Remembering The Fairdale Tornado 5 Years Later

7 hours ago
Susan Stephens

It’s been five years since a deadly tornado struck northern Illinois. The storm killed two people in Fairdale. The recovery took years. WNIJ’s Susan Stephens and Jenna Dooley recall the impact of the storm and its immediate aftermath:

Jenna Dooley/WNIJ

Northern Illinois University bids farewell to its longtime staff meteorologist this week.

Gilbert Sebenste has been passionate about the weather for a long time. He says that, when he was four or five years old, he attended a picnic with his parents when the weather started to turn ominous.

“… then all of the sudden as I am riding a kiddie ride -- it was a helicopter ride that went about 20 feet above the ground -- and as I am spinning around up there, I look west and I see these angry, boiling clouds," he recalled. "I am like, ‘Oh, this isn’t good.’”

Kishwaukee College

A familiar man “behind the scenes” in DeKalb County has a new position at Kishwaukee College.

Bill Nicklas has been chosen to help Kishwaukee President Laurie Borowicz develop strategic partnerships with businesses and communities. He'll also evaluate the school's strengths and opportunities for expansion. The position is temporary: he'll report his findings in six months.

Jenna Dooley

It’s been one year since a deadly tornado struck Fairdale, in northern DeKalb County, killing two women and wreaking havoc in the small unincorporated community.

The last year has been filled with many decisions for the residents, who were left with very little after the storm passed. Now there are new beginnings and new challenges.

The new Fairdale tornado siren fired off earlier this week -- as it will at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of the month.

You've probably heard this routine test in your own community, but Fairdale’s siren wasn’t here before the tornado.

Carol Schneider

It was a year ago Saturday a massive tornado bulldozed a 30-mile path through northern Illinois. It’s often referred to as the Fairdale Tornado because of the tiny DeKalb County town it nearly destroyed. But farms and neighborhoods are still being rebuilt all along the EF-4 tornado’s path. The Rochelle-area is making huge strides, thanks to the efforts of committed volunteers.

Fairdale Commemorates First Anniversary of Tornado

Apr 9, 2016
Chase Cavanaugh

Residents of Fairdale held a variety of events Saturday to commemorate the first anniversary of a tornado that struck the town. 

The mood was mixed.  Firefighters, police officers, and scouts stood solemnly as they dedicated a plaque and park bench to Jackie Klosa and Geri Schultz, the two women who died in the disaster.  At the same time,  DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott was optimistic about the rebuilding efforts.   

Jenna Dooley

A standing room only crowd of northern Illinois weather enthusiasts recently learned how to properly spot severe weather conditions.

Fifth grader Evan Kemp of Somonauk is a weather watcher.

“I am usually in my house or at my boat looking at the radar and trying to see how bad it is.”

His mom Stephanie decided that his hobby could become useful for meteorologists in northern Illinois so they attended a recent training in weather spotting by the National Weather Service.

An Indiana man has been charged with stealing money from Grubsteakers, the Illinois 64 restaurant destroyed by the April 9 tornado that ripped through the area.

Michael G. McDonald, 67, of Whiting, Ind, was arrested Oct. 21, by Rochelle Police on an Ogle County warrant.

According to a news release, the arrest resulted from an investigation into theft of money from the former Grubsteakers restaurant.

The investigation found that McDonald was a patron inside Grubsteakers when the tornado struck; he is accused of stealing approximately $1,000 from the cash register.


According to the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, Illinois ranks fourth in the nation in the number of tornado reports in 2015.

Is this surprising news?

State climatologist Jim Angel says Illinois is usually in the top ten, but this ranking is a bit high compared to previous years at this time.

Northern Illinois experienced and EF-4 in April. That’s out of 64 reports.

Fairdale Update: Homes Could Go Up When Snow Flies

Jul 21, 2015
Lauren Baker


Work continues in Fairdale to rebuild after the deadly tornado in April.

Orange construction netting surrounds dirt floors where homes used to stand. In some cases, it's the only evidence there was a home there just a few months ago. Most families are still displaced, and will be for months to come.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

The board decided this week during a public hearing to vote on rezoning July 1 when no objections came from the crowd. Local officials say the April 9 tornado caused $7.9 million in damages to 90 properties in the small community of about 150 people. Only 25 houses withstood the storm.

Rezoning would ease restrictions if residents decide to rebuild. Many of the houses in Fairdale were in place before county zoning was established in 1948.  

