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Large and deadly tornadoes rip through US Midwest


At least three people have been killed on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, as severe weather outbreak, including heavy rain, strong winds, and at least 7 tornadoes, rip through the US Midwest. As of March 1 at 07:00 UTC, the NWS has issued Flash Flood, Flood, Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Warnings for the states of Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. Events that took place in Illinois were extremely rare for February.

According to the National Weather Service, tornado spotters reported 23 twister sightings in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee and Indiana on Tuesday evening.

A large and dangerous tornado touched near Ottawa, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Chicago, killing one person after the twister uprooted a tree. There are reports of minor injuries at an Ottawa nursing home.

At least a dozen vehicles, including a semi-truck, were blown off Interstate 55 near Perryville, Missouri, some 130 km (80 miles) of St. Louis, after a tornado touched down in the area. At least one person died and several were injured. Media reports mention 8 to 10 badly damaged buildings and structures. Perry County Clerk Jared Kutz says emergency management officials in the county aren't certain it was a tornado, but Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens says in a statement that there are confirmed reports of a tornado.

The third person was killed in Crossville, Illinois. He was found in a field behind his heavily damaged home. His wife sustained injuries and was taken to the hospital.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner activated the state's emergency operations center to assist with recovery efforts.

After pounding the Ottawa area with baseball-sized hail and high winds, the storm moved east into Indiana and weakened.

The February tornado was a rarity in Illinois, meteorologist Amy Seely said, although several January tornadoes had struck the area in 2008.

Prior to yesterday, there had only been one northern Illinois tornado during the month of February since 1950, NWS Chicago said. This tornado was an EF-1 tornado during the afternoon of February 16, 2006 in Iroquois County.

Overview by NWS – Chicago, IL

The late afternoon into the evening of Tuesday, February 28 brought a favorable setup for severe weather, including tornadoes across northern Illinois. NWS Chicago damage survey teams will be assessing storm damage and reports of tornadoes in LaSalle and Grundy Counties. NWS Lincoln will be assisting, surveying from Washburn to the Long Point area. Tornadoes determined in the NWS Chicago County Warning Area will be summarized on this web page.

Fast facts:

  • At least one damaging tornado occurred in central LaSalle County in and near Naplate and Ottawa, causing one fatality.
  • There may have been multiple tornadoes with the Naplate / Ottawa / Marseilles / Morris storm, including possibly as far west as near the Putnam and LaSalle County borders.
  • The largest hail observed was baseball size in Ottawa, associated with the tornadic storm.
  • The Washburn area tornado approached Interstate 39 and may have extended into LaSalle and Livingston Counties.
  • Damage in the Oregon area may have been caused by straight-line winds.
  • Across the entire Midwest, tornadoes were also reported in southeast Missouri into southern Illinois and southeast Indiana.

Storm Map - US Midwest February 28, 2017


With this tornado event happening in February, albeit the last day of the month, made it extremely rare. Here is a climatological perspective:

NWS Chicago County Warning Area (map):

  • Prior to February 28, there had only been one tornado during the month of February on record (since 1950).  This tornado was an EF-1 tornado during the afternoon of February 16, 2006 in Iroquois County.
  • While it was almost March, there have only been 26 March tornadoes on record (since 1950).
  • There had only been seven tornadoes during meteorological winter (December-February) on record prior to February 28th, with the last having been on January 7, 2008.  Of the seven, five had been significant (EF-2 or stronger). 
  • There has only been one wintertime tornado on record in LaSalle County, and that was an EF-3 on December 6, 1951 that caused one fatality and one injury.
  • There has not been any wintertime tornadoes in Grundy or Ogle Counties.
  • The last killer tornado to have occurred in the NWS Chicago CWA was on April 9, 2015.  The last one in LaSalle County was one that struck Utica on April 20, 2004.

Tornadoes by Month in the NWS Chicago CWA


  • From 1950-2015, there had been 47 tornadoes in Illinois during the month of February.
  • From 1950-2015, there had only been 15 February days with tornadoes.
  • The Ottawa area tornado was the furthest north a tornado has occurred in Illinois during the month of February on record. 

February tornadoes by state

Average number of tornadoes in February per year by state. Note almost all of the tornadoes in Illinois during February have occurred in the southern half of the state.


NWS warns that severe potential shifts east Wednesday, when strong to severe thunderstorms will be possible from the lower Mississippi Valley northeastward across the Tennessee Valley and Appalachians, and northward into parts of the Mid-Atlantic states into southern New England.

SPC said that damaging winds are the primary severe threat, though a few tornadoes and hail will be possible, especially west of the Appalachians.

Featured image: Large tornado rips through Illinois on February 28, 2017. Credit: StormChasingVideos


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