Washington Illinois EF-4 Tornado November 17th 2013

Nov 19, 2013


Chased late season high risk outbreak in local turf catching the large, long tracked and unfortunately deadly EF-4 tornado that tore through Washington Illinois. Stopped to perform search and rescue before resuming chase catching a distant view of a second tornado near Dana, IL. Called chase once storms got too far ahead and had dinner in Bloomington, IL.




Tornadoes: 2

Hail: 1.75′ (golf ball)

Wind: n/a

Milestones: Latest tornadoes in any year. First morning tornado. First home state violent tornado.

The Setup:

Strong, negatively tilted trough plowing down into the midwest out of Canada with impressive 110kt jet streak. Strong sub tropical jet out of the SW pumped in unseasonably high moisture content into the days leading up to the event. Surface low forecast to rapidly develop and deepen over the midwest in strongly diverging jet stream. Pronounced dry slot would allow for ample clearing across Illinois leading to unseasonably high CAPE values around 2000 j/kg. With that kind of energy in place along with the strong shear, it was pretty clear a tornado outbreak would be possible causing the SPC to issue the only high risk for tornadoes in all of 2013, which included my home in Chicago. (*Note* June 12th a high risk was issued, but for straight line winds. Tornado probablities remained below high risk criteria for that event.)

Detailed Account:

Watching the forecast for this system evolved, I had one of those gut feelings. Anyone who talked to me in the days leading up to the event knows that. The signals being shown by the models were unprecedented for fall. I kept waiting for new runs to change and kill the system but they never did. The NAM was incredible and nailed this forecast from the very first time it came into range. It was time to gear up for a challenging chase. I was torn about whether or not to abandon my home knowing it was in the target area or head out. Timing looked to be the only concern for Illinois, with the front blasting through in the morning, typically an unfavorable time for tornadoes. Many forecasters ignored the Northern Illinois potential shown  on the models and instead focused more on Southern/Eastearn Illinois into Indiana and Ohio. Not a wrong move, but it seemed many didn’t buy into the central/northern Illinois threat right away.

Low and behold though, the system slowed down just a tad to delay the frontal passage by a critical hour, and things were set in motion. I chose to chase based on this, knowing the more isolated development would occurr further west and south, eventually moving into my home area. Given the strong shear, forecast storm motions were going to be very fast, potentially 70+ MPH so a different chase strategy was needed. I was confident initiation would take place somewhere in western Illinois, so we (Alec Scholten and I) chose to setup a good hour downstream to give the storms time to mature and come to us. Somewhere around Ottawa, IL looked good to me, so we left my house around 730am to get into position. We could feel the sticky air with dewpoints in the 60s, the low level clouds were screaming out of the south, and the sun was shining brightly. It was going to be a big day.

We arrived in our “target zone” around 9am where we sat for awhile as storms began to initiate. They were close together, displaying a linear apperance on radar which at first bummed us out, until i realized they were not in fact linear, but were appearing that way on radar because the shear was blowing the precip out and away from the updrafts. This also lead to good venting, suggesting storms might take on a more classic appearance instead of HP. We watched a cluster of storms approach that would pass to our north so we decided to go take a look. The storms displayed lots of scud, a deep green core but overall were not tornadic. We let them nearly rolls us with a really nice looking whales mouth.

Shortly after this, a storm near Peoria caught our attention on radar that displayed supercell characteristics so we decided it was time to move south and make our move. A couple minutes after this decision a tornado warning was issued and the storm displayed quite a couplet on radar. It was likely producing a tornado. Sure enough en route a couple reports of a large and dangerous tornado came in. I plotted our course which took us down HWY 116 towards Roanoke. As we approached the storm we could see incredible supercell structure as large hail began to fall. Not soon after we spotted something dark in the rain, and it only took a few moments to realize this was a very large tornado displaying incredible motions, likely strong. We stopped at the next view and to our amazement we suddenly had a very clear view of a large tornado.

