A Sad Anniversary

Today marks a tragic anniversary in Northern IL/IN history. Two years ago on this date, a tragic tornado outbreak, completely unexpected and unlike anything most of the area had seen in nearly a decade, took shape in the afternoon hours on a dreary Tuesday afternoon. I remember that day all too well. The eerieness was horrific. The whole day was cool, clammy, and wet. Stratoform clouds and rain blanketed the area. As the afternoon wore on and tornado warnings were coming out from what appeared to be the backside of the rain shield were coming out, it became clear that something was quite wrong with the forecasts. The afternoon continued to grow more and more dangerous. A line of mini-supercells, with a classic supercell and the western end of the line, formed across north-central and NE IL.

As it would turn out, that classic supercell would strike populated areas, with tragic results. The most severe tornado of the evening would touchdown in Putnam County just SW of Granville. It moved into Granville, producing severe strong-F2 damage. It continued off to the NE, producing multiple-vortex trails in the farmland. The tornado continued into the valley, where an odd path would take it into a small (but now famous) town called Utica, population 1000. Strengthening to F3 and widening to about 1/8 mile, the tornado slammed into town. Eight people would die, and seven would be injured when a 120-year-old building, the Milestone Tap, collapsed, trapping the victims in the basement.

Any tornado death is tragic; they are especially tragic when they occur in the matter of the Utica deaths. What makes the Utica deaths so tragic is that many of the people that died did so in a place that was suppose to be safer than where they were, in mobile homes. It gets even worse. Those mobile homes from which most of the people evacuted were left standing, narrowly missed by the tornado.

That tornado would lift just north of Utica rather abruptly on the bluff at the north end of town. This meso was nowhere near done. Right before reaching I-80, it seemed as though the whole mesocyclone just hit the ground in the form of a massive 1/2-mile-wide multiple-vortex tornado. Luckily, this tornado would miss any substantial structures in its 8-mile-long path; thus, it was rated F2. However, in personal discussion with NWS LOT officials and examening the aerial survey video, it became clear to me that it had F4/F5 potential, as indicated by the rather incredible structure on radar and the incredible set of swirls in the ground.

The tornado terror continued through the evening. A strong F1 tornado struck Joliet, Will County, IL, doing extensive damage. Another strong F1/very-near F2 struck the south side of Kankakee, IL, with a compact path of fairly intense damage. A strong F2 tornado leveled a church in Hopkins Park in the extremely impoverished Pembroke Township in SE Kankakee County, IL. In all, a total of 31 tornadoes would touchdown, with 8 deaths and 7 injuries, all in Utica at the Milestone Tap.

Now, with such devastation, you would think that the nearby Chicago area would have received a wakeup call. Nope. Not at all. In fact, just a couple months ago, my own high school was putting students in the gym for a tornado warning with a confirmed funnel cloud! This area will suffer incredible casualties the next time a tornado outbreak occurs.

Some useful links:
1. NWS LOT report (with additions by Al Pietrycha)
2. NWS IND report
3. NWS DVN report (Clinton County)
4. NWS DVN report (Putnam County)
5. NWS IWX report
6. NWS ILX report
7. CBS 2 Chicago stories (GREAT VIDEO)
8. Part I of a PULITZER-PRIZE-WINNING Chicago Tribune Series on the Utica tornado (with links to parts II and III)
9. Tornado/damage photos
 
" a place that was suppose to be safer than where they were, in mobile homes."

A 120-yr old BRICK building is not safe... Not even remotely close to safe. Bricks have no "give" in them, whereas typical buildings can bend a bit. Plus the foundation and walls were notably cracked prior to the storm. This was not a building I would be anywhere near in a high-wind event.
 
I remember that day quite well. I believe there was a severe weather outbreak that day in the southern Plains. I vividly remember the Day 1 outlook for that day having the state of Illinois in NO t-storm risk whatsoever. What made that day in Illinois so different that most springtime tornado events was that everything was low-topped b/c the cloudy, dreary, overcast condition (=low instability), but obviously there was a hella mount of helicity/shear and low level moisture to boot. Having interned at the SPC now, I can tell you personally that the SPC has not forgotten that day. What was good about that day was how the local weather service offices were right on top of things. It was good to see that none of the mets were sitting back watching an afternoon cubs game and totally zoned out of what was unfolding. Give credit to the weather service as well as local, i.e. WGN/Tom Skilling for actually preventing more deaths from occuring out of what obviously coulda been a real forecasting tragedy.
You mention the Milestone Tap, any of you that watch TWC and Storm Stories, they did a really good job documenting the lives and series of events in the tavern before and after the storm. I distinctly remember TWC storm story episode on the Milestone Tap, though I havent seen it in prob a year now.
 
" a place that was suppose to be safer than where they were, in mobile homes."

A 120-yr old BRICK building is not safe... Not even remotely close to safe. Bricks have no "give" in them, whereas typical buildings can bend a bit. Plus the foundation and walls were notably cracked prior to the storm. This was not a building I would be anywhere near in a high-wind event.
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:angry:

Though I agree, the point is, in general, the people did the right thing, especially considering that the LAST PLACE anyone should be is in a mobile home. People associate brick buildings with safety, as it is in many cases. It just so happened that a 120-year-old sandstone 3 story brick building does not fall into that category. You have to keep in mind that these people are not meteorologists or structural engineers; don't ridicule them just because you know that you wouldn't have taken shelter there. They were victims of circumstance, people that were following safety rules but ended up in an unfortunate situation.
 
