Joash Mencias // News Editor
Weather prof. shares stories from damage survey
These images were some of the damage Victor Gensini saw from last month’s devastating tornadoes in central Illinois.
“Story after story of remarkableness and of people surviving,” Gensini said of the tornadoes’ impacts. “It was just amazingly sad devastation.”
Gensini, assistant meteorology professor of meteorology at College of DuPage, had the unique opportunity of assisting one of the damage surveying teams of the National Weather Service in Chicago the Monday after the rare, historic outbreak. The team looked at areas near the worst of the damage in Washington, Ill., but not directly where the tornado reached maximum intensity.
The team geotagged locations of damage in order to track the path and intensity of the tornado. While they focused on canvassing the affected areas, the team also spoke with residents impacted by the twisters.
“While interviewing these people, you can see they’re running on adrenaline,” Gensini said. “These people got no sleep while they lost all their assets and they were still talking to us.”
Gensini recalled some of the harrowing stories of survival. One tale involved a group of eight women gathered in a residential home for a Mary Kay party. When one of the women received an emergency wireless alert on their phone, the group of women took action to protect themselves from the tornado that wreaked havoc on the home.
Gensini attributed the high survival rates to the relatively new alert system on smartphones and weather warning dissemination.
“I think the wireless alerts really saved them…this was a great job by the National Weather Service.”
Since a tornado’s intensity cannot be directly measured when it is occurring, meteorologists from the National Weather Service must observe damage to estimate wind speeds of a tornado. Storm survey teams use damage indicators to help experts rate a twister’s strength on the Enhanced Fujita Scale which ranks the strongest tornadoes up to EF5. The tornadoes that struck the region last month ranged from EF0 to EF4.
The Storm Prediction Center had forecasted a rare ‘high risk’ threat of severe weather for the region including Chicago on Nov. 17, which definitely caught Gensini’s attention.
“All the ingredients started coming together…I was really worried Sunday morning and thought we’d have a disaster. I felt sick to my stomach that day.”
Gensini was quick to remind about the dangerously close proximity of November’s major storms to the city.
“Just take that track, put it starting in Joliet and we’re talking millions of people. I’m sure we wouldn’t be in class if [the tornado] hit Chicago instead.”
While the tornadoes did not track all the way northward, the damage Gensini surveyed still hit a personal note. He grew up near the towns affected by the storms and still has family in the Pekin and Washington areas, unaffected directly.
“When you see tornado damage in an area you’re familiar with, it’s of a different magnitude when you’re there…it hits home a little closer and I’m more sympathetic to folks down there. The event becomes real.”