Plainfield's siren system was not activated before a tornado struck the suburb the night of June 30 because emergency officials did not receive adequate warning, a police commander told village trustees Monday night.
Plainfield Police Commander Ken Ruggles said the sirens would have been sounded if the village had been alerted about the tornado by the National Weather Service or by trained weather spotters.
Ruggles said that by the time the warning was received, he had learned the tornado had passed through.
Ricky Castro, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, said Tuesday a damage survey conducted by the agency found that the tornado initially occurred at 9:55 p.m. and the tornado warning didn't go out until 9:58 p.m.
"It (the tornado) happened before the warning was sent out," Castro said. "The situation that evening was a difficult one. It's something that was not clear cut."
Even after the tornado warning was issued that night, the agency still wasn't sure that a tornado touched down, Castro said, due to complex radar images and a lack of reports by weather spotters. He said, however, that a severe storm warning was issued for the area around 9:48 p.m. indicating that winds over 80 mph could occur.
"I thought we were just dealing with … straight-line winds," Ruggles said.
On July 1, the National Weather Service confirmed that an EF1 tornado, the second-lowest classification, hit Plainfield and neighboring Romeoville. A total of seven twisters touched down in northern Illinois during that series of storms.
Romeoville Mayor John Noak confirmed that the sirens in his village were turned on, but he wasn't sure if the spotters saw the funnel cloud.
While there were no reports of injuries, the tornado did uproot over 50 trees in Plainfield and cause numerous structural damage on the northeast corner of the suburb, including at the Woodlands of the Reserve subdivision and the unincorporated Lakewood Falls subdivision.
Many residents also experienced power outages and wires were on trees at Joliet Road and Illinois Route 59.
Ruggles said trained weather spotters did not observe the tornado due to darkness issues. He said the radar image consistently showed a "bow echo," which is a line of storms shaped like an archery bow that produces strong straight-line winds.
Ruggles told trustees that the sirens are intended to warn people who may be outdoors and not in the home. He said that people indoors need to monitor the television, radio and other communication devices.
"This is a miscommunication that we are going to address in the future," Ruggles said. "They (the sirens) are intended to give people who (are outdoors and) are not aware of an impeding storm time to seek shelter."
The sirens never were sounded that night. Ruggles decided not to do so after he learned the tornado had passed through.
"I did not activate it," he said. "It was my call."
Trustees told Ruggles that some residents have asked why the sirens did not go off. But trustees supported his decision.
"We don't want to set the alarms off too frequently," Trustee Bill Lamb said. "That's crying wolf. It's a (tough) judgment call."
Ruggles added that the sirens aren't necessarily for tornadoes, but are used for other emergencies.
A tornado in 1990 killed 29 people in Plainfield. It was the most powerful tornado ever to strike the Chicago area. The devastating tornado touched down outside Oswego at about 3:15 p.m., striking Plainfield and roaring toward Joliet. By 3:45 p.m. it was over. In all, 1,500 buildings were damaged or destroyed, 300 people were injured and 29 were killed.
Emergency officials in nearby Bolingbrook did not activate their alarm system on June 30. A statement on the village website says that the decision was based on scientific data received from weather reports.
Elizabeth Hespell, who lives in the Lakewood Falls subdivision in Plainfield, said a fallen maple tree remained in her yard days after the tornado.
"The wind started shaking the house" at about 10 pm on June 30, she said. "I'm not going to bed, I'm going to the basement."
Hespell said she didn't hear the tree fall. "It looks like this all over," she said of the fallen trees. "It was a mess. It was just gross."
Trees were also blocking some streets after the storm she said.
Deborah Horaz, of Romeoville, sat outside her house at the corner of Arlington Drive and Fenton Avenue on July 2 waiting for the electricity to go on. The 61-year-old said she hadn't experienced such a long outage in 40 years.
"It's hard," Horaz said. "We can't cook nothing. We just have to eat sandwiches."
Ruzich is a freelance reporter. Ziezulewicz is a Tribune reporter.Copyright © 2015, CT Now