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Remembering the Washington Tornado eight years later

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 8:45 AM CST
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PEORIA (Heart of Illinois ABC) - It was a moment in time that you will likely always remember where you were and what you were doing when the storm hit, even if you weren’t in the path of it.

The tornado that moved through Washington that day only took a few minutes to do so, but that small fraction of the day changed people’s lives forever.

Severe weather was well forecast in the days leading up to November 17, 2013, including numerous Convective Outlooks from the Storm Prediction Center. The Day 1 Outlook from the SPC showed the potential for widespread and destructive severe weather that day.

In 2013, the SPC still used the three-tiered outlook compared to the five-tiered outlook that was use today. However, both of these outlooks both have a High Risk as the highest threat level for severe weather. This is not used very often and is reserved for severe weather events which could produce widespread and significant severe weather.

That day, a High Risk was issued for areas near the Illinois River in central Illinois through western Ohio. Washington was included in the western fringes of this High Risk area.

The Storm Prediction Center issued a High Risk for Severe Weather for November 17, 2013. This...
The Storm Prediction Center issued a High Risk for Severe Weather for November 17, 2013. This included Washington, IL.(Storm Prediction Center)
Tornadoes were likely that day, and some were expected to be long-lived and destructive. This...
Tornadoes were likely that day, and some were expected to be long-lived and destructive. This was most likely in the hatched area.(Storm Prediction Center)

The first Tornado Warning for the storm that would eventually produce the Washington Tornado was issued at 10:50 AM. It was issued for parts of Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford Counties. At this time, rotation within the severe thunderstorm was only radar indicated.

Washington was included in this warning as one of the areas that would be in the path as it moved to the northeast at 55 mph. The warning text says that the storm would move into Washington at 11:05 AM, which was just one minute off of the reported time of 11:06 AM when it moved in. This initial warning gave Washington residents 16 minutes of lead time to seek shelter.

This is the first Tornado Warning for what would become the Washington Tornado. This warning...
This is the first Tornado Warning for what would become the Washington Tornado. This warning gave Washington 16 minutes lead time.(National Weather Service)

At 11:06 AM, an update was issued by the National Weather Service that said that at 11:03 AM, a “large and extremely dangerous tornado was located near Washington.” The NWS also included a “particularly dangerous situation” tag, which is the highest level of severity that a Tornado Warning can have. This PDS tag is reserved for large, life-threatening tornadoes.

This is the first time the PDS tag was issued for the Washington Tornado.
This is the first time the PDS tag was issued for the Washington Tornado.(National Weather Service)

At 11:12 AM, the NWS updated the Tornado Warning once again to increase the speed of the tornado to 65 mph and update the towns in the path of the storm. The PDS tag was also included once again.

An update to the Tornado Warning as the PDS tornado moved through Washington.
An update to the Tornado Warning as the PDS tornado moved through Washington.(National Weather Service)

This tornado was on the ground for 48 minutes and covered 46.2 miles across four counties, but it was the strongest around Washington. Wind speeds were estimated to have reached upward of 190 mph at its strongest. This rates it as an EF-4 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The EF Scale rates tornadoes from EF-0 (weakest) to EF-5 (strongest). This made the Washington Tornado the strongest tornado on record in the month of November in Illinois since 1950 when records began.

Sadly, three people lost their lives in Washington as the tornado moved through. Another 121 were injured in and around Washington and another four were injured in Woodford County. Damage estimates from this tornado were $935 million.

- Rating: EF-4

- Max. Wind Speed - 190 mph

- Touchdown: 2.4 miles SE of East Peoria (Tazewell County) at 10:59 AM

- Lifted: 2 miles east of Long Point (Livingston County) at 11:47 AM.

- Path Length: 46.2 miles

- Path Width: 0.5 miles

- Time On Ground: 48 minutes

- Fatalities: 3

- Injuries: 125

Photo of the Washington Tornado.
Photo of the Washington Tornado.(Kris Lancaster)
Photo of the Washington Tornado.
Photo of the Washington Tornado.(WEEK-TV)
Destruction in Washington after the tornado.
Destruction in Washington after the tornado.(National Weather Service)
Home were destroyed as the EF-4 tornado moved through.
Home were destroyed as the EF-4 tornado moved through.(National Weather Service)
More damage from the Washington Tornado.
More damage from the Washington Tornado.(National Weather Service)

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