NOAA Magazine || NOAA Home Page

Storm Preparedness, Quick Action by Management and Employees Credited

NOAA image of the damage that an F3 tornado can cause to a home.July 15, 2004 — A powerful tornado severely damaged a manufacturing plant in Roanoke, Ill., Tuesday, but quick action by management and employees to implement a pre-defined storm plan saved the lives of the 120-plus employees inside. (Click NOAA image for larger view of the damage that an F3 tornado can cause to a home. Preliminary reports from the NOAA National Weather Service indicate that the Roanoke, Ill., tornado may have been greater than an F3, which means winds in excess of 206 mph. All but a few parts of the outer and inner walls were toppled or removed from this house in Moore, Okla., on May 3, 1999. For a well-built home, any removal of inner walls constitutes F3 damage, so this site was rated high-end F3. Click here for high resolution version, which is a large file. Please credit “NOAA.”)

“Looking at the pictures of the torn up plant, a person wouldn’t think it possible that more than 120 employees got through that storm with no injuries,” said Mike Looney, services division chief, for the NOAA National Weather Service Central Region. "Those people were able to escape injury from a very devastating tornado because plant management created a severe weather action plan and conducted drills to familiarize employees with correct actions to keep everyone safe."

According to preliminary NOAA National Weather Service reports, the tornado hit Parsons Manufacturing between Eureka and Roanoke at 3:41 p.m. EDT. Approximately 120 to 140 people were in the plant at the time, but all personnel made it to storm shelters three to five minutes before the storm arrived.

The plant was monitoring NOAA All-Hazards Radio and noted the severe thunderstorm warning issued at 3:29 p.m. EDT. The plant manager activated plant spotters, who noted a possible tornado approximately two miles west of the plant and radioed the office to implement the next stage of the tornado plan by requesting that all employees enter designated shelters—three concrete reinforced above-ground storm shelters that also serve as rest rooms. The spotters themselves then noted the large tornado approaching and took shelter.

Employees said the first sign of the tornado’s arrival at the plant was cars being blown from the parking lot into the side of the building. Steel beams weighing up to a ton were pulled into the vortex like match sticks, according to some employees’ accounts. When the tornado passed, many employees’ cars were found piled into the collapsed building.

“Our forecasters around the country put in thousands of hours each year giving presentations on severe weather and the correct actions to take when severe weather hits,” Looney said. “We emphasize the need to create an action plan and to rehearse that plan until everyone is familiar with it. At Parsons, a drill was conducted earlier this year so that employees would know what action to take when needed, and it worked. I hate to think of what might have happened if Parsons Manufacturing had not had a plan. There would have been more grisly tasks than pulling cars out of the building.”

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nationís coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Roanoke Tornado Survey Information

NOAA All-Hazards Radio

NOAA Weather Radio

NOAA Tornadoes Page

Media Contact:
Patrick Slattery, NOAA National Weather Service Central Region, (816) 891-7734 ext. 621