We held our position once I gauged the tornadoes path which would take it to our south. We filmed as the tornado rapidly approached our location for the next 5 minutes. The tornado had great contrast, incredible motion and unfortunately was filled with debris. I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing given the time of year and location. The next series of video stills showcase these events.

Shortly after this image the tornado began to get wrapped in rain from the hook echo. My original plan was to head east and follow it as it crossed the road infront of us, but blinding rain, hail, leaves and other debris began hammering the vehicle and I decided to abort that plan and simply wait it out, not knowing if the tornado made a sudden shift north. The assault was over after only a minute and skies were almost clear. We continued back east down 116 the way we came until we happened upon a damaged farmstead about 1.5 miles down from where we were. Turns out we had some room to move east afterall as the damage path was further down than I thought it would be.

We immediately stopped the chase to jump out and search the damaged area for any potential victims. The house overall faired out well, with part of the western wall blown in, windows broken and some roof damage, but the barns and sheds nearby were completely destoryed, with vehicles tossed. After calling out, checking inside each structure and under some big pieces of rubble we found noone and can only hope the place was either abandoned or the residents got out in time. I am not a big fan of taking damage photos, but I had my camera in my pocket already and decided to snap a couple.

A good 15 minutes had gone by and now the storms had gained some serious ground on us and I presumed the chase to be over, but some new tornado warned supercells to our south presented another chance so we began to blast east. Not soon after that we spotted a tornado in the distance. It appeared as a stout, white stovepipe tornado for about a minute before suddenly vanishing into thin air. At the time I assumed it was merely the same tornado we saw in its final ropeout stage, but other chaser accounts as well as NWS surveys confirm this as a seperate tornado that occurred from the same storm near Dana, IL. Our second tornado of the day. Luckily the terrain in Illinois is wonderful otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to spot this from such a distance.

At this point we were nearing I-39 with our main storm well off to the northeast. Storms to the south were rocketing into Indiana and it appeared we didn’t have any new play. It was barely after 12pm! We sat at an intersection east of I-39 contemplating our next move while I attempted to upload video when we were joined by Brad Goddard, who had caught the Washington tornado near its final moments as well as a beautiful rope satellite tornado. I was amazed at the photogenic quality of this, as well as all the tornadoes of the day. As we sat there talking, a nice mammatus display moved overhead, sort of an icing to the cake.

We all agreed we had no chace to catch the storms flying away at 70mph so we called the chase and decided to get our celebratory lunch which took us down to Bloomington/Normal. Unbeknownst to us though, strong straight line winds had knocked out almost all the power in town so finding a restaurant was difficult, but eventually were able to find an Olive Garden still with power. Not quite steak, but still delicious. We ate and shared stories of the day before heading for home where I arrived around 5pm. A nice change from the usual arrival times. On the way we passed through the damage path of another tornado near Coal City caused by the same storm we intercepted.


This day lived up to, and exceeded expectations. Tornadoes were obvious, but everyone thought they would be grungy, scuddy rain wrapped messed (myself included.) Instead we were treated to amazing classic tornadoes, the kind we typically travel 1000 miles to see. Sadly, the outbreak has claimed several lives and multiple communities lay in ruin. This will go down as one of the largest tornado outbreaks in the midwest so late in the year. The EF-4 Washington tornado is likely the strongest tornado to strike Illinois during the month of November, and probably the strongest tornado in the state since the Plainfield F5 back in 1990. We played the event about 90% perfect, the only thing I would do different is made my move east to follow the Washington tornado sooner, before allowing it to get wrapped in rain, thus losing sight of it. The tornado itself is one of the most incredible of my career, perhaps even top 5. Its a shame it had to bring so much destruction with it.


Map. Red arrow shows location we filmed the tornado, orange arrow shows our initial waiting point:

SPC Reports. The High Risk verified quite well. Kudos to them and the NWS for a great forecast.

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