Weather Preparedness Week: Tornadoes

CHICAGO (WLS) — This week is Illinois Weather Preparedness Week. ABC7’s Larry Mowry takes an in-depth look at tornado climatology.

Tornadoes can occur at any time of the year and at any time of the day. But there is a preferred time of year and even a preferred time of day when tornadoes are most likely to occur. Location matters too, and in the Midwest, tornadoes are common.

Illinois records an average of 54 tornadoes per year. Only the Central and Southern Plains states and Florida have a higher average.

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An active jet stream coming over the Rocky Mountains and warm Gulf moisture flowing north are the ingredients that make our region a prime location for storms.

Last year, an EF-3 tornado hit Naperville and before moving into Willow Springs. And the Naplate tornado in Ottawa which was an EF 3 in 2017.

Tornadoes are a big threat in the spring, but they can strike at any time.

Mike Bardou is a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Romeoville.

“There are distinct seasons and for tornadoes we see the peak from around April to August. Although we have had tornadoes at all times of the year. Around 9 p.m., that’s really where we see these spikes,” Bardou said.

This graph shows that May and June have historically had the most tornadoes

But what about Lake Michigan? There is a myth that the lake protects against tornadoes, but experts say that is not true.

The lake offers no reliable protection against tornadoes. Historically speaking, we’ve had a lot of tornadoes within the city limits or all around the lakeside counties.

One of the most recent tornadoes occurred in August 2020 when an EF 1 passed through the Rogers Park area and made its way to the edge of the lake.

In September 2019, an EF -1 tornado also hit Waukegan and continued into the lake as a waterspout.

In fact, when you look at the number of tornadoes reported in surrounding counties since 1950, there is no buffer created by the lake. Cook County has seen 58 tornadoes since 1950, the most of any county. There are several reasons for this. First, it is one of the largest counties in the region. And second, even small weak tornadoes are seen by someone or hit something in such a populated area. A small tornado touching a field may never be counted.

As we head into spring, now is the time to prepare. Think about what you are going to do, how are you going to get weather information, how are you going to get warnings, and what are you going to do when these things actually come out.

It is important to remember the difference between a watch and a warning. A watch means conditions are possible for a tornado. A tornado warning means one has been spotted and you need to take shelter now.

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