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Thread: 20th Anniversary of Plainfield Tornado

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    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    20th Anniversary of Plainfield Tornado

    This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Plainfield Tornado, a violent F5 tornado which struck Chicago's southwest suburbs (Plainfield, Crest Hill, and Joliet) on August 28, 1990, killing 29 people and injuring over 300.

    The day of the storm, temperatures were around 90 and the air was very humid. The tornado started as a severe thunderstorm in the early afternoon in the Rockford area, and was a heavy rain producer as it moved southeast. By the time it got to the Aurora area, the storm was producing intense 90 mph winds, causing damage at the Aurora airport. By the time it got to the Oswego area around 3pm, it dropped a tornado which rapidly grew into a monster F5, taking people by surprise on Route 30, where several were killed in their cars. Students practicing for fall sports at Plainfield High School rushed inside and took refuge in a hallway, the only part of the building that remained standing. A janitor and teacher were killed in other parts of the building, as was a person in the administration building, and more people in the local catholic church & school. Several new subdivisions were completely obliterated, causing more deaths and injuries. The storm just missed the Joliet Mall, but proceeded to kill several people at apartment complexes in Crest Hill before finally disippating on the north side of Joliet. Bill Kurtis, Elizabeth Vargas, and Lester Holt were all local Chicago news anchors at the time that reported extensively from the scene of the disaster. They all went on to become national reporters.

    The storm was rain-wrapped, making it difficult for anyone to see that it was a tornado until the damage had already been done. Additionally, weather technology at this time was ancient, dating to the 1970s or before. No Tornado Watch or Warning was ever issued for the storm. The Chicago NWS office, at the time, was responsible for a very large workload, having to cover the entire state of Illinois, instead of just the northeastern part. In the wake of the storm, doppler radar technology was significantly improved, more weather offices were created and re-organized, and warning detection improved substantially. Due to what is known as "Plainfield Syndrome", forecasters are now more likely to issue warnings rather than not, so as not to miss warning for a life-threatening storm such as this.

    After the tornado, Plainfield's population skyrocketed, going from about 5,000 to almost 30,000 today. Other small towns in the region have also sprawled out and grown tremendously, including Oswego, Naperville, Joliet, Romeoville, Crest Hill, Yorkville, Montgomery, and Sugar Grove. The Geography department at my alma mater (NIU) estimated that due to all the suburban sprawl, if the same storm were to happen again, the death toll could be double what it was in 1990, in spite of the improved weather technology. Scary stuff to think about. Plainfield continues to be one of those benchmark tornadoes. It's rare to have a killer F5 tornado in August, but it happened, and it could happen again. Besides the Chicago heat wave of 1995, the Plainfield tornado remains the most devastating natural disaster to afflict the Chicago area in the past 40 years and is still fresh in the public consciousness. I was only 3 when the disaster occurred, but the disaster was talked about so much while I was growing up in the 1990s, that it still seems fresh in my mind.

    ----

    So, what say you? Anybody have any memory or connection to Plainfield? Also, New Orleans has Katrina, Miami has Andrew, San Francisco has Loma Prieta, Chicago has Plainfield, what is the recent benchmark disaster in your neck of the woods? And what are your thoughts regarding urban sprawl (or the "built environment" in general) and natural disasters? Is your area ready for "the big one", whatever that might be?
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
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    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Jarrel, TX

    Hard to beat Jarrel, TX for absolute devastation of a community.

    http://www.spc.noaa.gov/coolimg/jarrell/index.html

    http://www.k5kj.net/jarrell.htm
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    In 1997 there was a series of tornados that hit central Detroit. There was damage to property everywhere. In Grosse Pointe there were five people having a picnic that were blown into the smallest lake in the Great Lakes system, Lac Ste Clair.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_So...rnado_outbreak

    I was leaving the house of an elderly lady whom I was coordinating a group of about 40 volunteers to descend on, paint and repair. A coworker and myself were on a depressed freeway when it hit. There was debris everywhere and the water was filling the freeway quick. The car was shaking violently. We abandoned the freeway and found that most of the electric wires and poles were down! It was a total mess.

