Chicago weather: Illinois leads nation in number of tornadoes this year, NIU professor says

Chicago is not immune to tornadoes, NIU professor Victor Gensini says

ByTracy Butler and Blanca Rios WLS logo
Sunday, August 27, 2023
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DEKALB, Ill. (WLS) -- Tornado season in Illinois is typically between April and June. But tornadoes can and do occur at any time of the year.

Illinois leads the country in the number of tornadoes this year. Data show that so far Illinois sits at 132 preliminary tornado reports this year. That's way ahead of the next closest state, with 90 tornadoes, said Victor Gensini, an associate professor in the Department of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Northern Illinois University.

When assessing Chicago severe weather over the past year, Illinois leads the nation in the number of tornadoes, an NIU professor says.

"You have to point to the atmospheric ingredients this year that have been so prevalent across the state of Illinois to produce these storms," said Gensini. "We look at things like wind sheer, instability. We've just had an anomalous number of days where all of those ingredients, like baking a cake, have come together across Illinois to produce tornadoes."

Thankfully, most of those twisters have been fairly weak, Gensini said.

When the state sees tornadoes has also been changing over the last 30 to 40 years, according to Gensini.

"More tornadoes early in the season and more tornadoes late in the season and kind of a removal in the middle of that peak season," said Gensini. "That's sort of a hallmark of what we're seeing in regards to severe weather trends across the Midwest.

And cities like Chicago are not immune.

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"There's nothing that the buildings will do to stop the thunderstorms," said Gensini. "The lake on most days does have a mitigating effect, but the idea of Chicago stopping a severe weather threat or tornado is definitely an urban myth."

Climate change effect on tornado frequency

The idea that climate change has an effect on the intensity and frequency of tornadoes is still not known, according to Gensini.

When assessing Chicago severe weather over the past year, Illinois leads the nation in the number of tornadoes, an NIU professor says.

"It's pretty clear that something is changing; something is having an effect on where we have tornadoes," he said. "How frequent, and what times of the year they happen, and their intensity, but pointing directly to climate change is very, very difficult because these perils, if you will, these tornadoes, are relatively small in the grand scheme of weather, and they occur very quickly."

Still, Gensini said people can do their part to combat climate change by reducing their carbon footprint. Gensini said it's a problem that he and his team at NIU continue to address.

"Can we look at these long-range forecasts of climate projections out decades into the future and can we mine through these data sets using high resolution modeling to actually extract what the future of those perils might be?" he asked.