The tornado trends in Illinois has been updated to include data through 2013. The plots in order are the number of tornado reports by year, deaths by year, and injuries per year. Click to enlarge each plot.
These plots are based on storm data at the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). Tornado records are notorious for not being consistent over time. It is nobody’s fault – technology changes and reporting techniques have improved over time. The newer NWS Doppler radar systems were installed in the 1990s, the spotter networks continue to improve, and everyone has a cell phone with a camera. As a result, the number of tornadoes has increased in recent years with the better accounting.
In addition, there is always the potential for over-counting the number of tornadoes as they travel. For example, you might have a report for a tornado spotted 2 miles west of Smithville, and then another report 10 minutes later of a tornado north of Smithville. Was this the same tornado or two separate ones? Hard to tell without supporting evidence, especially before the modern-day radars.
I think the number of deaths and injuries by year in Illinois may actually be more reliable than the tornado frequency because they were just as widely reported in the media in the 1950s and 1960s as they are today. One can clearly see the spike in 1967 due to the Oak Lawn/Belvidere tornado outbreak and the 1990 spike from the Plainfield tornado. Sadly, the last two years have been bad in terms of fatalities in Illinois – 2012 with 9 deaths (Harrisburg, IL) and 2013 with 8 deaths (November 17, 2013 outbreak) after 7 relatively quiet years.
On Friday, I visited Washington IL to check on the recovery from the November 17, 2013, tornado event. The good news is that I saw lots of construction. The bad news is that a lot of damage remains. As a result of the harsh winter, very little clean up could be done in these conditions, let alone extensive construction. In fact, the city is still looking for volunteers to help with the cleanup. Other locations hit by the November 17 tornado outbreak are facing similar conditions.
While tornadoes can occur in any month of the year, our core season in March-June. In many cases, a community has a full construction season to recover from such a disaster. One of the unique aspects of this tornado outbreak is that it happened in mid November, with winter right around the corner. And not just any winter, but one of the harshest winters in a long time. Looking at the weather records for nearby Peoria, the low temperatures after November 17 quickly dropped below freezing with a few light snow events. By December, they had a full-blown winter. By the end of it, Peoria received 49.6 inches of snow, the second highest total behind the 52.5 inches in 2010-11. It was the 8th coldest December-February on record as well. It is no wonder that the cleanup effort has a long ways to go.
However, as they say, “spring brings hope” and on that spring day last Friday I saw signs of hope and recovery for Washington IL. My sympathies go out to all tornado victims as they heal physically, financially, and emotionally from this natural disaster.