Freak storms in Illinois kill 6

Midwesterners are used to tornado watches and warnings. But those almost always occur in the spring and summer months when cool Candadian air is met by moist air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. Where they meet - all hell breaks loose.

Having spent all but 12 of my nearly 6o years living in the Midwest, it came as a shock when yesterday around 12:30 PM, the tornado sirens wailed in my small town of Streator, about 100 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. I had lived through the Streator tornado of 2010 when a twister roared through my neighborhood, destroying houses less than 200 yards away from my own. So I had a distinct feeling of deja vu when the winds began to pick up and a wall of rain began to blow through my yard.

But in November? As the Chicago Tribune reports, it was a freak of nature that led to conditions ripe for tornado formation:

Meteorologists had predicted the violent storms days ahead of time, anticipating volatile atmospheric conditions that are freakish for a season when tornadoes are a relative rarity. "Weather doesn't get more extreme than this in Illinois very often," said Matt Friedlein, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

The storms exploded over Illinois when gusting winter jet streams from the northwest collided with the unusually warm and moist air that had arrived Saturday.

"You've got wintertime winds in the atmosphere above summertime moisture," Friedlein said. "While unusual, when that happens, you're going to have very strong storms that move very quickly."

The result was tragic. A single tornado touched down far to the south outside of Peoria, hopping and skipping its way to the northeast, forming and reforming - just as likely to touch down in a farmer's field as any of the small communities that dot the Illinois prairie. The small town of Washington, IL outside of Peoria was flattened. The storm then made a beeline straight for LaSalle county where I live. It passed over us without touching down, but aside from the incredible rain and winds that topped 60 MPH, there was golf ball size hail that clattered on the roof and pounded our shed.

Washington, IL looked like a war zone.

The winds aloft must have been incredible. A Streator resident on the other side of town from where I live picked up debris in his yard - a blue plastic "City of Washington" sign - that had made the journey from Washington, which is about 40 miles from Streator.

The twister continued it's northeast path to Coal city - another small town about 50 miles from Chicago. The level of devastation was not quite as bad as Washington, but many homes and businesses were destroyed.

By the time the bad weather hit Chicago, 60,000 people were enjoying the football game in Soldiers Field between the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens. Authorities evacuated the stands and players left the field as the storm moved into the city. The game resumed 1 1/2 hours later - with the field a quagmire and winds still whipping about with gusts up to 40 MPH.

As an example of the best of the human spirit, here's the story of 2 elderly Washington residents:

Working under a full moon Sunday evening, Washington residents Phil and Carmen Jones carried "the important stuff" to their car.

They were in church when the storm hit. Just before the service, Carmen Jones recalled, the preacher told everyone to go to the basement.

"We were singing in the basement with all the kids," she said.

When they returned home, they found the house they have lived for 40 years had been destroyed. Their two Yorkshire terriers were under their bed.

"I found them under the bed . . . where good puppies belong," Phil Jones said.

Not sure where they would sleep Sunday night, they packed up their dogs and their clothes in the back of their sedan. Phil Jones did his best to shut the door -- the roof is gone, their garage is missing and the windows are blown out.

"Nothing like starting over at age 75," Phil Jones said.

"We don't have to rip that wallpaper off now," Carmen replied.

Grace under pressure is a lesson we can all take to heart.

Perhaps the most tell-tale relic fell into the backyard of Mike and Kathy Ferko on Streator's west side, as the former went out to pick up debristhat had blown in with the storm and found a thick, blue piece of torn plastic clearly adorned with the city logo of Washington, Ill. Washington is more than 40 miles from Streator, as the crow -- or the piece of plastic -- flies.

"Basically,I was just standing here watching the storm roll in, it was still a ways away, and then I started seeing debris falling from the sky and hitting the fence," Mike Ferko said. "That's when I went in the house and went down in the basement, but (the debris) came in a good half hour before the storm really hit here. - See more at:

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