(Chicago Tribune) John Sergeant, chief of emergency medical services at the Naperville Fire Department, was 12 years old when he first saw what a tornado could do. At the time, Sergeant had gone to help family members in the aftermath of the devastating tornado that killed 29 people and injured 350 others in Plainfield in 1990.

As a first responder, Sergeant said he was among the first to arrive on the scene after a tornado struck Naperville, Woodridge and Darien on Father’s Day in 2021, damaging hundreds of houses and trees. A Woodridge woman lost her unborn child when she was struck by a tree.

From gas leaks to downed power lines to confused victims, the chaos extends beyond deaths, injuries and lost property, Sergeant said.

“When I pulled up in my car and I could see the devastation, I was instantly reminded of what I saw as a young kid. I instantly could remember what my family members went through over the next days and weeks and months and years, dealing with their own PTSD from those events,” Sergeant said. “This is not just a today problem. We have a today problem, but these people are going to have a months and a years problem.”

Although the role of climate change in tornadoes is not fully understood, researchers say locations are shifting, the season is lengthening and the number of tornadoes in a single event is increasing.

Victor Gensini, an associate professor in the Earth, Atmosphere and Environment Department at Northern Illinois University, said the biggest impact of climate change is on the location of tornadoes throughout the United States. He said the number of tornadoes in Plains states is trending down while the Midwest and mid-South are seeing an increase.

“That’s a really, really big deal for human exposure and vulnerability,” Gensini said. “A tornado that goes through a wheat field in Kansas is not a big deal, but a tornado that goes through southern Cook County is a huge deal.”