|Near Rochelle, IL|
Local storm chasers were all over that storm, relaying valuable information to forecasters at the National Weather Service. We were able to keep in constant contact with the forecasters as well. Kristin was monitoring the information coming into the NWS chat room, as well as storm reports, while I was on air doing continuous coverage. Very often she would cut-in with new information that we had been receiving: where the tornado was, if there was any damage and where it was moving next. I can remember at one point stepping off camera to go to the radar and looking into the NWS chat and seeing the words "large wedge tornado" and thinking this can't be real. We didn't have much time to process what was going on because at that point the adrenaline had kicked in, and I knew we had a very dangerous situation developing. It was our job to remain on-air, remain calm and provide the most detailed information we could on where the storm was heading to keep people in its path safe.
"If you can hear my voice, you need to get to shelter NOW"
At one point that night, we had multiple tornado warnings over Northern Illinois. It seemed as if Mother Nature didn't want to give up. A total of 11 tornadoes occurred in Illinois - with 7 of those in Northern Illinois. What's even more impressive is out of those 7, 6 tornadoes occurred from the same supercell thunderstorm!
By now, the main tornado had formed into the massive EF-4 that trapped people in a restaurant, tore through farms and nearly leveled the town of Fairdale. We had pulled up LIVE streaming coverage from a local storm chaser who was heading north on I-39. The video wasn't something we could rebroadcast, but it gave us an idea of what we were dealing with. I can still picture the tornado nearing I-39, between IL 64 and IL 72. In the back of my mind I was thinking 'how can people survive this? There is no way. When will this storm end?'
That was the phone call Kristin took in the weather center after the tornado went through Fairdale. She remembers saying "What do you mean it's gone? It can't be gone. How does a town just disappear?" But it was. The once quiet, rural community that so many had called home nearly leveled in under 10 seconds. How does that even happen? Even after that storm had passed, there were many other storms to the west that were heading in that same direction. "My goodness, what else could happen to those residents?" But, we didn't have much time to think about that because there were still numerous storms that had tornado threats.
"People are trapped in Grubsteakers"
Kristin and I were on the air for almost 3 hours that night. Three hours that seemed to fly by so fast, but at the same time seemed like an eternity. We ended shortly before our 9pm newscast, giving us only a little time to recoup and gather our thoughts. When we went off the air, I walked out of the weather center and down the hall trying my hardest not to cry. But by that time, I had to go back on air. Once the 10pm newscast was finished, I knew our work wasn't done. That night, I stayed as long as I could to help out wherever I was needed. Whether it be gathering information, shifting through storm information or trying to inform as many people as possible of what had just happened. That night will stay with me forever.
I truly believe that it was by the grace of God that Clem Schultz survived that tornado. He was on the second floor, falling to the first floor tangled up in debris after the storm had passed. I know there are many other stories of sadness, but also triumph from those affected by the tornado. In a way, it has brought the communities closer together. I drive through Fairdale often on my way into work, and I think about how the town was before the storm. But I also think of how much stronger the town will be in years to come.