Illinois Sets New Tornado Record in May, Illinois State Water Survey

Press Release

For Immediate Release June 3, 2003
Illinois Sets New Tornado Record in May
Jim Angel - (217) 333-0729, Fax: (217) 244-0220,
Eva Kingston - (217) 244-7270, Fax: (217) 333-6540,

“With preliminary data indicating 95 tornadoes during May 2003, Illinois has toppled the old May record of 54 tornadoes set in 1995,” says State Climatologist Jim Angel of the Illinois State Water Survey (, a division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The final numbers are not yet in, but Angel is pretty sure they beat the old record. “Although a few of the stronger tornadoes caused damage on May 6, 10, and 30, including two deaths in southern Illinois on May 10, most were small, short-lived tornadoes that caused minimal damage. Last year there were four tornado-related deaths, but none in 2000 and 2001,” says Angel.

May was the 40th coldest May since 1895, with a statewide average temperature of 60.7 degrees, 2.2 degrees below average. The coldest May was in 1917 when temperatures averaged 55.9 degrees, 7 degrees below average. Precipitation in May 2003 also was above average, with a statewide total of 6.12 inches, 1.86 inches above average (144 percent of average).

Spring (March–May) was near average. Temperatures averaged 51.8 degrees (0.3 degrees below average), and precipitation totaled 11.33 inches (101 percent of average). “Water Survey measurements indicate soil moisture is in good shape down to 6 feet. All the spring rainfall, especially in May, should alleviate the impacts of the dry fall and winter, ” says Angel.

May temperatures ranged from a low of 30 degrees at Mt. Carroll on May 3 to a high of 90 degrees at Normal on May 10. Illinois had 333 growing degree-days (GDDs) in May, 83 percent of average. Plant and pest development can be indicated by GDDs, degree-days for which the threshold temperature (50 degrees in this case) is established for different types of crops.

“Experts believe there may be another La Niña in the second half of 2003, as temperatures cool off in the Pacific Ocean. Warmer, drier conditions tend to occur in Illinois in July and August during strong La Niñas, but weak ones have little impact on Illinois during the growing season. Currently, the National Weather Service is calling for equal chances of above normal, normal, and below normal temperatures and precipitation this summer. Last May also was cool, but temperatures quickly warmed up in June so May is not always a reliable indicator of what summer will be like,” says Angel.

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