Saturday, March 5


A violent tornado 'success' story

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[MARCH 5, 2005]  At 11 a.m. July 13, much of northern and central Illinois was put under a tornado watch. A single, large supercell developed in far northwest Illinois at the time the watch was issued. This storm was moving southeast into a very unstable environment.

About three hours later, a shower developed in western Woodford County on a boundary that came from the large supercell. Within 20 minutes, this storm was showing signs of becoming severe. A severe thunderstorm warning was issued by the National Weather Service in Lincoln at 2:29 p.m.

Parsons Company plant before storm damage

At that time, the NOAA Weather Radio alarm went off in the business office of the Parsons Company manufacturing plant. The emergency response team leader of the facility was immediately notified. A few moments later he walked outside and noticed a rotating wall cloud with a developing funnel cloud. He radioed back to the office to institute the company's severe weather plan. Someone from the accounting department went on the plant's PA system and announced that everyone should go to their designated storm shelter and that it was not a drill -- this was a real event.

Three months earlier the plant had conducted one of its semiannual tornado drills successfully. Everyone got to the shelters in less than four minutes.

Parsons plant during the storm

Similar to the drill, everyone calmly went to their designated shelters -- all 150 people in the three buildings of the plant. While they were doing this, the National Weather Service in Lincoln issued a tornado warning at 2:34 p.m. At the same time, a county spotter reported a tornado one mile northeast of Metamora -- about four miles west-northwest of the facility.

The leader of the emergency response team had enough time to check on all three shelters to make sure that everyone was there. He took one final look and noticed that the tornado was heading right for the facility and was less than a mile away. He ran to the closest tornado shelter about 1 minutes before the tornado destroyed the plant at 2:41 p.m.

When the tornado moved out of the area, the employees emerged to see the destruction. The entire business was heavily damaged, beams were twisted, parts and machinery were strewn everywhere, and more than 60 autos were launched into the buildings. The most startling thing was that no one at the plant was killed or injured. All 150 people were accounted for.

Parsons plant after the storm

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The company owner had witnessed tornado damage at the business he was working for 30 years earlier. Shortly afterward, when he built his own business, he was concerned that a tornado could strike again. He did not want to take any chances, so he built the restrooms to also be tornado shelters, with reinforced concrete walls and 8-inch thick concrete ceilings. These "safe rooms" made the difference between life and death for 150 people who were caught in the middle of an F4 tornado with winds estimated to be up to 240 mph.

This case was proof that having a plan, practicing the plan and implementing the plan saved lives. It also shows that the company saved lives and gave employees extra time to go to their shelters by responding to a severe thunderstorm warning.

Overall, the tornado was 9.6 miles long, one-fourth mile wide and had a lifespan of 21 minutes. It also affected half a dozen farmsteads, with no fatalities and three minor injuries.

This story will be featured on the program "Storm Stories" on The Weather Channel at 7 p.m. March 9.

Parsons Company has received national recognition for its lifesaving efforts. The company has been awarded by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and has been nominated for the Mark Trail Award, given annually to individuals or groups by NOAA's National Weather Service for the use of NOAA Weather Radio in a lifesaving effort.

[Provided by Chris Miller, warning coordination meteorologist, National Weather Service-Lincoln]

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