June 20th, 2021 Tornado in Woodridge, IL

June 20th, 2021 Tornado in Woodridge, IL

It’s been awhile since we’ve had any notable weather events in the Chicago area, as the summer thus far has been quite hot and dry, and even when storms have threatened the area, a persistent flow of dry air has largely diminished them, leaving a significant drought. 

The same weather dynamics were in play on the afternoon of June 20th, 2021 when a band of thunderstorms and rain quickly dried out, bringing little to no rain, particularly south of Chicago. However, a second band of storms developed behind those, prompting torrential downpours, significant lightning, strong wind gusts, and, of course, tornadoes.

View of the tornado or funnel cloud on 6/20/21. Matt Smith photo. As this occurred at night, very few pictures of the funnel were observed.

This is also one of the most significant tornadoes to impact the Chicago area since January of 2008, and as the storm damage is still being analyzed, and it is the first EF-3 since 2015, when a tornado struck between Coal City and Braidwood. 

National Weather Service Bulletin.

This tornado is also a good lesson to always remain alert for changing weather conditions, as it occurred outside of a tornado watch, and at a time when most people were heading to bed. I was on my way home from work, but thankfully was not on the road where this storm occurred, although I did drive through a debris field on I-355. As a trained weather spotter, I advised the National Weather Service of my observations, but the storm had mostly cleared the area by the time I drove through the debris.

While a tornado warning was issued for a rotating severe thunderstorm near the O’Hare area, I was unaware of any warnings for my commute home before I began driving.

Between 75th St and 83rd St in a line extending from Naperville to Burr Ridge was where the brunt of the damage occurred. I live just outside of this zone, and as such, other than my backyard furniture being knocked over, there was no damage to my house, and thankfully my family was safe. As of this time, there were also thankfully no fatalities from the storm, but there were several injuries, some minor, some severe. No tornado fatalities have occurred in the Chicago area since the Plainfield Tornado of 1990. (Video)

Chicago Tribune photo of damage from the storm at Naperville, IL.

As I mentioned previously, there were supposed to be strong storms on Sunday afternoon that largely didn’t materialize – and this played into the development of the severe weather outbreak at night. 

Below is the NWS Forecast Discussion from the afternoon of 6/20:

At 9:40pm, an area-wide Severe Thunderstorm Watch was issued, but not a Tornado Watch. As storms raced through the state, they intensified in strength as opposed to faltering, as had been the case so often recently in the drought we’ve had, but tornadoes had not been reported until they were firmly within the Chicago area. At 10:53, the first tornado warning associated with the line of storms was issued for Cook County and the City of Chicago, as a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located at Itasca, moving north and east at just 10 mph. As far as I can tell, this did not produce a tornado.

However, the next I heard, a tornado had been sighted in the area of Woodridge, with the original location being the I-355/I-55 interchange, although whether a tornado actually occurred there or not is still unknown, as the main debris field was a couple miles north at the aforementioned 75th St-83rd St area. On 355 south of 75th, there were several downed trees, at least one downed BGS sign, and the lights were out, but I was able to pass through unscathed on the way home.

Tornado damage is significant and potentially deadly, but usually quite narrow, and I observed that to be true in this case. Like I said, I live less than a mile from the main debris associated with this storm, but outside of the neighborhood, there was little to no damage. One could be excused for being in Naperville or Woodridge and not realizing a tornado had struck, since the debris field is so narrow, and most of the respective city and village were unscathed. 

David O’Sullivan photo of vehicle damage at 75th/Greene Road near Naperville.

I drove through the area to see the damage for myself, and the following images come from the vicinity of Westview Ln in Woodridge between 83rd and Everglade Ave. I could not drive further into the neighborhood, as there were downed wires.

Both these houses had damage to the roof from downed trees. Thankfully no wires in the area.

Naperville and Darien also reported damage from the storm, but little if any occurred in Bolingbrook, which is just south of where this touched down from. 

With the age of some of the trees in the neighborhood, it’s certainly possible to think how much worse it could have been, but thankfully, no fatalities were reported.

In addition to the property damage, there were multiple reports of transformer fires and natural gas fires as a result of the storm, but thankfully these were controlled relatively quickly, and the process of restoring services is well underway.

Downed trees on a truck and a house, and some major siding damage.

There were numerous contractors, roofers, and other workers beginning to clean up from the wreckage the following morning.

Downed wires at Westview/Everglade. I did not venture in further.

As I’ve stated already, this storm is a good reminder that tornadoes can occur with little to no advance warning, and at unusual times of day. Usually, tornadoes occur in the late afternoon, but have been observed at all times of the day, and at all times of year in Illinois. Always keep an eye on the weather, especially if you’re going to be out and about. There are numerous news sites, apps, and of course the National Weather Service that can disseminate good information about storms and keep you prepared.

Finally, while scrolling through wannabe weather reporters and storm chasers on Twitter for information on the storm, I came across a few people who linked this storm to climate change. While our planet is undoubtedly warming, it is important to stress that weather does not equal climate, and it is disingenuous to attribute a changing climate to one singular storm, since major tornadoes can occur, have occurred, and will occur, in many different climates across the country. Even the unusual attributes of this storm do not, in and of themselves, prove climate change to be the culprit behind this weather event.

Thanks as always for reading!

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