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The 1967 Oak Lawn tornado outbreak was a destructive tornado outbreak and severe weather event that occurred on April 21, 1967, across the Upper Midwestern United States, in particular the Chicago area including the towns of Belvidere and Oak Lawn, Illinois. It was the most notable tornado outbreak of 1967 and one of the most notable to occur in the Chicago area. The outbreak produced numerous significant (F2+) tornadoes, among them eight alone in the U.S. state of Illinois, including one of just six documented violent (F4–F5) tornadoes in the Chicago metropolitan area since the area was first settled. The F4 tornado that struck Belvidere caused one of the highest tornado-related death tolls in a single school building and was featured in an episode of The Weather Channel's Storm Stories.
|All deaths were tornado-related|
April 21, 1967, was a warm Friday afternoon in northern Illinois. Following a foggy morning with temperatures in the middle 50s°F, temperatures rose rapidly in the afternoon as low geopotential heights approached from the southwest. A warm front—part of a very deep shortwave trough—passed through Illinois all day and by afternoon moved north of the state. As a low pressure area within an extratropical cyclone approached the area, temperatures rose into the low to mid 70s°F with dew points rising into the 60s°F, an upper-level jet reaching 120-knot (220 km/h), and increasing low-level vertical shear. Meanwhile, a persistent mesolow feature near Joliet, Illinois, helped to maintain backed low-level winds from the south. As conditions became more favorable for tornadoes and supercells began developing in the Chicago area, the regional U.S. Weather Bureau office issued a tornado watch at 1:50 p.m. CDT covering the northern half of Illinois plus southern Wisconsin, eastern Iowa, and western Indiana. By 3 p.m. CDT/2100 UTC, more than 12 tornadoes had already been spawned from the storm system.
|F#||Location||County||Time (UTC)||Path length||Damage|
|F0||NE of Azen||Scotland||1400||1 miles (1.6 km)||Tornado was observed on the ground but apparently caused no damage.|
|F1||NE of Gower||Clinton||1830||0.2 miles (0.32 km)||Dust-laden tornado was seen but caused no damage.|
|F1||Cameron area||Clinton||1900||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||Tornado caused some damage in south Cameron. Condensation funnel was reportedly absent.|
|F2||E of Pattonsburg||Daviess||1900||8.4 miles (13.4 km)||Tornado completely leveled all buildings except the house at one farm site and destroyed one wall of the house. Tornado may have formed from the same thunderstorm that struck Cameron, but the time does not suggest this.|
|F0||NE of Gallatin||Daviess||1915||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||Brief touchdown failed to produce evidence of damage.|
|F3||N of Mandeville||Ray, Carroll||1920||14.6 miles (23.4 km)||Tornado extensively damaged or leveled homes, barns, and other outbuildings. It also injured livestock.|
|F2||S of Humphreys||Grundy, Sullivan||2000||6.3 miles (10.1 km)||Tornado destroyed eight homes, severely damaged seven others, and shattered glass windows as it hit Humphreys. Two children and a woman were injured in their trailer, as were four men sheltering inside a barn. Tornado was F3 according to an unofficial publication.|
|F2||NE of Cunningham||Chariton||2010||3 miles (4.8 km)||Neither Grazulis (1991) nor Storm Data lists this tornado, suggesting that it was either weaker than F2 in intensity or never existed.|
|F4||NE of Sumner to W of Newark||Linn, Macon, Knox||2020||59 miles (94.4 km)||Four homes and several barns were completely leveled while two people received minor injuries. Three or more funnels and erratic shifts in the damage path were reported to have occurred, suggesting that the long-tracked tornado was in fact a tornado family.|
|F2||W of Marshall to SE of Slater||Saline||2020||20.4 miles (32.6 km)||This tornado may have actually included two or more touchdowns, implying that the single event was two or more tornadoes. It caused minor damage to a porch and to farm buildings along its skipping path. One source indicates that this was probably less than F2 in intensity.|
|F0||W of Corder||Lafayette||2103||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||Tornado did not cause any noticeable damage.|
|F1||NE of Adrian||Bates||2110||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||Tornado produced minor damage to buildings and farm equipment.|
|F1||Rushville area||Rush||1833||0.1 miles (0.16 km)|
|F2||NE of Commiskey||Jennings, Jefferson||2310||6.3 miles (10.1 km)||Tornado unroofed and destroyed two homes, injuring two people, and then leveled a trailer and farm buildings.|
|F0||NE of Monticello||White||0227||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||Tornado produced very minimal damage.|
|F3||E of Fairfield||Jefferson||2000||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||Tornado never hit any structures and only briefly made contact with the ground.|
|F2||E of Birmingham to NE of Mount Union||Van Buren, Hancock||2100||32.8 miles (52.5 km)||Tornado damaged 12 or more farms with only minimal F2 intensity at most. The damage path was very discontinuous, with only isolated patches of "extensive damage."|
|F1||SW of Spring Hill||Whiteside||2130||0.3 miles (0.5 km)|
|F2||E of Coal Valley to S of Hooppole||Henry||2135||25.1 miles (40.2 km)||Numerous funnel clouds occurred with multiple reports of tornadoes. First tornado touched down north of Orion with isolated touchdowns to beyond Hooppole, with significant non-tornado-related wind damage. Tornado killed livestock, destroyed farm buildings, and uprooted trees.|
|F2||N of Hooppole||Henry||2150||4.5 miles (7.2 km)||Second Hooppole tornado leveled farm buildings and blew down large trees in rural areas.|
|F4||SW of Belvidere to N of Woodstock||Boone, McHenry||2150||25.5 miles (40.8 km)||25 deaths — See section on this tornado|
|F1||S of Daysville||Ogle||2200||1 miles (1.6 km)||Tornado caused damage to many homes and downed trees while moving north, unlike other tornadoes this day which moved east-northeast.|
|F2||W of Maytown||Lee||2202||5.6 miles (9 km)||Tornado severely damaged trees and farms and flipped a truck on Illinois State Highway 76 (now an Illinois route).|
|F1||SE of Amboy||Lee||2215||5.6 miles (9 km)||Tornado destroyed barns and blew down trees. Two distinct damage paths and funnel clouds observed, suggesting that a family of two tornadoes was involved.|
|F1||W of Kasbeer||Bureau||2230||0.5 miles (0.8 km)||Tornado destroyed buildings on farms and scattered debris about. Almost went undetected but was observed by mushroom-gatherers.|
|F2||SE of Hennepin||Putnam||2230||0.3 miles (0.5 km)||Tornado injured a man as it flipped two trailers and caused minimal tree damage. Not listed as F2 or greater by Grazulis (1993).|
|F1||SE of DeKalb||DeKalb||2240||2 miles (3.2 km)||Two tornadoes touched down 2 miles (3.2 km) apart from each other but are listed as one tornado. One tornado damaged structures and broke glass and trees at Northern Illinois University while uplifting a roof 1 mile (1.6 km) to the south with $50,000 (1967 USD) roof damage. Second tornado damaged farms simultaneously about 8 miles (13 km) to the south, but with discontinuous damage. Probably a tornado family.|
|F4||NW of Middlebury to Lake Zurich to W of Hawthorn Woods||McHenry, Lake||2300||8.8 miles (14.1 km)||1 death — See section on this tornado|
|F2||La Fox area||Kane||2310||0.3 miles (0.5 km)||Tornado destroyed one barn and caused roof and wall damage to Elgin State Hospital. Also badly damaged a factory. The state hospital sustained $100,000 in damages.|
