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WIU Faculty Working to Improve Tornado Responses

May 6, 2014

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MACOMB, IL – With the arrival of spring comes an increasing chance of severe weather patterns descending upon the Midwest. At Western Illinois University, research is ongoing for not only how to better predict approaching severe weather, but how to best react once a storm strikes.

WIU Assistant Professor of Geography Marcus Büker has spent the last three years doing research, with the help of WIU meteorology students, through a nearly $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Büker and his students are studying the physics behind tornado development, including how vortices interact with each other to form a tornadic vortex.

During Summer 2013, Büker and WIU students Jacob Vancil, a junior from Bushnell, and Alexander Adams, a junior from Macomb, ran vortex and storm simulations on a high performance computer system, which was purchased with help from the grant. This summer, Büker and the students will continue that research with the help of Brendan Wallace, a junior meteorology major, from Lockport (IL).

"These are idealized simulations, sample configurations that help determine how a tornado forms and how they stay together," Büker said.

Once the research is complete, Büker said he hopes to publish several journal articles about the findings. He said publishing will help the students with graduate school applications, showing a research background, and it will also help train future meteorologists in detection of forming storms.

Büker said the average lead-time for a tornado warning, before one can actually hit, is 13 minutes.

"Through research like mine, we hope to improve that lead time," he said. "We also believe it will help in the development of computer algorithms to detect when (tornado forming) configurations are taking place."

A few safety tips Büker said could help with an approaching tornado include:

  • Get to the lowest floor of a safe structure.
  • If caught outside, don't try to outrun the tornado in a vehicle.
  • If there is no available basement, get in an interior room and stay as low as possible.
  • If you are driving and a tornado approaches from a distance, drive at a right angle to the tornado's motion.

Once a tornado strikes and damage has occurred, the reaction of emergency personnel is vital. WIU Emergency Management Assistant Professor Jack Rozdilsky has done extensive research on how to improve response and recovery to tornado disasters. He has studied the aftermath of the Harrisburg (IL) 2012 EF-4 tornado disaster, and his recent efforts focus on the Washington (IL) November 2013 tornado.

"In the aftermath of a tornado disaster, it is important to remember safety first," Rozdilsky said. "While in the first hours after the storm, response capacity may be overwhelmed, it is typical that both first responders and emergency management authorities will organize a response focusing on immediate life safety with search and rescue efforts. Simultaneously, sites will be established for sheltering and for provision of basic services for those persons immediately impacted."

Throughout the Spring 2014 semester, Rozdilsky and his students have worked with Washington city government officials and businesses to develop a long-term plan for economic recovery in that city. The class made several trips to the damaged regions to assess opportunities and threats in disaster recovery.

Rozdilsky recommends that residents who live in areas susceptible to tornadoes get a NOAA weather radio.

"Such a device can provide an alarm with an audible warning concerning significant severe weather," he said. "While many cities have tornado sirens, these are outdoor warning systems, which may or may not be able to be heard indoors and a weather radio solves that problem."

For more information on WIU's plan for severe weather shelter and preparedness, visit

For more information on the Washington project, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing