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A half-hour in 1990
August 19, 2010 1:40 AM   Subscribe

On August 28th 1990, between 3:15 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. a devastating tornado ripped a 16.4 mile-long path through portions of Kendall and Will counties in northern Illinois. At its strongest, the tornado was rated F5, the highest rating a tornado can be given. A total of 29 people were killed and 350 more were injured.

August 28, 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the deadly 1990 Plainfield tornado, which notably destroyed Plainfield Central High School. The tornado remains the only documented F5/EF5 in U.S. history. Neither the Chicago area nor Plainfield is a stranger to significant tornadoes, recent studies, one in 2008 (pdf of tornado details) and another from this summer (pdf of full study), confirm this. Despite the facts, a popular myth persists about urban tornadoes. A myth which has been shown false time and again.

*Videos of the destruction.
*Some photos.
posted by IvoShandor (23 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh man, the only documented August F5/EF5 in U.S. history. AUGUST. Proof-read fail, sorry.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:46 AM on August 19, 2010


I read an article the other day suggesting a trend towards tornadoes occurring further north in the United States than they used to.

But 10 minutes of furious Googling later, and I still can't find the link.
posted by Jimbob at 2:09 AM on August 19, 2010


Chicago is cook county...and thats huge. Plainfield is in will county with a population of 40k. Chicago has nothing to do with it.

As for those stats...and even the "myth", its kind of a misrepresentation. The common view isn't that tornadoes choose to hit trailer park areas only, its that they don't do much damage to cities.

I lived in cook county for 20+ years, and the Plainfield tornado (which killed the principal who was in the HS building) was the closest tornado to come near the metro area.

.
(for the principal who went down with the school)
posted by hal_c_on at 2:13 AM on August 19, 2010


One of the most devastating tornadoes in Canadian history whipped through Edmonton. An F4 that misses F5 status by 3 km/h.
posted by Mitheral at 2:39 AM on August 19, 2010


Twenty years ago already? Jeez! I remember driving through downtown Plainfield the day after this hit. It was shocking to see the destruction from ground level (as opposed to aerial footage). It was the only time I ever felt that what I was seeing was probably not too far away from the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. The oddest thing I remember was the amazing silence. There were loads of cars driving through (bumper to bumper) barely moving, and everyone I saw appeared to be slack-jawed and silent.

The one story I don't think I'll ever get over concerning that tornado was about a young paperboy who was missing for a while after the storm ripped through. They retraced this boy's route and found the last house to receive a paper (the boy had handed it to the waiting homeowner). The next customer never received a newspaper. They later found this poor little boy's body in the vicinity of those two houses among debris. Poor kid.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 2:55 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mitheral: "One of the most devastating tornadoes in Canadian history whipped through Edmonton. An F4 that misses F5 status by 3 km/h."

I was in my hometown when that one hit. A truly terrible day.
posted by bwg at 3:34 AM on August 19, 2010


I found the part in the main link where they talk about the state of the forecasting and warning technology at the time of the storm very interesting.

Previous F5/EF5-related posts on MetaFilter:
#1 May 25, 2008, Iowa
#2 May 5, 2007, Kansas (more) (even more)
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:05 AM on August 19, 2010


So Clearwater is the most tornado prone area of the US, and Tampa/St. Pete is 3rd? OKC as #2 I would have guessed, and of course NOLA is going to be in the top 5 of any disaster-likelihood rankings, because God Hates Jazz.

But the Tampa Bay region, huh.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:34 AM on August 19, 2010


Edmonton: the hail from that storm was truly remarkable. Bowling-ball sized, at least over by Bonnie Doon. I'll always remember those giant white balls falling out of the sky & bouncing around the grass.

Super-glad I was indoors at the time.
posted by aramaic at 5:39 AM on August 19, 2010


The common view isn't that tornadoes choose to hit trailer park areas only, its that they don't do much damage to cities.

people in kalamazoo know better than that
posted by pyramid termite at 6:23 AM on August 19, 2010


aramaic: "Edmonton: the hail from that storm was truly remarkable. Bowling-ball sized, at least over by Bonnie Doon. I'll always remember those giant white balls falling out of the sky & bouncing around the grass.

Super-glad I was indoors at the time.
"

Indeed. The scary thing about that tornado or any F4/F5 is how much it eats and how much unreal damage it can do.

I recall giant empty oil tanks being flipped upside down and crushed like beer cans, entire steel roofs being lifted off industrial buildings and dropped elsewhere, and of course mass death at the trailer park and lumber yard (the thought of the air filled with flying 2x4's is too much to imagine).

