the 2013 Washington, Illinois tornado that took 8 lives is one week from today. In just under two weeks, we’ll pass the anniversary of the 2010 Caledonia, Illinois tornado that was responsible for snapping trees and high-tension transmission power towers.

This Wednesday looks far from those events for the Stateline, but we may get in on a few rumbles of thunder. First, let’s talk about what’s happening:

An area of low pressure is sitting over Colorado right now, and will track northeast in our neck of the woods as we get closer to Wednesday night. We should dodge most (if not, all) of the severe weather that could come along with this system.  Especially for places as far north as Rockford.

Regardless of thunderstorm activity, winds will be gusty Wednesday and Wednesday night (around 40mph without thunderstorms) through Friday. IF we generate a thunderstorm or two on Wednesday night, those winds could get strong to severe (upwards of 50 mph).

What does all of that really mean? There is a *slight* chance for thunderstorms on Wednesday night and through those overnight hours. There is a much better chance to just see some rainfall, and possibly Wind Advisory set up out of this as well.

What to expect: Rainfall
Don’t rule out: Thunderstorm with strong to severe winds

While most of the marbles add up to just seeing some rain/gusty winds, be prepared for some strong winds during those hours, especially near and south of I-88.

Because of this, the Storm Prediction Center has the Stateline area under a marginal risk for severe weather, with a few areas (including Dixon and Rochelle) under a slight risk. The biggest threat still looks to be damaging winds. The bigger threat stays to our southwest, in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. We’ll keep you posted on air and right here on the 13 Weather Authority Blog.





Posted under First Look, rain, safety, severe weather, Threatrack, tornado, Wind

This post was written by Morgan Kolkmeyer on November 10, 2015

Cold air funnels vs. tornadoes

June 29, 2015: The conditions in the atmosphere this afternoon brought some interesting weather to the Stateline. We saw funnel clouds of a few types around our area. To help with any curiosity or confusion over what we saw today, here’s the difference between cold air funnel clouds and tornadic funnel clouds (basically, two very different set of conditions in the atmosphere):

First off, what does a cold air funnel look like?  A few viewers provided snapshots of some of the cold air funnels in our area today.

Viewer photos of cold air funnels this afternoon. Click on image to enlarge.


Notice a couple things about the funnel clouds.  First off, see how high they are in the sky? And how small and puny they look?  These are some of the distinguishing characteristics of a cold air funnel cloud.  They are “high-based”, as we meteorologists like to call them, or that they form pretty far off the ground and high up in the storm or clouds.  Two, they look like a much bigger problem, but only get to be about that size, and remain small, weak-looking, and are slowly rotating. Cold air funnel clouds rarely reach the ground, and if they do, there is minimal to no damage. They only appear threatening, but are basically harmless.

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.

How do they form? There has to be a shallow layer of cold air, BEHIND a cold front (this is a key difference from tornadoes, in that tornado-producing storms usually form along or AHEAD of a front).  There also has to be a little wind shear, or winds changing direction as you go up away from the ground. As the air from the surface rises, it spins a little in the weak shear, and if that air makes it to the cloud and fully condenses, you see a little, weak rotating cloud under the storm.

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.

This is different from a tornado, in that a tornado needs much stronger wind shear, as well as plenty of warm, moist air to raise the instability in the atmosphere.  Unstable air can rise very quickly, getting the base of the storm to be lower.  This allows a much stronger rotation to be close to the surface, causing damage winds.

In summary, a cold air funnel forms much higher in the sky, is weakly rotating, and doesn’t pose much of a threat. A rotating funnel cloud spinning much faster and is much closer to the ground is most likely going to result in a tornado.

Tornado Warning for Lee County this evening. The conditions were much different in Lee Co. compared to elsewhere, so this type of rotation was threatening. Click on image to enlarge.

Tornado Warning for Lee County this evening. The conditions were much different in Lee Co. compared to elsewhere, so this type of rotation was threatening. Click on image to enlarge.

We saw both of these conditions today- the air near Rockford was cooler and weakly sheared, while the air in Lee Co. where we had a tornado warning for a while was much more humid, a little warmer, and had better shear.