I was remembering the anniversary of the April 20, 2004 outbreak as I was driving by Utica today. There is still tornado damage visible downtown as well as the permanent memorial to the 8 victims of this tornado.
This event to me still seems like it was a dream. I remember thinking that thought as it unfolded in front of my eyes. The seemingly unpredictibility of this event boggles my mind to this day. To go from 59 degree temperatures to wedge tornadoes in 2 hrs seems an impossibility. But from that experience it changed the way I view storms, from watching a movie through a veiwfinder to a reality affecting people, friends and family.

[attachmentid=178] [attachmentid=179]

Granville,IL tornado video
Utica,IL tornado video
Utica multivortex tornado video

Jerry Funfsinn
Creative Jetstream
 
What was good about that day was how the local weather service offices were right on top of things. It was good to see that none of the mets were sitting back watching an afternoon cubs game and totally zoned out of what was unfolding.
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Actually, I believe the 4pm updated Hazardous Weather Outlook from the Chicago NWSFO (KLOT) said that no severe thunderstorms were expected. In addition, the Day 1 did include the area in the "general thunderstorm" risk... See the SPC outlooks HERE (Severe Thunderstorm Events Database). So, this one slipped under the radar of everyone, and I wouldn't quite say that the NWSFOs were entirely on top of things (at least from a forecast standpoint). I will agree that, from a warning standpoint, things did seem to go quite well. Low-level shear was pretty decent, but I think the main thing that led to this event being unforecast was that rate at which destabilization occurred across the region. The warm front moved through central and northern IL very rapidly, leading to rapid changes in the thermodynamic profiles across the area. In addition, while net CAPE wasn't particularly noteworthy, there was ample amounts of low-level CAPE.

Jon Davies has a nice little write-up on this day... See Tornadoes in a Deceptively Small CAPE Setting: The "Surprise" 4/20/04 Outbreak in Illinois and Indiana.
 
Not coming down on them at all - I just sat through some training with the expert in shelters and learned a TON of things I never thought of. I'm just addressing the comment that it's "supposed" to be safe -- and that building is not.
 
I was remembering the anniversary of the April 20, 2004 outbreak as I was driving by Utica today. There is still tornado damage visible downtown as well as the permanent memorial to the 8 victims of this tornado.
This event to me still seems like it was a dream. I remember thinking that thought as it unfolded in front of my eyes. The seemingly unpredictibility of this event boggles my mind to this day. To go from 59 degree temperatures to wedge tornadoes in 2 hrs seems an impossibility. But from that experience it changed the way I view storms, from watching a movie through a veiwfinder to a reality affecting people, friends and family.

[attachmentid=178] [attachmentid=179]

Granville,IL tornado video
Utica,IL tornado video
Utica multivortex tornado video

Jerry Funfsinn
Creative Jetstream
[/b]
I just went to Starved Rock SP over spring break and passed through Utica on the way there and back. Hopefully, I can upload some of the pics I took while I was there. I too saw the remaining damaged buildings, empty foundations, and the memorial that was setup at the sight of the Milestone Tap. I will say, though, since the last time I was there (about a year ago), a lot of rebuilding has taken place. Still, it is sad to see the plots of land and abandoned buildings still there two years removed from the event. We here in Schererville actually had the meso that produced the Kankakee tornado pass right over us right after the tornado near Beecher lifted; unfortunately, it was dark when the meso came by, and we were in the basement. What a nightmare of a night we all had around here.

Originally posted by CHris Whitehead
I remember that day quite well. I believe there was a severe weather outbreak that day in the southern Plains. I vividly remember the Day 1 outlook for that day having the state of Illinois in NO t-storm risk whatsoever. What made that day in Illinois so different that most springtime tornado events was that everything was low-topped b/c the cloudy, dreary, overcast condition (=low instability), but obviously there was a hella mount of helicity/shear and low level moisture to boot. Having interned at the SPC now, I can tell you personally that the SPC has not forgotten that day. What was good about that day was how the local weather service offices were right on top of things. It was good to see that none of the mets were sitting back watching an afternoon cubs game and totally zoned out of what was unfolding. Give credit to the weather service as well as local, i.e. WGN/Tom Skilling for actually preventing more deaths from occuring out of what obviously coulda been a real forecasting tragedy.
You mention the Milestone Tap, any of you that watch TWC and Storm Stories, they did a really good job documenting the lives and series of events in the tavern before and after the storm. I distinctly remember TWC storm story episode on the Milestone Tap, though I havent seen it in prob a year now.

You remind me of a point I wanted to bring up. Tom Skilling/WGN/CLTV (our local cable news station affiliated with WGN) was really the only station with great coverage, AS PER USUAL. That is another reason why everyone around here is in trouble when the next outbreak comes knocking: lack of severe weather coverage. Except for Skilling/WGN/CLTV, it takes a confirmed tornado in the immidiate Chicago area to break into coverage; CLTV breaks into continuous coverage for a severe thunderstorm warning. They are top-notch. However, the rest of the media market's severe weather coverage, well, blows (pun intended).
 
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