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updated: 3/1/2012 11:15 AM

Suburban tornadoes? What are the chances?

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Although it may seem early in the season for a tornado to have touched down in Illinois, meteorologists say it is not uncommon and not a predictor of things to come this spring.

The EF4 tornado that ripped through the southern Illinois town of Harrisburg early Wednesday morning was not a byproduct of the mild winter, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Allsopp.

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"Severe weather is so localized, it can occur anytime," Allsopp said. "It's a little early in the season, but not too much."

Meteorologists generally rely on ocean currents and temperature patterns near the ocean surface to predict general seasonal weather patterns, but there is no technology to predict the strength or frequency of severe weather.

"Here in northern Illinois we had a tornado in 2008 in January," Allsopp said. "That was a day where we had record highs in the mid 60s."

Allsopp said the spring months, sometimes including march, are the heart of tornado season.

The warm weather might not be able to predict the severity of the storms ahead, but Allsopp said it could lead to a wet spring.

If tornado threats do come, the weather sirens heard in many suburbs might not be the most reliable warning, Allsopp told ABC 7 Chicago.

"It depends on where you are in relation to the siren, how close it is to your house, whether you've got the windows open or not," Allsopp said. "I mean, there's a lot of variables there."

Instead, meteorologists recommend a weather radio to keep near your bed. The radios cost as little as $30 and broadcast up-to-the-minute alerts.

Just Tuesday, state officials launched an initiative to raise awareness about these lifesaving tools, ABC 7 reports.

"Having the weather alert radio there in your home right where you are sleeping, it is loud enough to wake you up," said Chris Miller of the National Weather Service. "It is essentially your own personal storm siren."

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