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Illinois Tornado Safety

With peak tornado season in Illinois taking place from April to June, it is important to be aware of the conditions that are ripe for a tornado and identify what to do to keep you and your family safe regardless of where you are when a tornado strikes. Tornadoes bring with them high winds and heavy rain that can damage your patio furniture and dishevel your hair.  These conditions can prompt street closings, building evacuations, and power outages. Whatever inconveniences severe weather may bring however, what is most important is the impact it can have on human life and safety.

According to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, in 2015 Illinois’ drastic uptick in tornadoes placed it fourth in the U.S. for the number of twisters that year and the Chicago area set a record for most tornadoes in a year in 2015. Their unpredictability makes tornadoes difficult to study but one thing has become crystal clear to scientists across the country; extreme tornado outbreaks are on the rise. Tornadoes are some of the most violent storms in nature that occur when warm, humid winds moving north from the Gulf of Mexico clash with cold, dry winds moving southbound from Canada. This geographic makeup is primarily what has prompted the term “tornado alley,” referring to the area in the U.S. where these winds typically converge.  Although Illinois is not considered part of tornado alley, it is important to remember that violent tornadoes can and do happen outside of that area.

When you turn on the local news and watch Tom Skilling, Jerry Taft, or another local weather personality, they will let you know if Palatine or Mount Prospect or all of Cook County are currently under a tornado watch or tornado warning. But what do those mean?

What is a Tornado Watch?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines a tornado watch as giving advanced notice that conditions are favorable for dangerous weather. It is different from a warning in that it is not advising that a tornado is imminent.  In order to stay alert for developing storms, tune in local news stations on your radio or TV.  A tornado watch gives you the opportunity to review your family’s emergency plan and check your disaster supplies kit.

For a guide on assembling a disaster supplies kit, visit  If you are outdoors, a tornado watch should prompt you to move indoors, preferably in to a substantial building.  If you are in a vehicle, every effort should be made to get to a safe shelter.  Tornadoes can appear rapidly so you may not have much time before a tornado watch turns in to a tornado warning.  Stay alert to stay alive!

What is a Tornado Warning?

A tornado warning is only issued when severe weather is about to strike. If the National Weather Service (NWS) is issuing a tornado warning that means a tornado has been detected by radar or has been reported by a trained storm spotter.

How Else Can I Be Notified about Tornados?

In addition to being notified by tornado sirens, most iPhones and other smartphones include a feature that allows users to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) making them aware of an approaching tornado. To enable these alerts on your iPhone:

  1. Open up the Settings app.
  2. Tap on the Notification Center.
  3. Scroll all the way to the bottom.
  4. Tap on the toggle switch next to Emergency Alerts.

What To Do If A Tornado is Nearby

If you are in your home or other building, seek shelter in the lowest level of the structure, away from windows.  You can use a blanket to cover your head and eyes in case of flying debris or broken glass.  If you are outdoors when the tornado warning is issued, seek shelter immediately.  If sheltering is not possible, lie flat in a ditch or culvert next to a strong structure. If you are in a vehicle, do not attempt to outrun a tornado! Get out of your vehicle and take shelter inside a sturdy structure.  If you are unable to do that exit the vehicle and lie flat in a low-lying area.  Make sure you are far enough away from the vehicle that it cannot tumble onto you if it gets thrown by the wind. Do not leave a safe location until you are certain that the tornado has passed.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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