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March 16, 1942, saw one of the most violent tornadoes on record in central Illinois. It was on that date that central Illinois' last F5 strength tornado occurred. Headline from the Alton Evening Telegraph
Headline from the Alton Evening Telegraph, March 17, 1942


This tornado occurred as part of a 2-day tornado outbreak across the central and southern U.S. These tornadoes were all at least F2 strength on the original Fujita Scale.  The number of F0 and F1 tornadoes is unknown, although an article in the Decatur Daily Review indicated there was at least one other tornado west of Findlay in Shelby County. The following states were affected in this outbreak:

State # of Tornadoes # of Deaths
Tennessee 7 25
Mississippi 6 85
Illinois 5 22
Kentucky 4 24
Indiana 3 2
South Carolina 1 2
Totals 26 153


The 5 strong or violent tornadoes in central Illinois were in areas between Galesburg and Danville. 

Overview map

One thing to keep in mind with historical tornado information is that tornado tracks were not as well documented back then as they are today. For example, a tornado may have been assumed to have been in contact with the ground the entire time, or minor directional changes were not as well documented. The tracks presented here are approximations, based on newspaper accounts of damage locations.


Synoptic Setup

Surface map for morning of March 16th.
Source: NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project
The weather map from the morning of March 16th showed low pressure over central Oklahoma, with an associated warm front lifting northward across central Illinois. Temperatures were unseasonably warm across the area, rising into the mid to upper 70s by afternoon. 



  • Significant Tornadoes, 1680-1991, by Thomas Grazulis, published in 1993.
  • Climatological Data, published by the U.S. Weather Bureau, March 1942 edition.
  • Illinois Tornadoes, published by by John W. Wilson and Stanley A. Changnon Jr. of the Illinois State Water Survey in 1971.
  • Marshall County, Illinois History and Genealogy (via GenealogyTrails web site)
  • Newspapers from March 1942:  Champaign News Gazette, Chicago Tribune, Decatur Daily Review, Toluca Star Herald

Tornado #1 -- Piatt, Champaign, and Vermilion Counties

Touchdown Time 10:30 am CDT
Estimated Intensity F4
Path Length 52 miles
Max Width 400 yards
Casualties 11 dead, 60 injured
Approximate track. Click image to enlarge.
Approximate Track (click image to enlarge)


Headline from Champaign News Gazette
Headline from Champaign News- Gazette

The first tornado of the group actually occurred in the late morning hours, while the remaining ones were late afternoon. 

There are some indications this parent thunderstorm produced another tornado further west in Piatt County near Bement. The Champaign News-Gazette reported that the tornado began 2 miles north of Ivesdale, and initially was on an easterly direction before heading northeast. It killed a man about 5 miles southwest of Savoy, and later passed just north of Mira (near the current Stone Creek Golf Club on the southeast edge of Urbana). Continuing northeast, it struck a farm 1 mile north of St. Joseph, killing a mother and her two small daughters, ages 4 and 2, while injuring a 10 month old baby. Just before entering Vermilion County, it destroyed a farm 3 miles north of Ogden. Much of the small village of Hope, in western Vermilion County, was destroyed, and a 6 month old baby died. The tornado proceeded northeast and struck the Henning high school south of town, injuring two students. Finally, it struck the west side of Alvin. Most of the strongest damage was in this area, where 25 homes were damaged or destroyed, along with several grocery stores and a church. 5 people were killed here.


The following people died in the storm:

  • Eletha Rowland, 52 (Mayview)
  • Hazel Laughlin, 25 (St. Joseph)
  • Phyllis Laughlin, 4 (St. Joseph)
  • Janice Laughlin, 2 (St. Joseph)
  • Raymond Bushue, age unknown (Savoy)
  • Louise Douglas, 6 months (Hope)
  • George Johnson, age unknown (Alvin)
  • Goldie Hoover, 56 (Alvin)
  • Billy Smith, 12 (Alvin)
  • Bessie Scott, age unknown (Alvin)
  • Mrs. Ollie Thornsboro, age unknown (Alvin)
  • Henry O'Farrell, age unknown (Alvin)

The Associated Press reported:

When the tornado hit Alvin, Mrs. Catherine Rush snatched her two babies from a couch and ran for safety. The next thing she remembered was that she was walking alone down a debris-piled street, dazed, hurt and unaware of what had become of her children. Neighbors had found them unhurt except for minor scratches. ...

Her husband, Leslie, was working on a farm north of Alvin and watched the storm pass by. "It hung close to the ground and never lifted," he related. "It didn't make much noise. It looked like a big black cloud with lots of timber flying around in it."



Damage in Alvin. Image from the Decatur Herald
Damage in Alvin. Image from the Decatur Daily Review.
Damage to a warehouse near Champaign. Image from the Franklin (IN) Evening Star
Damage to a warehouse near Savoy, where one fatality occurred. Image from the Franklin (IN) Evening Star.


Commemorative marker of Alvin tornado. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Commemorative marker in Alvin.  Source: Wikimedia Commons


Tornado #2 -- Fulton County

Touchdown Time 4:00 pm CDT
Estimated Intensity F2
Path Length 10 miles
Max Width Unknown
Casualties 0 dead, 11 injured
Approximate track. Click image to enlarge.
Approximate Track (click image to enlarge)


This tornado moved northeast through central Fulton County, ending at Fairview. It damaged or destroyed a total of 13 farms. The injuries included one teacher at a school; she had dismissed the students early. 