So, how do you know the difference, and what should you do if you see a funnel cloud? Treat all funnel clouds with respect, and keep plenty of distance between you and them. The best advice is if you see a ROTATING (sometimes clouds hang low off of the storm, look like a funnel, but are harmless because they don’t rotate) storm cloud, check in with us online, on Facebook or Twitter, on-air, etc. and etc., or check to see if you weather radio is going off, your phone has an emergency alert on it, etc. We or the National Weather Service will let you know if that funnel cloud poses a threat or not. And remember, conditions can change in a hurry, or vary from location to location. Earlier in the day, the cold air funnels to the north did not pose a threat, but later in the afternoon there was a different set of conditions that sparked a potential tornado in Lee Co.  When in doubt, play it safe, get inside, and check in with us.



Posted under safety, science, severe weather, tornado, weather

This post was written by Alex Kirchner on June 29, 2015

Shifting Severe Threats

June 24, 2015: As mentioned yesterday, there are plenty of time when one round of thunderstorms has a direct impact on the next rounds coming after them. This can have major impacts on possible severe weather; we may see plenty of potential for severe weather, but have to wait to see how the pieces fall into place.

Tonight, strong thunderstorms are still possible, but not as likely as areas south of I-80 in central Illinois. The reason for the shift in the severe weather areas is all do to earlier rounds of thunderstorms.


Click on image to enlarge

Several rounds of thunderstorms in Iowa this morning produced enough outflow to keep a warm front nearly stationary over Missouri.  The air behind that front is very unstable and would be needed to help fire off severe weather over us. However, the morning storms in Iowa plus a little activity that rolled through the Stateline this evening has kept us nice and cool, and pushed on the front enough to keep it in place.


Severe weather chances for Wednesday night (June 24). Click on image to enlarge.

As a result, the best places for severe weather are now in southern Iowa and central Illinois, and away from us.  We could still get some strong storms and heavy rainfall, which could lead to flash flooding, but the risk isn’t as high as to our south.


Click on image to enlarge.

Eventually, upper level winds will direct more unstable air towards us, so the strong storms in Iowa do eventually move in, but without the extra help from the warm front being close to us, we won’t see as explosive of development.

Keep the weather radio on and handy just in case overnight, and watch out for flooded roads tomorrow morning during your commute. However, we shouldn’t have to hold our breath as much tonight since conditions are looking better for severe weather in places that aren’t our backyard.




Posted under flooding, rain, science, severe weather, weather

This post was written by Alex Kirchner on June 24, 2015

Project: Tornado 2015 Wrap-up

May 21, 2015: Project: Tornado has wrapped up for another year, as we visited our last school today. While this year’s round of presentations is over, our message about severe weather preparedness isn’t!  We’ll get to that in one second.

First, a special thanks goes out to all of the teachers, principals, and administrators that invited us to visit your school and students!  We had a great time talking to all of the eager and enthusiastic children in the Stateline we got to meet within the last 4 weeks.

project tornado

Overall, 4,176 students were taught about severe weather safety and tornadoes. Each student went home with a Project: Tornado book, so our hope is that for each student that reads and shares that book with their loved one, we reach many more thousands of people about the importance of weather awareness and safety.

Severe weather season is not over yet, so make sure you are always taking the proper steps to be aware and safe during severe weather, even though we haven’t had any since the April 9 tornado outbreak. This is the same message we shared with all of the students:

– have multiple ways to get weather alerts, such as the TV, radio, text message alerts, a weather app, and a weather radio.  You can sign up for text alerts at, download our 13 Weather Authority app for free for your smartphone, and we will hold several more weather radio events to program a radio for you.

– know where to go and what to do when severe weather strikes.  If you hear thunder, go indoors immediately. In the event of a severe thunderstorm, get inside and stay away from the windows. Know where to go in your house, work place, etc. if a tornado threatens.  You may only have minutes to act, so have a plan in place now.

– be weather aware: stay in-tune with the weather forecast, know when severe weather may threaten, and plan accordingly. If you see rapidly changing weather, it would be best to head indoors and check with 13 WREX for updates.