|F1||NW of Bloomingdale||DuPage||2310||0.5 miles (0.8 km)||Tornado briefly hit Keeneyville with little damage.|
|F1||Addison to Schiller Park||DuPage, Cook||2310||6.8 miles (10.9 km)||Tornado skipped through several communities, including Franklin Park, with minimal damage.|
|F4||Palos Hills/Oak Lawn to Chicago South Side (entered Lake Michigan at 79th Street beach)||Cook||2324||15 miles (24 km)||33 deaths — See section on this tornado|
|F1||Lincoln Park area||Cook||2340||0.3 miles (0.5 km)||Tornado damaged an amusement park before moving over Lake Michigan.|
|F1||Champaign area||Champaign||0250||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||Brief touchdown on a farm.|
|F2||Casco to Dunningville area||Allegan||2355||18.6 miles (29.8 km)||Trailer and warehouse destroyed with many homes damaged. Minor injuries reported. Not rated F2 or greater by Grazulis.|
|F3||SW of Grandville to E of Ada||Kent||2358||13.6 miles (21.8 km)||Struck the south side of Grand Rapids. 65 buildings were destroyed, and 60 others were badly damaged. 375 buildings sustained minor damage. A church and a K-Mart store were completely destroyed.|
|F2||NE of Middleville to NW of Lake Odessa||Barry||0000||14.5 miles (23.2 km)||A house had its roof and kitchen ripped off.|
|F2||Derby area||Berrien||0025||1 miles (1.6 km)||School under construction leveled, pieces carried 1⁄2 miles (0.80 km) away. Several barns and outbuildings leveled as well. Not rated F2 or greater by Grazulis.|
|F0||S of Holton||Muskegon||0110||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||Brief touchdown in a rural area with other funnels also witnessed to have touched down.|
|F2||Portland area||Ionia||0115||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||Homes lost their roofs in Portland. Four barns were destroyed and 40 cattle were killed.|
|F4||NE of Westphalia||Clinton||0115||12 miles (19.2 km)||Three homes were destroyed and 18 others were damaged. Tornado destroyed buildings on 10 farms. 34 sheep were killed in 2 barns. Tornado may have been F3 rather than F4 at peak intensity.|
|F2||N of Cascade||Kent||0130||0.3 miles (0.5 km)||Destroyed rural outbuildings along its path. May have been weaker than F2 in intensity.|
|F1||N of Sunfield||Eaton||0148||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||Destroyed some farm buildings.|
|F2||Potterville to Lansing||Eaton, Ingham||0210||10.9 miles (17.4 km)||A barn was destroyed and the side of a house was torn off.|
At 3:50 P.M., a violent multiple vortex tornado, posthumously rated F4, moved through Belvidere, Illinois, damaging the high school and overturning buses. 24 people were killed and another 410 injured with 127 homes were destroyed and 379 damaged. 13 of the 24 people killed in Belvidere were killed at Belvidere High School, making this tornado the sixth deadliest ever to hit a school. Seven people were also killed at a shopping center. The Belvidere tornado was especially devastating because it hit the school just as students were getting on the buses to go home. Just before 4 p.m. CST, the tornado reached the school. 12 buses, already filled with elementary- and middle-school students, were tossed about. Several of the students were tossed into adjacent fields and killed. A bus driver was killed as well. Shortly after the passing of the tornado, faculty and some of the stronger students used the fireproof doors of the high school as stretchers to carry the injured into the cafeteria, the severely injured into the library, and the dead into the gymnasium. 300 new cars and 100 employee cars were destroyed at the Chrysler Plant in town. A school bus driving south of Harvard was thrown into power lines and torn in half. The driver and students survived by hiding in a ditch.
