Remembering the November 17th, 2013, Tornado Outbreak

On Sunday, November 17th, 2013, an outbreak of deadly tornadoes occurred across the upper midwest region of the United States. 73 tornadoes were confirmed across Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio. Two of the seventy-three tornadoes were violent, of which both earned damage ratings on the Enhanced Fujita Scale of EF-4 (166-200mph winds). Both of the EF-4 rated tornadoes occurred in the State of Illinois. 

Suomi NPP VIIRS image of the tornado outbreak across the upper midwest on November 17th, 2013. Image credit: NASA/NESDIS/NOAA
Radar derived rotational tracks that occurred during the tornado outbreak on November 17th, 2013. Image credit: CIMMS/NOAA NSSL
Map of the confirmed tornado tracks on November 17th, 2013. Image used with permission, and is courtesy of Tornado Talk.

Forecast lead time was well in advance of the event, as initial forecasts by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center were issued as far as five days in advanced. Forecasts leading up to the outbreak indicated concern for a multi-faceted event across portions of the upper midwest. Storm related hazards included the potential for destructive tornadoes, large hail (≥1.00″), and widespread damaging winds (≥58mph).

A potent mid-level jet maximum near 100 knots was forecast to move across the middle Mississippi River Valley on Sunday, November 17th. Morning radiosonde observations across the upper midwest indicated very strong vertical wind shear, in addition to rich low-level moisture.

The combination of deep moisture, strong wind shear, and thermal instability was favorable for significant severe weather ahead of and along the rapidly eastward moving cold front. Storm motions approached highway speeds between 70-80mph across the upper midwest on November 17th.

The 6:00am CST/1200z morning sounding from Lincoln, Illinois, on Sunday, November 17th, 2013. On the left-panel image, the red solid line is temperature; green solid line is dew point. In the top right-panel is the hodograph, and is a plot of the wind speed and direction of the radiosonde’s path. The low-level curvature indicates strong directional wind shear. Image credit: NOAA Storm Prediction Center

As early as 8:40am CST in the morning, the Storm Prediction Center issued Particularly Dangerous Situation (PDS) tornado watches across portions of Illinois, Missouri, and southern Wisconsin. Additional PDS tornado watches were issued downstream into Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio by the latter half of the morning as the low pressure system continued to advance eastward.

Number of Tornadoes per state by EF-Scale rating

In addition to the 73 confirmed tornadoes, widespread and destructive winds occurred across the upper midwest and into the eastern Ohio River Valley. Over 500 reports of severe wind (≥58mph) occurred on November 17th. The highest reported wind gusts were 85mph, of which these reports were observed in Crown Point and Swayzee, Indiana; and Bowling Green, Ohio.

Top 15 Observed Wind Reports
Wind SpeedCityState
85mph1mi ESE Crown PointIndiana
85mphBowling GreenOhio
84mphGrisson AFBIndiana
83mph3mi NE PinesIndiana
80mph1mi S MarkleIndiana
80mph1mi S Markle*Indiana
80mph5mi SW BloomingtonIndiana
80mph3mi E AshvilleOhio
75mph3mi NNE MelbourneOhio
75mphJackson CenterOhio
*Two separate 80mph wind reports occurred 5 minutes apart

The largest hailstone observed throughout the tenure of the event was softball size (4.00″ in diameter) near Bloomington, Illinois. The majority of hail reports occurred across Illinois; however, only 42 reports of severe hail were observed and/or reported throughout the event and its entirety.

Top 5 Hail Reports on November 17th
Hail size (inches)CityState
4.00”2mi SW BloomingtonIllinois
2.50”1mi N VenedyIllinois
1.75”New LenoxIllinois

The tornado that impacted Washington, Illinois, was given a rating of a high-end EF-4 with maximum estimated winds of 190mph. A width of half a mile, this long-track tornado had a path of 46.2 miles as it leveled neighborhoods in the town of Washington. Several trees were also snapped in half and debarked. Three fatalities occurred, in addition to 121 injuries. 

Compilation of the Doppler radar imagery associated with the Washington, Illinois, supercell that produced an EF-4 tornado. Radar images were taken every 15 minutes, according to the National Weather Service. Image credit: NWS Chicago
Severe damage in the town of Washington, Illinois. Image taken during the NWS damage survey. Image credit: NWS Lincoln

The second EF-4 tornado occurred in New Minden, Illinois, with maximum estimated winds of 180mph. The National Weather Service damage survey concluded the EF-4 rating given that a well built farm house was completely destroyed and swept away by the tornado. This tornado tracked for 10.6 miles, and caused two fatalities. 

A well-constructed farm house that was completely swept away by the tornado. Image credit: NWS St. Louis

In all, 5 deaths and 125 injuries were reported throughout the tenure of the event. The EF-4 tornado that impacted Washington, Illinois, was the strongest tornado documented in the State of Illinois during the month of November since verified records began in 1950. A total of 149 tornado warnings were issued, in addition to 213 severe thunderstorm warnings, 5 flash flood warnings, and 27 special marine warnings.

Compilation of all NWS warnings associated with the tornado outbreak on November 17th, 2013. Image credit: National Weather Service

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