    The elerly ladies house survived the storm and we painted and repaired it the next week.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    Got Katrina and the BP Oil Spill. The local news has been nothing short of depressing since April.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Stuttgart, Arkansas on 5/10/2008. My birth mother's house was destroyed by an F3 tornado. She, her husband, my niece and nephew rode out the storm in their cellar. It was they day before Mother's Day and they lost everything. Video from storm chasers out that day. The Stuttgart part starts at the 4:00 minute mark.

    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

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    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    We experienced a little wind three years ago.

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    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    We experienced a little wind three years ago.
    That is such an understatement Mike!
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

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    Cyburbian
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    When I first moved from NYC to Illinois some 25 years ago my native SO told me that the "sky looks funny" (mainly referring to the color of the clouds) prior to a tornado. For the next five years I'd often ask during a bad storm was the right shade of "looking funny" only to be told to chill.

    The afternoon of the Plainfield tornado I was about 20 miles east of Plainfield when the storm moved in...I took one look at the approaching rain/cloud wall and said "Oh, THAT's what they mean!"

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    The Feb 1998 tornadoes in Central FL that killed 42 and injured over 200. One passed within a few miles of my home, and the kid (who was 4 at the time) and I sat up until 2 a.m. watching the trees in the front yard bend like Q-tips:
    http://www.history.com/this-day-in-h...entral-florida

    Then the 2004 hurricane season, getting slammed by Charley, Frances, and Jeanne. The property damage was incredible.

  10. #10
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by illinoisplanner View post
    ....... San Francisco has Loma Prieta....
    The epicenter of the Loma Prieta was in Santa Cruz County, in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park east of Aptos. I rode that one out. It hit when I driving home from my job in Saratoga back to Live Oak over the Soquel-San Jose Road.
    I think that one of the great signs of security is the ability to just walk away.

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    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by illinoisplanner View post
    So, what say you? Anybody have any memory or connection to Plainfield?
    Oh, I remember it quite well as I was almost 13 and lived in DuPage county at the time. My grandparents actually lived through the tornado. They were on their way back to Elgin from taking my grandfather to visit one of his doctors in Wilmington so they took Rt. 59 all the time to get back and forth, which of course goes right through Plainfield. They saw that there was some weather coming so they decided to pull off the road at a convenience store/gas station and went inside. When they came out after the tornado had passed there were all sorts of vehicles flipped over, trees and signs missing, etc. It had just missed them but had thrown a lot of objects all over the road. Miraculously, their car was undamaged so they were able to make it home.
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

  12. #12
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    I lived about 50 miles southwest of Plainfield when it was hit. My grade school basketball coach at the time was a pipe fitter doing work in Plainfield when it hit. He was fine that was about as close I got to the tornado.

    As a meteorology buff, the conditions for this storm were amazing. The "spin" in the atmosphere constantly ramped up throughout the day causing numerous revised severe weather risk increases. It was a classic hot and muggy summer day. Temps were 90-95 with high humidity. Usually, this is a "capped" situation or one which produces typical pulse-type summer thunderstorms. The total available potential energy was measured to exceed over 7000 J/kg and post-storm number crunching suggests it could have been as high as 8500 J/kg. For perspective, the Jarrell, TX storm had about 4000 J/kg of CAPE to work with.

    To this date, it remains the only F5/EF5 rated tornado to occur in August in recorded USA weather history.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boiker View post
    As a meteorology buff, the conditions for this storm were amazing. The "spin" in the atmosphere constantly ramped up throughout the day causing numerous revised severe weather risk increases. It was a classic hot and muggy summer day. Temps were 90-95 with high humidity. Usually, this is a "capped" situation or one which produces typical pulse-type summer thunderstorms. The total available potential energy was measured to exceed over 7000 J/kg and post-storm number crunching suggests it could have been as high as 8500 J/kg. For perspective, the Jarrell, TX storm had about 4000 J/kg of CAPE to work with.

    To this date, it remains the only F5/EF5 rated tornado to occur in August in recorded USA weather history.
    So what you are saying is that it was a "perfect storm" of conditions that conspired to produce such a large tornado at such a time?
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

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