Destructive Tornado Strikes Taylorville, Illinois; 26 People Hurt, Over 500 Buildings Damaged

Jonathan Erdman and Ron Brackett
Published: December 3, 2018

A large tornado tore through Taylorville, Illinois, Saturday, damaging hundreds of buildings and injuring at least 26 people, two of them critically.

The tornado struck the town of about 11,200 residents just after 5 p.m. Saturday. Taylorville is about 25 miles southeast of the state's capital, Springfield.

On Monday, the Christian County Emergency Management Agency said 506 structures were damaged by the tornado, 34 were destroyed and 66 had major damage.

The National Weather Service also confirmed it was an EF3 tornado with winds over 155 mph. It was a half-mile wide and traveled more than 11 miles. 

(MORE: Over Two Dozen Tornadoes Strike From Plains to Southeast; Four Injured at Naval Base in Georgia)

"There are multiple, I would guess, over a hundred (homes), easily, that are damaged severely from the storm because it took a path almost right through town," Taylorville Assistant Fire Chief Andy Goodall said at a news conference Saturday night.

Goodall said most of the homes' roofs were gone, including his own, with the north and west sides of town hardest hit.

"I know we had probably 12 or 15 houses, at least, where people were trapped," Goodall told the Breeze-Courier Saturday night.


Above: Damage at a convenience store in Taylorville, Illinois, on Dec. 1, 2018. 

Downed power lines and trees littered the city, which was preparing for its Twilight Christmas Parade, the Breeze-Courier reported.

No deaths were reported. 

Taylorville Memorial Hospital spokesman Michael Leathers told the State Journal-Register 21 people were treated there for storm-related injuries on Saturday. Three with more serious injuries were transferred to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield. On Sunday, five more people were treated for storm-related injuries, the Journal-Register reported.

Taylorville Fire Chief Mike said two people were hospitalized in critical condition.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, who had activated the State Emergency Operations Center after the storm, toured Taylorville on Sunday with U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis.

A temporary shelter for victims has been set up at Crossroads Church.

A tornado damaged more than 100 homes in Taylorville, Illinois, on Saturday, December 1, 2018.
(Owen Lasswell/Breeze Courier)

"We took the unprecedented step of activating our sirens twice," Crews told the Breeze-Courier. 

"We have a policy not to do that, but we felt that because of the size of the storm, we did do that," Crews said.

Taylorville's mayor, Bruce Barry, declared a curfew beginning at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Schools superintendent Dr. Gregg Fuerstenau said Taylorville schools will be closed Monday, according to Fox News Illinois.

When the tornado hit, Lori Farley was staying at her late mother's home, which had minor damage. Others in the neighborhood were not so lucky, the Decatur Herald-Review reported.

“We walked outside and oh my god, it looked like a war zone out front,” Farley told the newspaper.

The roof was ripped off of one house and dropped in the living room. A family friend had to be freed from her damaged home, Farley said.

The National Weather Service in Lincoln, Illinois, issued a tornado warning at 4:39 p.m., roughly 42 minutes before the tornado struck Taylorville. At 5:15 p.m., they upgraded to a tornado emergency for the town, a rare warning issued when a damaging tornado has been confirmed, heading for a populated area.

The city of Taylorville was last struck by a tornado - rated F1 - on April 2, 2006, according to NWS-Lincoln. Christian County's strongest tornado in modern records dating to 1950 was an F3 tornado in the county's far western edge on March 20, 1976, according to NOAA's storm events database. 

Elsewhere in Christian County, a home was shifted off its foundation near the town of Boody, a semi was blown over, and numerous trees and power lines were downed in Stonington.

Before tracking into Christian County, a home was damaged near the Montgomery County town of Butler, and a classic cars business was damaged near Staunton, in Macoupin County.

Ameren reported just over 2,200 customers without power from the storms as of early Sunday.

Twenty miles northwest of Springfield, residents of Beardstown were asked to conserve water after the town’s water treatment plant was struck by a suspected tornado.

There were 22 reports of tornadoes Saturday in central and southern Illinois, according to the National Weather Service.

Preliminary reports of tornadoes on Dec. 1, 2018, in central and southern Illinois. Note, these don't necessarily correspond to the number of tornadoes or their precise tracks, which will be determined by National Weather Service damage surveys.
(Reports: NOAA/NWS/SPC)

According to NWS-Lincoln, a supercell tracking from the far east St. Louis metro area to just east of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, may have been responsible for multiple tornadoes, including Taylorville, a distance of roughly 140 miles. 

On Friday and into early Saturday, strong thunderstorms tore across the Plains states, spawning at least three tornadoes that caused extensive damage in Oklahoma and killed one person in a southwestern Missouri.

December Tornadoes in Illinois Aren't Unusual

Illinois tornadoes have occurred in every month of the year.

Remnants of a destroyed house lean against a tree after a tornado struck Gorham and Murphysboro, Illinois, on Dec. 18, 1957.
(Photo used with permission of the Jackson County Historical Society, Murphysboro, Illinois)

According to the State Climatologist Office for Illinois, 57 December tornadoes have been documented in the state in the 67-year period from 1950 through 2016, for an average of one tornado every one to two Decembers.

The last December tornadoes in the state occurred on Dec. 23, 2015, when six were recorded in far southern and western Illinois, according to data from the Tornado History Project.

Despite being one of the least tornadic months of the year, there have been 19 deaths and 327 injuries from December tornadoes in that same period, more than in either June or March. 

The majority of these were from the state's most violent December tornado outbreak in modern times. On Dec. 18, 1957, a swam of 25 tornadoes tore through parts of Illinois and Missouri, claiming 17 lives and injuring 273.

Two of the tornadoes, affecting Mt. Vernon, Gorham and Murphysboro, Illinois, were rated F4. The Gorham and Murphysboro tornado alone claimed 11 lives and injured 200, moving at a forward speed of 60 mph, likely a contributor to the death and injury toll.

A separate Dec. 18, 1957 tornado in Perry County, Illinois was rated F5, killing one and injuring six.

These remain the only F/EF4 or 5-rated December tornadoes of record in the state.

Other deadly December Illinois tornadoes occurred in 1950, 1951 and 1982. 


The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.