SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – 15 years ago tonight, a pair of devastating twisters tore through the heart of the State Capital. It was part of an early season regional outbreak that spawned 99 tornadoes and hundreds of reports of wind and hail damage.
The storm that caused the destruction across Central Illinois formed in Northeast Oklahoma early that morning and raced at speeds of over 60 mph to the north and east. Dropping tornado after tornado across Missouri and Southwest Illinois, it came closer and closer to the WCIA 3 Viewing Area.
At 7:50p, the first tornado to impact Central Illinois entered Southwest Morgan County. It continued to the Northeast as other tornadoes formed along it. Tornadoes tore through Murrayville, Manchester, Franklin, Loami and New Berlin before the main tornado hit the Southwest side of Springfield near Wabash Avenue at 8:20p. That tornado pushed deep into the heart of Springfield, lifting just Southeast of Downtown at 8:26p. It was rated F2 with 120 mph winds and was between 1/2 and 3/4 mile wide.
At the same time the first one was dissipating, another F2 tornado with 120 mph winds touched down nearby and raced northeast, crossing the I-55/I-72 interstate exchange on the east side before lifting at 8:30p. Both tornadoes left a trail of damage and devastation through neighborhoods and flattened many businesses. Over 1,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed.
All in all that night, 10 tornadoes hit parts of Central Illinois from Morgan and Sangamon County through Dewitt County and as far north as Ford County. Other areas saw significant wind damage. Mclean, Ford and Iroquois county all had wind damage from microbursts with 85-100 mph winds, with a cattle building near Milford being blown into a field. More damage occurred near Crescent City and I-57.
As the single supercell thunderstorm exited the area, it left a trail of destruction into Michigan. The supercell traveled almost 800 miles and was responsible for large hail, damaging winds and several dozen tornadoes.
To learn more about the tornado, check out some of the information from the National Weather Service. NWS Lincoln: March 12, 2006 Storm Report