A day after a Fairdale, Illinois tornado killed two women, and virtually destroyed the town, residents try to pick up the pieces of shattered homes and lives. Weather service meteorologists are still trying to understand the EF 4 storm, that packed winds of up to 200 miles per hour and at times was up to one-half mile wide.
National Weather Service representatives reported that the Fairdale twister traveled almost 20 miles on the ground, which is not the usual pattern for these storms. After the storm formed in an area about 90 miles west of Chicago, it traveled through Rochelle, Illinois, then almost completely leveled Fairdale. It reportedly then split into twin tornadoes that cut a broad swath through Boone and McHenry Counties. These types of storms appear on a general frequency of every six years, and require just the right weather conditions to occur.
An EF 4 (Enhanced Fujita scale) storm is one classification below the most powerful storms recorded, and has sustained winds from 180 to 200 miles per hour. While it might not be the most powerful storm, an EF 4 tornado still typically results in the total destruction of any structure or vegetation with which it comes in contact. Even well-built homes are reduced to small pieces of wood and materials. Vehicles any size from economy cars up to train cars can be picked up and tossed about. Healthy trees that are not snapped off at the base will be completely debarked. A certified, subterranean storm shelter is the only way to insure survival from a direct hit with this severity of storm. Approximately 1.1 percent of annual tornadoes in the United States are EF 4 tornadoes making them somewhat rare. The storm that struck Fairdale on Thursday, was of the same severity of storm that destroyed the central Illinois town of Washington in 2013.
The governor’s office confirmed that the casualties from the Fairdale storm were two elderly neighbors – Geraldine Schultz, 69 and Jacklyn Klosa, 67. It is often the aged and young children who are killed in these advanced storms because of their inability to respond to or understand the impending threat. Virtually all structures in the tiny .23 square mile town were substantially damaged with close to half being leveled. 11 people were taken to area hospitals with injuries but at press time, no injuries were life-threatening. Search and rescue teams are combing the area with dogs to search for a few residents that are still unaccounted for.
Many people were trapped in basements and underground shelters with their escape being hampered by debris. Fortunately, they survived to call police dispatchers for help and were rescued as emergency crews combed the town. Assistance has poured in from all over the state and even adjoining states. Among those assisting were victims from nearby Washington, Illinois, where a similar storm destroyed property and killed one resident two years ago.
Governor Bruce Rauner visited the area on Friday and declared DeKalb and Ogle counties disaster areas. This action opens up the areas for emergency state and federal assistance. Residents can begin returning to their homes on Saturday by 7 AM, with police accompaniment. A Fairdale tornado might have killed two and destroyed the town, but it has not damaged their spirit and will. Residents have united to repair and rebuild their community.
By Chris Marion
Photo by Dave Malkoff – Flickr License