Thanks again to all of the schools we visited this year!  Look for sign-up for next year’s Project: Tornado sometime in March 2016.

– Alex


Posted under event, Project: Tornado, safety, science, severe weather, tornado, weather

This post was written by Alex Kirchner on May 21, 2015

Project: Tornado…The Final Days

The end is near, but the reason has only just begun!
Severe weather season is in full swing, and the 13 Weather Authority has been making sure Stateline students know how to handle it by continuing Project: Tornado.

Within the last three weeks, we have traveled to 19 schools across Northern Illinois educating elementary students on how thunderstorms form and how to stay safe during a tornado. As of today, roughly 2,651 students are prepared for severe weather, and we’re still not done!
Next week, we finish off our final week of Project: Tornado, as we head to Spring Creek Elementary, Rolling Green, Barbour Language Academy, Swan Hillman and St. Mary’s School to educate another 1,200 students. This means almost 4,000 Stateline students will know exactly what to do when severe weather strikes.

Each student receives a Project: Tornado booklet, filled with pictures, games, and important information to help them understand thunderstorm processes, tornadoes, safety, and local historic tornadoes.
Here’s a sneak peek:




























‘Severe weather ready’ students are from Conklin Elementary, Perry Elementary, Pecatonica Elementary, Keith Country Day, Jefferson Elementary, Immanuel Lutheran School, Ellis Arts Academy, Lincoln-Douglas Elementary, Rockford Lutheran Academy, Thurgood Marshall School, Ralston Elementary, C. Henry Bloom, Holy Family Catholic School, West View Elementary, Shirland School, Highland Grade School, Loves Park Elementary, Lewis Lemon Elementary, and Nashold Elementary.



Posted under event, Exactrack|HD, history, Project: Tornado, safety, science, severe weather, tornado, weather, weather geek, Wind

This post was written by Morgan Kolkmeyer on May 15, 2015

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

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

Looking back on April 9th, 2015

Last Thursday was our first taste of severe weather for the season and it was a very eventful day. The event started with a deepening, fast moving low pressure system. This low pressure system was the driving force for converging and gusty surface winds that evening. There was a strong frontal boundary difference making way for backing winds near the boundary helping rotation. The surface was very moist with dew-points observed at Rochelle and Sterling reaching 66° at one point. This became a perfect setup for a large and dangerous tornado.

The night began with some scattered strong thunderstorms, but no Tornado Warnings were issued until 6:09 PM and that is when storms started to fire up all across the Northern Illinois region.

TOR Timeline 9th

The first Tornado warning was for a radar signature of rotation just south of Cherry Valley. Soon after at 6:35 PM was the first issued Tornado Warning for a large wedge tornado near Ashton. Finally all tornado warnings had expired around 7:45 PM.

So far throughout the state of Illinois there have been 8 confirmed tornadoes. Four of these tornadoes were confirmed in the Stateline.

tornadoes april 9th

The strongest tornado being an EF-4 that tracked across Lee, Ogle, and DeKalb counties. This was the first EF-4 tornado on record in the Northern Illinois region since the community of Washington was struck by one in November of 2013. Wind speeds associated with this EF-4 Tornado were around 180-200 mph. This was the major tornado produced with this storm. There have been 2 fatalities confirmed with this tornado and more than 20 people injured. Structures in the small town of Fairdale, IL have been almost completely swept away.

The EF-4 was not the only tornado in the Stateline that was destructive. An EF-1 tornado with wind speeds up to 110 mph roared through areas just south of Belvidere. This EF-1 tornado first touched down near Flora Road where it impacted a zoo.  Two zoo animals died as a result of the damage caused by the tornado.

Then there were the two EF-0 tornadoes that were south of Cherry Valley and just south of Lindenwood that had little to no damage associated with them.

Here is a graphic posted by the National Weather Service in Chicago of the tracks of the four tornadoes.

nws tor tracks

This photo can be found on their Facebook and I have posted the link below. Also, surveying has not been completed all the way yet by the National Weather Service and when they come out with their newest information we will be sure to pass that along to all of you!

– Nick Jansen

National Weather Service Facebook post:


Posted under severe weather, tornado, weather

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