Weather Wednesday — April 9, 2015 Illinois Tornado Outbreak

On this Tax Day edition of Weather Wednesday, we’ll revisit last week’s tornado outbreak in Illinois. Statewide, 11 tornadoes have been confirmed in the April 9th event. The earliest, which caused very little damage, was reported just northwest of Peoria in the afternoon hours. By early evening, strong thunderstorms were crossing far northern Illinois and eventually spawned the first EF-4 tornadoes ever reported in DeKalb and Ogle Counties (records kept since 1950) and the strongest tornado in the National Weather Service Chicago Office County Warning Area since an EF-5 devastated Plainfield, in the southwest suburbs, in 1990.

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AP

Two people were killed in the unincorporated town of Fairdale where nearly every structure, more than 70 in all counting outbuildings, was either damaged or destroyed. 22 injuries were reported in the outbreak. The tornadoes eventually approached the far western suburbs of Chicago but missed three population centers near their path. Damage was widely scattered in a multi-county area.

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PBrooks Photography

This outbreak was well forecast and there is general agreement there was plenty of warning. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC), as it did with the EF-3 and 4 tornadoes in Illinois on November 17, 2013, mentioned possibly tornadic storms at least four days in advance.

The National Weather Service Chicago Office updated their summary of the tornadoes just this morning. This is one of the most complete such documents I’ve ever read and includes some of the few satellite images of a tornado’s path I’ve ever seen. Read it all the way to the bottom and you’ll see the SPC guidance in the week leading up to the storms.

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Wedge tornado and wall cloud near Hillcrest, Illinois. Larissa Sebree via NOAA.

A couple of these tornadoes were extremely well documented via video (note:  Strong language toward end) and live streaming and some of the visuals of the rotating wall clouds were just about textbook. The low sun angle contributed how well the tornadoes were captured.

There was also a significant side issue involving a motorist by the name of Sam Smith who was shooting video. That footage was widely shown on television and the driver was taken to task for getting too close to the storm, even if accidentally.  (There are now licensing issues with the video so we won’t link to it here.  However, it is widely available on You Tube.)

There were a couple of takeaways from his experience which are good reminders to all of us who may encounter storms. First, if a funnel cloud or tornado does not appear to be moving, it is either headed straight for the observer or dead away from the observer. To be safe, get out of that area immediately by driving at right angles to the storm. Second, this motorist backed up to take shelter in his vehicle under a bridge. Although many people have done that and survived, experts say that is a bad idea because wind speed may actually be amplified as it is compressed into that confined space.  There have been fatalities of people under overpasses.

Weather Wednesday –New Definitions from the Storm Prediction Center

There’s been much talk in recent weeks of a more detailed method of describing the potential for severe weather now being employed by the Storm Prediction Center in its Convective Outlooks. The SPC worked with National Weather Service offices, communications experts and consumers of its products to expand its long time use of the “Slight, Moderate and High” risk categories to “Marginal, Slight, Enhanced, Moderate and High.”

In addition, the chart below describes what the storms might look like under each newly-defined category and what the main threats would be.

Understanding Categories
The Storm Prediction Center has many products that can be used by broadcast meteorologists, emergency managers and the general public to look as far as 8 days ahead. These tools are especially valuable for planning purposes and should never supplant your detailed local forecast.

The Mesoscale Discussions are particularly helpful on days when severe weather is expected. The discussions are issued on an “as needed” basis as storm threats develop. Other tools are updated as often as four times a day. If you’ve never visited the site at spc.noaa.gov, now would be a good time to familiarize yourself with the offerings.

 

Meet a Delegate Monday: Andrea Higdon

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Andrea Higdon

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN?Disasters, Preparedness, Andrea Higdon

University of Kentucky’s Point of Contact, Tom Priddy, highly recommended I attend the EDEN Annual Meeting in Fargo, ND, in 2005.  At that first meeting, I recall a very warm welcome from Pat Skinner who immediately pushed me into the deep end of the pool by recruiting me for the Information Clearinghouse Committee.  At the time, I was just beginning to learn about Extension’s role in disaster preparedness.  The innovative ideas and enthusiastic educators at the meeting really motivated me to get more involved and helped mold my career path in disaster preparedness in the food and agriculture sector.

2. What is your role in disaster preparedness in your state?

I currently serve as the Emergency Management System Director for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.  In that role, I am responsible for all safety and emergency management activities in the College, including emergency action plans, business continuity, training, and compliance.  I also serve as the College liaison to internal and external local, state, and federal stakeholder emergency preparedness groups.

3. Tell us a little about your role in developing and implementing the SCAP Program.

The EDEN Strengthening Community Agrosecurity Planning (S-CAP) program began as a concept driven by the EDEN Agrosecurity Program Area Work Group.  A need was identified to help local emergency managers address animal and agricultural issues in their emergency operations plans, as its importance is often overlooked.

In 2008, I was part of a team of educators from the University of Kentucky and New Mexico State University that led the development of the program, with significant support from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Clemson Extension, The University of Tennessee Extension, Colorado State University Extension, Montana State University, and Utah State University Cooperative Extension.  The product resulting from the team effort was a 2-day workshop to enable community partners to build capacity to handle agricultural issues during an emergency or disaster, improve networking among stakeholders who can plan for and respond to emergencies, and develop community agrosecurity planning teams to establish or enhance agrosecurity components within existing local emergency operations plans.

Since its inception, the S-CAP program has been delivered in 20+ states and 50+ trainers have been through the train-the-trainer program.  S-CAP is recognized as a strategic theme in practice to empower local action in the December 2011 FEMA document titled “A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:  Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action (FDOC 104-009-1)”.  The workshop has undergone several revisions to continue to improve upon the original concept.  The most recent revision was approved by FEMA’s National Training and Education Division for inclusion in their state/federal course catalog.  Over the course of the program’s lifetime, we’ve received critical financial support from USDA NIFA and DHS.  I maintain my role as the S-CAP program director and communities continue to host our program with critical support from extension educators across the nation.

4. What has been your favorite part of getting involved with EDEN?

This is an easy question.  Without a doubt, my favorite part of getting involved with EDEN is the people.  EDEN delegates are so passionate and knowledgeable about their craft, one can’t help but walk away feeling energized and excited about disaster preparedness after talking with any one of them.  Over the years I’ve developed deep professional and personal relationships that will last a lifetime.  I truly appreciate and value my time spent in EDEN.