Peoria, Ill. (WMBD) — It’s Sunday, November 17th, 2013. The morning is off to a warm and comfortable start, but an incoming cold front spells trouble for Central Illinois in just a few short hours.
The events that are about to unfold over the Midwest have been forecasted well in advance. On November 14th the Storm Prediction Center highlights the Mississippi and Ohio River Valley’s as an area that could see severe storms, including tornadoes.
In the days ahead confidence in a significant severe weather event unfolding over the Midwest would increase and SPC would expand the risk from a Slight Risk on the 15th to a High Risk that stretches from Illinois to Ohio by 8 am on the 17th. This High Risk includes the potential for “Strong and/or Long Tracked Tornadoes”.
The night before, an area of low pressure takes shape over the Central Plains. As this low pressure deepens and approaches the Mississippi River, breezy southerly winds bring an unseasonably warm and humid air mass to Central Illinois and by 10 am, the temperature in Peoria has risen to 69° with a dew point of 62°.
As the cold front crosses the Mississippi River, an upper-level trough with a strong Jet Stream passes overhead. With the arrival of the colder temperatures aloft, the lid that held thunderstorms back that morning has been lifted and the environment has become very unstable. Combined with very strong wind shear, it’s an explosive environment and the countdown on this bomb is about to hit zero.
A rare PDS Tornado Watch, a particularly dangerous situation, is issued for much of Illinois at 8:40 am and storms begin to develop west of the Illinois River between 9 and 10 am. By 10:45, a cell begins to organize along the Illinois River and the first tornado of the day touches down west of Pekin at 10:52 am.
The tornado would lift just two minutes later, but when a tornado is moving at 55 mph it can cover a lot of ground in a very short amount of time.
With a maximum width of 100 yards the tornado carved a 2.5 mile path through northwestern parts of Pekin before lifting just south of Edgewater Drive at 10:54 am. The National Weather Service would rate this tornado and EF-2 with maximum estimated winds of 120 mph.
While the first tornado lifted, the storm was far from done. At 10:59 a second tornado drops just outside of East Peoria and would go on to become the strongest tornado of the day. The tornado would churn through northern Tazewell County, gradually intensifying as it reaches Washington.
Reaching a peak intensity with estimated winds of 190 mph as it moves through Washington, the tornado leaves a half mile wide path of destruction in it’s wake. As it pulls away from the city, the storm shows a well defined Debris Ball on radar, a sign that debris is being lifted thousands of feet into the air.
The tornado continues to race to the northeast through Woodford County, passing a mile west of the Parsons Manufacturing plant and destroying the deFreese Centennial Farm a few miles north of Benson. After clipping La Salle County the tornado eventually pushes into Livingston County and lifts 2 miles east of Long Point at 11:47 am.
The tornado was on the ground for an astonishing 58 minutes and traveled a distance of just over 46 miles. It was responsible for the 3 fatalities, 135 injuries and more than a thousand destroyed homes. The estimated damage cost is more than one billion dollars.
This long tracked supercell was the biggest storm of the day, but it was just the start of a severe weather outbreak that would span 15 states. Those reports include 77 Tornadoes, 42 instances of large hail, and 571 reports of damaging winds. In total there were nearly 700 reports of severe weather across the country.
Ten years later you can still see the scars from that storm. While the emotional scars of that day will continue to run deep and never fully heal, the way Washington has bounced back shows how and why this community is and always will be Washington Strong.