An Associated Press wire article discussed an eyewitness account:

Judy Dufour, living near Fairview in the path of the second tornado* , said he looked out his kitchen window and "saw a rolling, twisting cloud coming."

"I ran into a bedroom with my wife and three children, and something -- it seemed like part of another building -- hit our house, crushing most of it."

[* - note: this refers to the storm that produced the Lacon tornado, which originally was thought to be the same tornado]


Tornado #3 -- Knox and Peoria Counties

Touchdown Time 4:15 pm CDT
Estimated Intensity F2
Path Length 8 miles
Max Width 200 yards
Casualties 0 dead, unknown injured
Approximate track. Click image to enlarge.
Approximate Track (click image to enlarge)


This tornado was likely produced by the same severe thunderstorm that yielded the Fairview tornado. It reportedly touched down just north of Middle Grove, then passed near Yates City before entering far western Peoria County. Ten farms were hit, with 4 of them completely destroyed.

Tornado #4 -- Peoria and Marshall Counties

Touchdown Time 4:30 pm CDT
Estimated Intensity F5
Path Length 30 miles
Max Width 400 yards
Casualties 6 dead, 70 injured
Approximate track. Click image to enlarge.
Approximate Track (click image to enlarge)


Photo of the tornado taken near Spring Bay, before reaching Lacon. Photo by Donald P. Cox
Photo of the tornado. Image courtesy Donald P. Cox via the Genealogy Trails web site.

This was the most violent tornado of the outbreak (in any of the states affected), and the last F5 strength tornado to affect central Illinois.

The tornado touched down east of Kickapoo, and tracked northeast along the edge of Alta, before moving across the northwest part of Chillicothe. From here, it crossed the Illinois River at Barville (near Hopewell), killing one person at this location. In Lacon, while the tornado missed the central business district, about 60 homes were destroyed, some completely swept away. It was reportedly 2 blocks (or about 400 yards) wide, devastating at least 30 blocks. Three people died in Lacon, with 3 more killed on a farm 3 miles northeast of town.

The following deaths were reported from the storm:

  • Victor Goodrich, age unknown (Barville)
  • Herman Mowry, 83 (Lacon)
  • Ethyl Baker, 62 (Lacon)
  • William Pearson, age unknown (Lacon)
  • Elizabeth Schupp, 85 (northeast of Lacon)
  • William Schupp, 52 (northeast of Lacon)
  • Edward Schupp, 54 (northeast of Lacon)

Nurses and doctors from Peoria were called onto the scene to assist. The Red Cross set up a headquarters at City Hall to care for approximately 70 injured people. Supplies of tetanus and typhoid vaccines were sent to Lacon to vaccinate as many people as possible. 

The Toluca Star Herald reported on the damage:

The entire community was a maze of twisted plaster, wood, broken wires and trees, broken glass and pieces of lumber with nails covered the highways, which blocked all traffic in the section of town hit by the storm. Furniture, garments of clothing and bedding were strewn all throughout the neighborhood. The 14 room home of Delmar Pettett was completely destroyed as the huge residence was lifted entirely from its foundation and dropped in the adjacent yard. 14 women in the home for a party were reported unhurt. They dashed to the basement when the tornado struck.

Right:  Locations in the Pettett home where the party members took shelter. Two children were also in the home and took shelter. Image from the Chicago Tribune.

Storm shelter locations for the Pettett home. Image from the Chicago Tribune


The grade school and high school, which recently had completed a $75,000 addition, were extensively damaged. A group of boys was inside the gymnasium as the walls fell in, but they were unhurt. 

Roberta Mulcahey, an 8th grade student, described some of the unusual occurrences in a story that ran in the Bloomington Pantagraph on April 19:

An umbrella was poked into a part of a tree that was standing. One couple's marriage license was found near Peru. My aunt had some mirrors and although the house was demolished the mirrors didn't break. I saw some clothes stuck through a crack of a house. 


Lacon Damage Photos:

Photos by Donald P. Cox (via the Genealogy Trails web site):

Lacon damage.Photo by Donald P. Cox Lacon damage. Photo by Donald P. Cox Lacon damage. Photo by Donald P. Cox Lacon damage. Photo by  Donald P. Cox


Photos by Jack Gerardo (via the Genealogy Trails web site):

Lacon damage. Photo by Jack Gerardo Lacon damage. Photo by Jack Gerardo Lacon damage. Photo by Jack Gerardo Lacon damage. Photo by Jack Gerardo.


Damage at the Schupp farm. Image from Chicago Tribune
This photograph from the Chicago Tribune shows the damage from the Schupp farm near Lacon. The home was originally on the right side of the image.


Tornado #5 -- Logan County

Touchdown Time 5:00 pm CDT
Estimated Intensity F3
Path Length 5 miles
Max Width 400 yards
Casualties 2 dead, 3 injured
Approximate track. Click image to enlarge.
Approximate Track (click image to enlarge)

This tornado touched down west of Lincoln, and tracked to the north of town. A farm 4 miles west of Lincoln sustained significant damage. Two residents of the house sustained serious injuries and passed away the following day.