January 7th 2008 - A Tornado Meets a Train

January 7th, 2008 was the apex of an unseasonably warm early January weather pattern in the Chicago area. O'Hare airport, where Chicago's official weather records are observed, recorded a record high of 65 degrees that day, just two degrees shy of the all-time high temperature in the entire month of January. Nearby, Gary, Indiana actually hit 70 degrees that day. 

While meteorologists were predicting rain and thunderstorms in a pattern more typical of early May than January, no one could have predicted a tornado would accompany the storms.

Weather conditions deteriorated very quickly in the early afternoon as a storm system approached the area. And just before 3:30pm near Poplar Grove, IL, a tornado formed.

Image: Radar at 3:25pm on 1/7/08. NWS Chicago

The storm moved northeast along a line running just north of Poplar Grove, Capron, Harvard, Hebron, and Richmond, before moving across into Wisconsin and weakening significantly. At its strongest, the tornado measured an EF3, with sustained winds of 136-165mph. 

Image: NWS Chicago

Easily the most iconic visual from the storm was the impact it had on a Union Pacific train that was traveling at the time, causing a derailment and evacuation as the result of a hazmat spill. The video is below, and you may have already seen it before!



Destruction of property along the 100 yard width of the storm was significant, although no fatal injuries were attributed to the storm. Nonetheless, four people were killed in tornadoes as part of the larger severe weather outbreak in the Southern US.

Ground-level view of house northeast of Poplar Grove destroyed by EF3 tornado. (NWS Chicago)

In addition to the tornado outbreak, significant flooding occurred with these storms, especially in the village of Watseka, IL. Less than two weeks later, temperatures were below zero in the area, making efforts to clean up after the floods that occurred south of Chicago very difficult, and a great reminder of weather's unpredictable nature.

This is a cross-post with my new blog Today in Weather History, if you like reading about weather history daily, please consider reading!

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