At least 11 tornadoes touched down in northern Illinois this week, part of a storm system that swept across the region, downing trees and power lines and damaging homes and businesses, the National Weather Service confirmed Thursday.
Multiple tornadoes were tracked between 5 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
Tornadoes, in some cases with speeds in excess of 100 mph, that touched down during Wednesday night’s severe weather included two near Elgin, two in Lake County, one in Kendall County and one in McHenry County, the weather service said. DuPage County and Cook County each were hit by confirmed tornadoes, the weather service confirmed.
In Elgin, one tornado was ranked EF-1 with maximum wind speeds of 100 mph and the other was EF-0 with maximum wind speeds of 85 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Zachary Yack said.
The EF-1 started just east of Route 47 near Elgin Township and traveled east, ending near the railroad tracks by Route 20 and the Villa Olivia golf course, Yack said. The EF-0 began near McDonald Road in Elgin and ended near Hopps Road.
On Thursday, the National Weather Service also confirmed a tornado touched down near Huntley Wednesday evening, officials said it was an EF-1 with winds peaking at 90 mph.
Officials also confirmed two EF-0 tornados occurred in Lake County Wednesday evening. One tornado, with maximum winds of 70 mph was spotted near Long Grove Village and another, with maximum winds of 80 mph, was sited close to Barrington Village.
The National Weather Service also confirmed on Thursday, an EF-0 tornado with winds peaking at 85 mph occurred in Kendall County, near the village of Oswego, Wednesday evening.
Late Thursday night, the agency added an additional four EF-0 tornadoes to the list — including one that went from Carol Stream to Glendale Heights, another from Itasca to O’Hare International Aiport, another from O’Hare to the southeast side of Des Plaines and another in Streamwood.
Before yesterday we had 100 tornadoes recorded in Illinois and that’s only going to add to the total. I think we’re going to end up with six to 10 tornadoes with yesterday’s event.”— Victor Gensinin, an associate professor at Northern Illinois University
To confirm a tornado, the National Weather Service sends a meteorologist to the site to work with emergency medical services and local agencies on scene to pinpoint the path, determine the size and assess the damage to assign a rating, Yack said.
Over the next several days, the National Weather Service will continue to assess the storms and will confirm whether more occurred.
“When we get tornadoes, we can’t assign a rating until we determine how much damage they caused,” Yack said. “As we get enough information, we’ll keep confirming what we need to.”
Illinois so far has seen more tornadoes than any other state, said Victor Gensinin, an associate professor at Northern Illinois University who researches extreme weather, climate variability and change and weather prediction.
“Before yesterday we had 100 tornadoes recorded in Illinois and that’s only going to add to the total. I think we’re going to end up with six to 10 tornadoes with yesterday’s event. So we’ll sort of stay in the lead,” Gensinin said in a provided interview with the university’s communications department.
And still northern Illinois was lucky the atmosphere underperformed yesterday evening as all of the ingredients for stronger tornadoes to form were present, he said.
July is not peak tornado season for northern Illinois, Gensinin said, but a rash of tornadoes this time of year is not unprecedented or climatologically rare. He said yesterday’s weather was a run-of-the-mill event for northern Illinois.
“Despite the fact that a lot of people across northern Illinois are going to be picking up for weeks, in terms of damage, we are thankfully dodging another bullet here,” Gensinin said. “And thankfully many of these tornadoes were brief, they were relatively weak and short-lived.”
Over the years, many tornadoes have struck in the Chicago metropolitan area, and several have hit within the city limits of Chicago, according to the National Weather Service. Between 1855 and 2021, the weather service recorded 97 significant tornadoes in the Chicago metro area.
The deadliest formed in Palos Hills in Cook County on April 21, 1967. The twister traveled 16 miles through Oak Lawn and the south side of Chicago, killing 33 people, injuring 500 and causing more than $50 million in damage, according to the weather service.
At NIU, Gensinin researches climatology and extreme weather, and one of the ways he does that is through creating computer simulated models of what happens when more and more carbon dioxide is present in the atmosphere.
Through that research, Gensinin has found that severe weather does become more frequent and intense as carbon dioxide levels increase, but said it’s difficult to look at a singular weather event and relate it to climate change.
“The link between climate change and tornadoes is pretty tenuous at best,” Gensinin said. “Once you start drilling way down to these small hazards, like hail or tornadoes that occur over a couple of minutes on very small areas, it’s not clear on any individual event what role climate change is playing in either augmenting the frequency or intensity of these storms.”
The increase in recent tornadoes have been a result of this year’s weather patterns with no indication they are becoming more or less common overall, Yack said.
Climate and weather researchers have hypotheses regarding how storms may change over the next few decades as a function of climate change, Gensinin said, “but it’s very clear that humans are augmenting the temperature across the planet and it’s really up to scientists to figure out how that’s going to feed back into things like tornadoes.”
Another factor at play is the continuous expansion of the footprint of the human-built environment – tornadoes that occur in rural western Kansas may be perceived to be less dangerous than a storm that hits a populated area, like northeastern Illinois.
“These types of disasters will continue to increase and get more magnified in the future, not necessarily because tornadoes become more frequent or stronger,” Gensinin said. “You’ll see more and more of these types of disasters just because they have more targets to hit, more assets to hit at the surface.”
The Associated Press contributed.