Week in Review: Natural disasters, education, jobs and more


Meteorologists’ count indicate Illinois could be No. 1 state for tornadoes so far this year. The funnel clouds often form in conjunction with derechos, squall lines, and other powerful low-pressure weather fronts. Pre-existing hot, humid weather can encourage the formation of the potentially deadly storms by creating conditions in which colder and warmer air masses are violently colliding with each other.

An earth scientist at Northern Illinois University, who follows a nationwide database of preliminary tornado reports, says that more of these circular storms have been reported in 2023 from Illinois than from any other state. Professor Victor Gensini says that as of Sunday, August 27, Illinois had generated 132 preliminary tornado reports so far this year. A preliminary tornado report is not always confirmed to be a tornado. Severe windstorm activity can generate damage, including downed wires, fallen trees, and structural damage, that presents signs similar but not identical to a real tornado.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) publishes a “Severe Weather Preparedness Guide” to maximize the ability of Illinois residents to get ready for severe storm events, including tornadoes.

Five Illinois schools named among top 100 high schools in U.S. The U.S. News ranking of top U.S. high schools ranks the secondary institutions using student achievement, selective college admissions, and other metrics. Chicago’s Walter Payton College Prep, a magnet public high school located in Chicago’s Near North Side, scored highest in Illinois, with a ranking of #10 nationwide. Other Illinois college-prep, magnet-based, and tech-prep schools in the national top 100 were Northside College Prep, Jones College Prep, Young Magnet H.S., and Lane Technical H.S.

The highest-ranking Illinois high school that recruits from a geographically-based (rather than magnet-based) student population was Lincolnshire’s Adlai E. Stevenson High School. The school district and catchment area include many professional families who work in health care research and related Lake County-oriented fields. Vernon Hills High Schools and Lake Forest High School joined Stevenson in the ‘top 200.’

Illinois supplements its overall July 4.5% unemployment report with report on metro areas. The follow-up July report breaks out Illinois’ joblessness numbers with numbers from 14 key metro areas within the Prairie State. The key Chicago area generated 4.0% numbers in July, with continued strong nonfarm jobs numbers in the overall service sector. Regions of Illinois traditionally oriented towards manufacturing continued to face challenges with jobless rates of 6.6% in greater Danville, 6.9% in metro Decatur, and 6.8% in greater Rockford.

Saline River Farms breaks ground on improved Williamson County meat processing facility. The 60,000-square-foot plant improvement, which is now actively under construction, is located in Creal Springs in southern Williamson County. This section of Illinois, which is located in the rolling Shawnee Hills, has largely transitioned in recent years from arable cropping to pastureland. When rebuilt and upgraded, the facility will have the capacity to process up to 1,600 head of cattle per day. This is a workflow that will support 400 new jobs in southern Illinois.

Saline River Farms has told the press they will invest $34.5 million in public/private money to carry out the Creal Springs project. This expansion will create a total of $80 million in onsite capital, and will expand and perpetuate the ability of local cattle farmers to find markets for their production. Southern Illinois pastureland is suited not only to Angus cattle growing, but also to the Beefmaster bovine family. With their Brahman ancestry that hearkens back to the cattle of India, the Beefmaster cow is tolerant of Southern Illinois’ increasing hot conditions. The groundbreaking took place on Friday, August 25.

Push to look at dysfunctional Illinois estate tax. The estate tax is a death tax imposed on some estates as they go through Illinois probate. If the size of the estate exceeds an “exclusion amount” set by law, the executors of the estate must make a heavy tax payment to the state of Illinois before the estate can be released from probate. The liability of the estate is controlled by a series of factors, including whether the dead person was domiciled in Illinois preparatory to their estate being probated there.

This fact has made the Illinois estate tax, levied on estates greater than $4 million, increasingly dysfunctional. Many Illinois residents with movable property greater than this amount, especially older residents, are being advised by their tax professionals to re-domicile their lives in some jurisdiction other than Illinois. If and when these persons take advice like this and leave Illinois, they can take all of their assets that exist in the form of electronic book-entries – assets such as stock certificates and LLC partnership rights – with them. As people who have estate-tax-worthy properties often are also persons of income, if and when any of them move out of Illinois then, as a result of this move, they will sharply reduce, or even eliminate, their payments of income tax to Illinois. In the eyes of some, the Illinois estate tax is starting to cost Springfield more money than it is worth.

Furthermore, the remaining payments of estate tax to Illinois are being imposed with greater and greater weight upon a small subset of properties. Some properties, especially farmland and physically-located small business properties, cannot be electronically “moved out of Illinois.” The weight of the Illinois estate tax now falls disproportionately on farmers and small businesspeople. There is a growing push among Illinois lawmakers to reduce or eliminate the Illinois estate tax.

Many Illinois House Republicans sponsored measures in spring 2023 to reduce or eliminate the Illinois estate tax. House Republican Leader Tony McCombie was the sponsor of HB 1459, a January 2023 measure to increase the exemption threshold on Illinois estates subjected to Illinois estate taxation from $4 million to $12 million. Although advocates testified before the House Revenue and Finance Committee in favor of the proposal, the House Democrats did not allow it to get out of committee.

Illinois’ fall 2023 waterfowl season begins. Although affected by the September bag limits, early Canada goose hunting began on Friday, September 1. The September rules for licensed Illinois hunters are forked between two different super-regions of Illinois. In the localities defined by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) as being in the Prairie State’s north zone and central zone, the September subsection of the goose-hunting season authorizes the shooting of up to a five-bird daily bag limit. However, for those local areas defined as being in the south zone and the south-central zone, the daily bag limit for September drops to two birds.

In the following weeks, IDNR will open legal hunting seasons for teal, rail, duck, and snow goose. The September Canada goose season and its rules will transition into the regular Canada goose season on a series of dates beginning on October 21 and ending on December 2, depending on geographic zone. The definitions of Illinois’s duck-hunting zones and goose-hunting zones can be found in the IDNR website. Different rules for different zones are based on the differential ecological statuses of wading bird populations in different areas of the State, supplemented by Illinois hunting tradition.

Starved Rock, in north central LaSalle County, once again named Illinois’s most popular state park. The state park, which is located adjacent to Utica, Illinois and close to Interstate 80, preserves 2,630 acres of land and Illinois River waterfront. The remains of a rock wall, which once prevented the southward flow of water to the sea until a once-raging river punched through the wall, creates a hiking-friendly topography in which 13 miles of trails wander through 18 separate glens, ravines, and canyons. The park offers many opportunities for nature viewing and birdwatching.

In the pandemic-affected year of 2021, Starved Rock was the most popular state park in Illinois, visited by more than two million people. Finding space to park a motor vehicle can be a challenge in this popular park.

Final days of Southern Illinois’ flagship festival. The Perry County-based State Fair will close, and the Fairgrounds will empty out, at the end of Labor Day Monday, September 4. The fairgrounds, which are adjacent to U.S. Highway 51 and not far from Interstate 57, offer carnival rides, family experiences, festival food, dirt track racing, and Grandstand events. Shows at the Grandstand include rapper Flo Rida on Saturday, September 2, and comedian Larry the Cable Guy on Monday, September 4.