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June 13, 1976 TORNADO
Lemont, Cook County, Illinois

Tornado on the ground in the area of McCarthy Road
1976 Lemont Tornado on the ground in the area of McCarthy Road. Picture was taken about a mile away on 127th Street.

6th Street at McCarthy Road
6th Street at McCarthy Road

Remembering the Lemont Tornado of 1976

By Christopher Gitro, Meteorologist Intern in WEATHER CURRENTS
National Weather Service, Chicago, Spring 2006, Volume 4, Issue 1

One day will be remembered by many people living in the DuPage and Cook County areas during the early summer of 1976.  The date would be June 13 and the day began as any normal day would in the Chicago Metro area. The region had been experiencing a very warm period with a high of 94 degrees being observed the previous day. With afternoon temperatures hovering in the lower to middle 80s, little would be known that in just a few minutes after 5:00 PM, sudden chaos was about to strike southern DuPage and southwestern Cook Counties.

A strong tornado developed across the Lemont area at 5:18 PM, just north of downtown. From this point, the tornado began taking a rather erratic track, first heading southeast through the eastern sections of town. The tornado grew more ferocious during this time, causing extensive damage at the Hillcrest Subdivision. From there the storm began heading in a northerly direction, and then northwest where it ripped the roof off an Argonne National Laboratory reactor. The tornado then crossed I-55 where it inflicted more damage on homes before finally dissipating. In the storms wake, 2 lives were lost while 23 people were injured. The total track of the tornado was 8 miles long with a width of up to 800 yards. Total damage approached 13 million dollars. After all the damage was surveyed, the final rating of the tornado was an F-4 on the Fujita Scale, meaning winds ranged from 207 - 260 mph.

Of particular interest with this tornado was the fact that two satellite anticyclonic (clockwise rotating) tornadoes were produced. In addition, the total time on the ground neared one hour, however the total distance traveled was only about 8 miles. Further research of the storm indicated that the storm was nearly stationary for a period in the tornado's lifecycle, ultimately contributing to such the short distance traveled.

From Lemont 125th Anniversary Book, pages 54-55 (See Books for ordering info)

On June 13, 1976, a killer tornado took the lives of two, a third died later from injuries. 23 were injured, 87 homes were destroyed and 82 more damaged. Damage to the high school alone was estimated at $500,000. Huddled in spaces praying for life, many people reported watching neighbors' homes explode, implode, shattering before their eyes. Then they "saw the damn thing coming back." Cited as an unusual tornado, it did back up on its path before heading north somewhat parallel to the path of origin.

The 1976 tornado was 'a 10-mile, 62-minute, J-shaped pattern of destruction that packed funnel winds between 207 and 260 mph...It was slow moving, going at 10 mph as compared to the 25 mph average of most tornadoes...Another unusual aspect its final touchdown was almost five miles due North of its first touchdown.' --Raymond R. Waldman, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, Chicago.

Maxine Olinger Johnson was caught in the tornado, along with her mother and a cousin, Gary Olinger. The three took shelter in a ditch. The two women suffered injuries, Gary did not survive. Johnson, her mother, three of her sisters and a cousin either lost their homes completely or their homes were severely damaged along the McCarthy Road area. Ironically, Joyce Olinger, the sister-in-law of Gary, was photographing the deadly funnel from the driveway of her home on 127th Street. We are grateful to her for her photographs many of which are in the following pages. They constitute an invaluable journal of the deadly storm and are on display at the Lemont Area Historical Society.

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