LEROY — The four tornadoes that swept through the LeRoy, Ellsworth and Colfax areas Saturday night were part of a cluster of 27 confirmed tornadoes that set a new record for the largest December tornado outbreak in Illinois history.
The previous record was 21 twisters on Dec. 18 and 19, 1957, mostly in southern Illinois; 12 people were killed, including nine in Murphysboro.
There were no reported injuries in Saturday’s McLean County twisters, although several homes and other property and numerous trees were damaged. The NWS had not yet released an official damage estimate as of Tuesday morning. All four tornadoes traveled northeast.
McLean County Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Clark said like the NWS, his office is still reviewing the damage.
“It’s going to take some time to figure all of that out,” he said.
Tornadoes can happen anytime, but the EMA was ready for Saturday’s event.
“The weather service put out the tornado watch early in the day, so we were prepared,” said Clark. “All of our spotters did a great job and we were happy nobody was hurt. It was a busy night.”
Saturday’s outbreak will rank as the third largest tornado outbreak in Illinois history. The largest outbreak was on April 19, 1996, with 39 tornadoes, followed by April 2, 2006, with 36.
The NWS confirmed the four McLean County tornadoes were reported from 7:06 p.m. until 7:44 p.m. Tornadoes are ranked based on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, which rates the intensity based on the damage they cause. The scale ranks tornadoes from an EF-0 (wind speeds estimated at 65 to 85 mph) to EF-5 (wind speeds estimated at over 200 mph).
The Illinois tornadoes started at 1:54 p.m. in Pleasant Hill, a small Pike County town in southwestern Illinois. The Taylorville tornado, the 17th of the day, was ranked as an EF-3 and started at 5:01 p.m., ending at 5:25 p.m. It traveled 12.7 miles, was a half mile in diameter, and wind speed peaked at 155 mph. The NWS said 22 people were injured, 34 homes were severely damaged or destroyed, 66 homes had major damage and 406 homes were damaged, but inhabitable.
The 24th tornado was an EF-1 that started at 7:06 p.m. southwest of LeRoy. It lasted only two minutes, was estimated at 50 yards wide, packed winds of 90 mph and traveled about a mile.
The 25th tornado is the one that caused damage in the Dawson Lake area near LeRoy. Lasting two minutes, beginning at 7:18 p.m., the EF-2 tornado had winds estimated at 114 mph, was 100 yards wide and traveled 0.7 of a mile. It damaged property owned by Tom and Pam Pliura, Brad Hubble and at least one other homeowner.
“It doesn’t have to travel a great distance to do a lot of damage,” said Dan Smith, a meteorologist with the NWS. “If something is in its way, it is going to be damaged.”
The 26th twister was rated as an EF-0 and the least intense, with wind speeds of 85 mph. It traveled one-tenth of a mile and was 25 yards wide. Located southwest of Ellsworth, it lasted a minute, starting at 7:21 p.m.
The final tornado in Illinois, an EF-1, began at 7:42 p.m. near Colfax. It lasted two minutes with winds at 95 mph. About 75 yards wide, it traveled 0.6 of a mile and destroyed at least one barn; three cows died when a power pole fell.