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Tornado Struck Without Warning, Residents Say With PM-Illinois Tornadoes

August 30, 1990

PLAINFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ Survivors of northern Illinois’ deadly storm say it struck virtually without warning, and a weather forecaster said that even when there are warnings, ″in most cases it’s too late.″

″Your chances of being warned before a tornado hits aren’t all that great,″ National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Dickey said Wednesday, pointing out that the notice comes only after a tornado has been sighted.

Multiple tornadoes Tuesday left at least 24 dead and more than 300 injured.

″We didn’t get any warning,″ said Plainfield Police Chief Don Bennett.

The tornadoes that swooped into Plainfield appeared out of a single thunderstorm that rumbled across northern Illinois for about two hours, spitting hail 2 to 3 inches in diameter as it went.

The weather service issued a severe thunderstorm watch at about 1:30 p.m. as the storm approached Rockford, then followed it up with more notices as the storm moved southeast, warning of dangerous lightning, heavy rain and strong winds.

″Remember ... severe thunderstorms can and occasionally do produce a tornado with little or no advance warning ... so be on the lookout,″ read one warning.

But the storm seemed to be limited to hail and high winds.

″The system seemed to have gotten less threatening,″ said John Plunk, director of the Illinois Emergency Services and Disaster Agency. ″Then this hit out of the blue. When it forms that fast and moves that quickly, there’s nothing you can do.″

At 3:45 p.m., the first call came in to the weather service reporting a tornado touchdown at Plainfield, said forecaster Richard Kenneman. The weather service moved a bulletin at 3:51 p.m., but by that time the twisters had already smashed through the town and into Joliet, about 15 miles away.

Janet Fazio said the few teachers and administrators at Plainfield High School at the end of the day didn’t know the storm was coming until a school worker eyed it while closing a window that had blown open.

″The emergency radio didn’t even go off in the main office,″ said Mrs. Fazio, a secretary.

The tornadoes virtually destroyed the school, which had been scheduled to open for classes Wednesday. Most teachers and administrators had left for the day when the storm struck, and some took shelter in the school vault.

In a Joliet subdivision 35 miles southwest of Chicago, Rich Alberti got the warning from his wife, Michelle, moments before their house was destroyed.

″I was sleeping and she was getting ready to take a shower,″ Alberti said. ″She told me to look out. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was a tornado. There weren’t seconds to spare.″

Kenneman said tornadoes themselves are too small to be detected by available radar, but thunderstorms sometimes contain radar patterns that indicate a tornado may be developing. The thunderstorm Tuesday did not contain the telltale indications that twisters were lurking inside, Kenneman said.

More sophisticated radar is being developed. But, he said, even fair warning can’t always protect against nature’s most devastating force.

″Even assuming the whole warning process plays through successfully and people hear the warning, there are some tornadoes that are violent enough that they are flat out not survivable,″ Kenneman said.

″We have to live with the fact that, unless we want to live in concrete reinforced bunkers and drive 80,000-pound steel cars, that we are going to be vulnerable when weather is severe enough,″ he said.

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