Chesterton Tribune

Tornado timeline: 13 minutes to damage 211 buildings

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It was a tornado, it was born at 7:32 p.m. Wednesday and died 13 minutes later, and over its brief life span it damaged 211 structures, eight of them utterly.

The tornado’s path extended further to the northeast than was originally believed, to Hadenfelt Road in unincorporated Westchester Township and into the Ly-co-ki-we area of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Furnessville.

Meanwhile, cleanup in the Town of Chesterton is expected to take several weeks.

And emergency responders have a better--though not a total--understanding of why sirens were never activated.

Begin with the storm survey conducted on Thursday by meteorologists with the National Weather Service (NWS). Their conclusion: an EF2 tornado--at its height--was responsible for the damage inflicted on Chesterton and points northeast.

The NWS timeline:

*The tornado formed as an EF1 at 7:32 p.m. in the area east of 11th Street and southwest of South Park Ave.

*It quickly intensified as it moved northeast--it would continue to move northeast in almost a straight line for the duration of its life--to collapse the roof of the Goldsborough Gymnasium at Chesterton Middle School. At this point the tornado was generating winds of 110 miles per hour and had a path width of 40 yards.

*The tornado then jumped the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks in the direction of Grant Ave., peeling off the roof of a warehouse and tossing it behind the building 15 yards to the north.

*Increasing in intensity, at this point rated an EF2 with winds of 120 mph and a path width of 60 yards, the tornado crashed into the apartment complex at Brown Ave. and Third Street. Continuing in a northeasterly direction, it damaged nearly every house in the Pinney’s Park neighborhood and razed an entire field of healthy old hard wood trees.

*The tornado began to weaken slightly--now an EF1 again--as it approached the eastbound I-94 exit/westbound entrance ramps at Ind. 49, but its 100 mph winds remained substantial enough to blow off a garage roof south of the Interstate.

*Packing winds of around 95 miles per hour, with a path width of 30 yards, it crossed Ind. 49 in the direction of U.S. Highway 20, near Hadenfelt Road, where it peeled off the aluminum sheeting of a storage facility.

*Finally, the tornado moved through the heavily forested area of the Ly-co-ki-we Trail in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and crossed U.S. Highway 12.

*“Radar imagery and an aerial survey suggest that the tornado dissipated between U.S. 12 and Lake Michigan at about 7:45 p.m.,” NWS said. When it died, the tornado had traveled a distance of four miles and cut a damage swath of approximately one quarter of a mile in width.

Damage Assessment

At a press conference late Thursday afternoon, Chesterton Fire Chief Mike Orlich gave this rundown on damage in town:

*A total of 211 structures--residences, businesses, and accessory structures like garages and sheds--sustained damage.

*Eight of those structures were simply destroyed.

*54 of them sustained “major damage”: trees through roofs, windows blown out.

*The remaining 149 structures sustained “some sort of damage”: missing shingles, gutters mangled.

“A lot of properties are listed as having storm-effect damage but are still livable,” Orlich said. The residents of homes which are not currently livable, he added, “have been put in contact with the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. But most have turned to family, friends, or neighbors for assistance.”

For his part Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg reported that all roadways were now open, thanks to the assistance of the City of Valparaiso and the Porter County Highway Department, who loaned heavy equipment to the town and human muscle. “They were instrumental,” he said.

Some alleys, however, remain closed, Schnadenberg noted, and it may take several weeks to open them. In fact, he said, cleanup is expected to continue for the next three to four weeks.

Tornado Sirens

At this time Orlich is attributing the non-activation of sirens to the near simultaneity of the NWS’s identification of the tornado at 7:32 p.m., its formal issuance of a warning, and the tornado’s actual touchdown. In other words, he said, events happened very quickly and the tornado moved very rapidly.

Nevertheless, Orlich told the Chesterton Tribune today that Phil Griffith, director of the Porter County Emergency Management Agency--whose responsibility it is to activate sirens--continues to investigate the matter.


As of Thursday evening, 450 customers of the Northwest Indiana Public Service Company remained without power, NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyers said today.

“The bulk” of those customers were restored by midnight and the rest “wrapped up by 5 a.m.,” he said.

There remain around a dozen customers, though, whose houses have not yet been energized for safety reasons. Meyers said that those customers have been informed of that fact and of the need to schedule an inspection or retain a contractor to repair damage.

Customers who remain without power but have not heard from NIPSCO should call NIPSCO’s Customer Contact Center at (800) 464-7726 or (800) 382-5544.

“We appreciate people’s patience,” Meyers said. He also expressed his gratitude to the Town of Chesterton, its officials, and its employees for helping NIPSCO crews with restoration. “We’re very pleased with the quick pickup.”

NIPSCO crews will remain in the area for some time, he added, doing tree trimming and other storm-related work.

Reports Still Coming In

*A piece of debris believed to be part of the Goldsborough Gymnasium roof was found in a yard in the 100 block of Woodlawn Ave., approximately one mile northeast of Chesterton Middle School.

*An indoor riding area--104’ x 60’--was essentially destroyed in the Hadenfelt Road area of unincorporated Westchester Township, Carol Hadenfelt told the Tribune. “Miraculously the horses were not injured,” she said, although several geese in the facility were killed. Pieces of sheet metal were wrapped around tree limbs 20 to 30 feet off the ground.

*Doors were blown off the hinges of the comfort station at Lakeview Beach in Beverly Shores, the National Park Service (NPS) said. The restrooms will be closed for repairs.

*The Ly-co-ki-we Trail has also been closed for public safety until several large uprooted or unstable trees can be removed. “It will take some time for us to check each of the 45 miles of trail in the National Lakeshore, so we are asking the public to keep a heads-up for dangerous trees or limbs and call (800) PARKTIP to report potentially hazardous trail conditions,” NPS spokesperson Lynda Lancaster said.

*Furnessville Road in the National Lakeshore between School House Road and North Veden Road (C.R. 200E) has been closed as well until several unstable trees there have been removed, NPS said.


Posted 8/21/2009