The Daily Chronicle reports Fairdale residents can start rebuilding as soon as the next day if the rezoning is approved.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

People and businesses in DeKalb and eight other northern Illinois counties now are eligible to apply for low-interest, long-term loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to help them recover from the April 9 tornado.

According to a news release,  on May 29, Governor Bruce Rauner submitted a request for assistance after officials from the SBA, Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and local officials surveyed damage and documented uninsured losses. That survey found 31 homes and seven businesses sustained major damages and had significant uninsured losses.

Jenna Dooley/WNIJ

Tornado victims in and around Fairdale may be able to get low-interest federally backed loans to rebuild and recover losses if a request by Gov. Bruce Rauner is approved.

Rauner's office announced Saturday that he will request that the U.S. Small Business Administration issue a physical disaster declaration for DeKalb County to help people and businesses in Fairdale and surrounding areas recover from the April 9 tornado.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

DeKalb County officials say some minor rebuilding has begun in the northern Illinois community of Fairdale in the wake of the April 9 tornado.

Paul Miller is DeKalb County’s Planning and Zoning Director.  He says the county has received applications from Fairdale residents for permits to repair roofs or siding and to replace outbuildings, like sheds.  But, Miller says, the county has not yet received any applications from Fairdale to rebuild homes that were destroyed by the tornado.  Miller says they can't because of the community's zoning.

A Stillman Valley man who came to help a Fairdale tornado victim allegedly stayed to loot donations.

DeKalb County Sheriff officials say Richard Burtch initially came into Fairdale to help a family member clean up their house that had been destroyed during the tornado. However, Burtch kept coming back and appeared to gather more supplies for himself after the debris was removed.

Jenna Dooley

Glass, puzzle pieces, even a domino sit in piles on a farm on Irene Road in Kirkland, just outside of Fairdale.

Trucks loaded with broken bricks and concrete make trips along a normally busy road, but it’s their turf now going back and forth.

It’s the reality of one week after a storm.

Carissa Brendle’s father-in-law saw the twister coming, so he headed down to the basement of his newly built home and called his son who lived nearby.

The Best Help For Storm Victims Now Is Not Things

Apr 14, 2015
Carl Nelson / WNIJ

Even though donations for household goods will not be accepted for the time being, there are other ways to help those affected by the EF-4 tornado that hit Fairdale Thursday night. 

Gathering locations for the Fairdale tornado relief effort received an overwhelming amount of blankets, clothes, food, and other donations since Thursday. But local officials say there is no longer a need for canned goods or other household items due to a lack of storage space.

Be Wary Of Home Repair Scams, Tornado Victims

Apr 14, 2015
Office of the Illinois Attorney General

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is warning against home repair scams after deadly tornadoes struck northern Illinois last week.

Con artists could try to exploit homeowners and local businesses that need repairs due to storm damage.

Communities with the worst damage include Fairdale and Rochelle.

Madigan says to be wary of those who go door-to-door offering such services. Madigan says she's filed four such lawsuits in previous cases where homeowners in suburban Chicago and central Illinois were allegedly cheated out of more than $220,000. 

Fairdale's Twister Was A 200-MPH EF-4

Apr 13, 2015
National Weather Service

UPDATED Monday afternoon: The tornado that flattened Fairdale in DeKalb County last Thursday was the most severe among nine tornadoes across Illinois during the late afternoon and evening, The National Weather Service has reported. It was rated as an EF-4 with maximum winds of 180 to 200 miles per hour.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

Public Safety officials say they are confident that they have accounted for all residents of the devastated DeKalb County community of Fairdale and are preparing the next steps in the process.

Kirkland Fire Chief Chad Connell said Friday afternoon that search operations were winding down at the unincorporated town on Highway 72 west of Kirkland.  He said teams were going through the rubble one last time with dogs to make doubly sure nothing had been missed. 

Ogle, DeKalb Counties Get 'Disaster' Declaration

Apr 10, 2015
Carl Nelson / WNIJ

Gov. Bruce Rauner today declared DeKalb and Ogle counties state disaster areas after severe storms and tornadoes ripped across northern Illinois.

At least two people in DeKalb County are reported dead and roughly a dozen more injured. Dozens of homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

A second Fairdale resident has been found dead in her home as the result of injuries she received when an overwhelming tornado swept through the tiny residential community Thursday night.

She was identified as Jacklyn K. Klosa, 69. At a a morning news conference Friday, DeKalb County Coroner Dennis Miller identified the first fatality as Geraldine M. Schultz, 67, also in her home. Her body was discovered by her family Thursday night.