Top 15 of 2015: Mother Nature’s Fury (7)

An early shot of the tornado near Franklin Grove, Ill. Photo courtesy Walker Ashley, NIU Deparment of Geography
An early shot of the April 9 tornado near Franklin Grove, Ill.
Photo courtesy Walker Ashley, NIU Department of Geography

The evening of April 9 is one no resident of northern Illinois will soon forget.

Deadly tornadoes tore through Ogle County, leveling homes and a popular restaurant, and eventually destroyed the entire small town of Fairdale in DeKalb County, where two residents died.

“Twenty-six years I’ve been chasing storms,” NIU meteorologist Sebenste said, “and this was the biggest one.”

When Sebenste saw the strong rotation begin to develop, he grabbed his camera and jumped in his car. “I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s the storm, and it’s going to latch onto this warm front. I don’t know what it’s going to do, but I need to be on it.’ ”

NIU meteorology professor Walker Ashley conjectured what might have happened had the EF-4 tornado, with winds of 200 mph and a girth as wide as seven football fields are long, taken a different path: It could have been much worse and killed far more people.

Life-threatening weather isn’t limited to tornadoes, of course, or hurricanes and lightning. Ashely published research this year showing that the weather-related vision hazards of fog, smoke and dust storms can be equally or even more deadly.

Earlier in 2015, NIU researchers published findings that some big cities – particularly those located in hot and humid environments – actually birth more thunderstorms than surrounding rural areas. Alex Haberlie, an NIU Ph.D. student in geography, was the lead author of the study with Ashley and fellow NIU geography professor Thomas Pingel.

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