The second violent tornado of the day in Illinois may have developed as far southwest as Elgin, but was first observed at about 5:00 p.m. CDT near Fox River Grove, though its path is officially believed to have begun near Middlebury. It then produced a discontinuous damage path through Fox River Grove, North Barrington, and Lake Zurich. The most intense damage, posthumously rated F4, occurred at Lake Zurich Manor, about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) northwest of downtown Lake Zurich; there, roughly 75 homes were leveled and 200 severely damaged. The Acorn Acres subdivision, northeast of and adjourning Lake Zurich Manor, reported scattered damage and debris with about 12 homes severely damaged. According to official plots from Storm Data, the tornado lifted after hitting Acorn Acres, though non-tornadic damages to trees and buildings occurred as far as the intersection of Illinois Route 63 and Gilmer Road. There, severe winds, possibly downbursts, destroyed four homes, one brewery, and a plastic-manufacturing site, though at least one source indicates that the tornado was likely still present at that place. In all, the tornado damaged 400–500 homes and destroyed about 100. An air-conditioning unit weighing 1,000 lb (16,000 oz) was thrown .5 mi (0.80 km). Cars were picked up and tossed as well.
The third and final F4 tornado to affect Illinois this day was also the deadliest tornado of the entire outbreak. An intense supercell with a hook echo on weather radar first appeared about 18 miles (29 km) west-northwest of Joliet at 4:45 p.m. CDT. Later, at 5:15 p.m., an employee of the U.S. Weather Bureau observed a rotating wall cloud about 10 miles (16 km) north of Joliet. Minutes later, severe thunderstorm winds blew out windows in a building, though no tornado or funnel cloud had yet occurred. Near the Little Red Schoolhouse, in what is now the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, an observer first noted a funnel cloud to the south, moving east with hail up to .75 inches (19 mm) in diameter—but he was unable to report to the Weather Bureau as his telephone failed to give a dial tone. At 5:24 p.m. CDT, a tornado touched down at the present-day campus of Moraine Valley Community College and moved east-northeast, mainly at 70° heading. As it touched down, the tornado bent power poles and blew down small trees and vegetation, tossing dirt as it went. It then grew in size to 450 feet (150 yd) wide and entered Palos Hills, destroying about five buildings—including two frame homes and a brick home—and snapping trees. Subsequently, the intensifying funnel severely damaged homes and a drive-in theater in a half-block-wide area of the Chicago Ridge.
Over the next six minutes, the tornado attained its maximum intensity as it tore a 16.2-mile (26.1 km) (60-mile-per-hour (97 km/h) ground speed) swath of damage through Oak Lawn, Hometown, and Evergreen Park. As it passed through the business district of Oak Lawn, the tornado leveled many homes that were built entirely of brick. In Oak Lawn, the tornado threw 25–40 vehicles from the intersection of Southwest Highway and W. 95th St. (US-12/20), killing 16 people who were stuck in traffic during the rush hour. Partly for that reason, this tornado ended up being the deadliest in the outbreak. As it moved beyond Oak Lawn, the tornado weakened and widened as it caused lighter damage to vegetation, roofs, and garages. It finally moved offshore as a waterspout at Rainbow Beach, producing a wind gust up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) at a water filtration plant on the lakefront shore. In all, the tornado killed 33 people, including several children at a roller skating rink, and injured 1,000. It destroyed 152 homes and damaged 900, causing $50 million in damage. The destroyed buildings included a high school, grocery store, tavern, market, motel, drive-in theater, restaurant, numerous apartments, and two gas stations. Additionally, the tornado caused numerous fires in Oak Lawn which were quickly extinguished.
These tornadoes were a part of a tornado outbreak which also affected parts of Illinois, northern Missouri, southeast Iowa, and southern lower Michigan. There were a total of 20 tornadoes in Illinois, though other tornadoes may have occurred but were unrecorded. An F2 tornado, unlisted in Storm Data, may have struck three homes on the north side of Batavia before damaging 25 homes in Geneva. Some of the homes lost roofs and walls while 20 homes were also damaged in Streamwood. The entire outbreak killed 58 people.
Two days later on Sunday, April 23, 1967, three inches (76 mm) of snow fell on Belvidere, which only exacerbated the cleanup from Friday's tornadoes. In fact, many cities and towns in the Midwest broke record overnight lows on April 24 and 25. A state of emergency was declared for Boone County, and the reserves came to assist in the cleanup effort. Senator Charles Percy and Illinois Governor Otto Kerner visited to speak with victims and thank the recovery volunteers.