Central IL tornado climatology updated

The NWS office in Lincoln, IL has updated their tornado climatology for central and southeastern Illinois for the period 1950-2009. During this period McLean County reported an incredible 100 tornadoes, the highest for any county in central Illinois. However, McLean County is the biggest county in this area (a bigger county means a bigger target). This can be partially overcome by calculating a tornado density instead. In that case, Logan County ranks highest in the area with an average of 9.385 tornadoes per 100 square miles. You can click on the individual counties and get more detailed reports of that county, including tracks, dates, magnitudes, deaths, injuries, and property/crop damage of each tornado.

Here is the track map for Champaign County:

Tornado tracks, Champaign County, 1950-2009.
Tornado tracks in Champaign County, IL, 1950-2009. See the NWS report for more details.
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First Documented Radar Hook Echo

The Illinois State Water Survey is home to the first ever documented radar hook associated with an actual tornado. Water Survey staff captured the historic event on film on April 9, 1953. This was a major turning point in monitoring severe weather, demonstrating that tornadoes could be identified by radar. This discovery helped lead to the first national weather radar network in the United States.

The radar was located at Willard Airport, south of Champaign IL, and was being used along with a rain gauge network to relate radar signals with rain rates. Don Staggs, the radar technician, had stayed late to complete repairs on the radar. While testing the repairs, he noticed an interesting radar return and began recording the radar scope using the mounted 35 mm camera. As a result, he captured a well-defined hook echo (see photo) on film. Afterwords, researchers related this information to damage and photos along the tornado’s path. More images and information of this event are in the links provided under the photograph.

Radar hook echo
First recorded radar hook echo of a tornado, April 9, 1953, near Champaign, IL (photo courtesy of the Illinois State Water Survey, INRS, University of Illinois).

Additional information on this event:

I talked about this event when Tom Skilling, WGN-TV, hosted his annual Tornado and Severe Storm Seminar at Fermilab in Batavia, IL on April 10, 2010. The video of the presentation is on the WGN-TV web site.

Warm Start to April

April is off to a warm start with statewide temperatures 10.0 degrees above normal for the first 18 days of April. The statewide average precipitation is 1.66 inches, 76 percent of average. The warmer-than-normal temperatures were prevalent throughout the eastern two-thirds of US but were most intense in the Midwest and Northeast.

The combination of warm temperature, strong winds, and low humidity have aided in drying out fields. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, near the beginning of the month 50 percent of the fields in Illinois were rated with surplus moisture. By the April 19 report, this number had dropped to 7 percent.

US Temperature Departure, April 1-19, 2010.
US Temperature Departure, April 1-19, 2010 (click to enlarge).

March Was Warmer and Drier than Normal

Champaign, Ill. – Based on preliminary data in Illinois, the statewide average temperature for March was 43.6 degrees, 2.5 degrees above normal. This ends a three-month streak of colder than normal temperatures that occurred this winter, according to State Climatologist Jim Angel of the Illinois State Water Survey (http://www.isws.illinois.edu).

The statewide average precipitation was 2.8 inches, 0.4 inches below normal. A year ago, the March precipitation was 4.2 inches, an inch above normal, signaling the start of a very wet growing season.

This year, the January to March precipitation total was 5.8 inches, 1.4 inches below normal. Drier conditions this year have helped soil moisture return to conditions more typical for this time of year after an exceptionally wet fall.

The latest National Weather Service outlook for April calls for an increased chance of above normal temperatures across Illinois and the Corn Belt. An increased chance of above normal precipitation is indicated for the western Corn Belt, including western Illinois. The eastern half of Illinois has an equal chance of above, below, and near normal precipitation.

“March certainly came in like a lion and out like a lamb. The average statewide temperature on March 1 was 32 degrees but warmed up to 58 degrees on March 31,” concludes Angel.