Tornadoes for me will always be freakier than typhoons (I live in Hong Kong, which is subject to giant Pacific cyclones every year) owing to their sheer seeming malevolence.
posted by bwg at 7:12 AM on August 19, 2010


Metro Areas with Densities Most Above the State Average

Salt Lake City UT + 1210%

Yikes!
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:32 AM on August 19, 2010


Thunderstorms blow into Tampa off the Gulf pretty much every single day for four months a year, so just based off quantity of storms that might produce tornadoes it's not that surprising they're both so high on that list. Relatedly, I remember hearing growing up about how that swath of Kendall and Will County in Illinois, from Oswego down through like Manhattan or so, is more prone to tornadoes than the rest of the metro area. I'm guessing it's because of warm air from the south hitting wind off the lake, but I can't prove it or anything.

I had relatives who more or less lost their house to the Plainfield tornado--as far as I know I think they maybe could have repaired it but just built a new one, but I was seven in 1990 so my memories aren't so good. This actually isn't much of an urban tornado, compared with all those examples in the post; Plainfield in 1990 only had about 5,000 people (it's 40,000 now) and was really more a suburb of Joliet than Chicago. You can probably tell the old-school Plainfield residents from the adjustable-rate-mortgage types by if they actually remember this or not.
posted by jackflaps at 8:12 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


their sheer seeming malevolence

No kidding. Hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, these all affect huge swaths of territory -- but that also means they feel sorta impersonal. I never felt a hurricane was actually out to get me. They just seem like really really bad weather, and y'know, what are ya gonna do about that?

The one time I saw a tornado heading my way felt almost exactly the same as when I accidentally got the attention of an elephant in the jungle.

My first thought, in both cases, was "oh fuck I've pissed it off".

Very unsettling.

I still kinda feel like tornadoes hunt their prey.
posted by aramaic at 8:22 AM on August 19, 2010


But the Tampa Bay region, huh.

Lightning capital of the world. I remember seeing plenty of water spouts and a handful of hurricanes when I lived there as a youngin' but no tornadoes.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:23 AM on August 19, 2010


Metro Areas with Densities Most Above the State Average

Salt Lake City UT + 1210%

Yikes!


That's not necessarily because SLC is packed freaky dense.. that's just reflecting against the state average of population density, which I imagine in Utah averages around 'sweet fuck-all nothing' for about 99% of the area.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:45 AM on August 19, 2010


"Lightning capital of the world."

Ah! Tampa Bay Lightning.
posted by Mitheral at 10:54 AM on August 19, 2010


people in kalamazoo know better than that

People in Nashville also know better than that, or at least they should.
posted by blucevalo at 11:37 AM on August 19, 2010


"Tampa..."
Florida has the highest number of tornadoes per area, but with a few exceptions, we just get F0 and F1s (usually around hurricanes or when we get clashing fronts in the spring). And usually they touch down for only a VERY short time.

Now, if we're talking about strength of tornadoes... Kansas wins for number of F4 and F5s.

I'll stick with living in Florida, thank you very much.
posted by Wossname at 12:25 PM on August 19, 2010


Oh, and in the central area, at least, the majority of tornadoes have the connotation of being mostly a nuisance, as if the neighbor's dog had escaped the yard and dug up your vegetable garden.

Roof off the carport gone? Wall smashed? Outdoor furniture flipped and scattered? Must have been a pesky tornado.
posted by Wossname at 12:34 PM on August 19, 2010


Chicago is cook county...and thats huge. Plainfield is in will county with a population of 40k. Chicago has nothing to do with it.

Plainfield is a Chicago suburb. Or exurb if you must. It is ~8 miles from the Cook County border. It is very much part of the Chicago area, and an F5 could easily have pushed into Chicago.
posted by gjc at 6:00 AM on August 20, 2010


Plainfield is a Chicago suburb. Or exurb if you must. It is ~8 miles from the Cook County border. It is very much part of the Chicago area, and an F5 could easily have pushed into Chicago.

Cook County resident here. I live less than a mile from the Chicago city border.

To repeat a comment from above, Cook County is HUGE. Yes, Plainfield is 8 miles from the Cook County border -- but it is about 30 miles from the Chicago city border and around 35 miles from the Loop -- which to be frank, is what most people think of when they talk about Chicago.

Google Map for reference. Cook County extends out to include part of the Lemont area, which is probably where the 8 mile figure came from.

Plainfield is definitely an exurb, and wouldn't even have been considered that in 1990.
posted by marteki at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2010


sitting here reading this in st. louis under a tornado warning with torrential rain flooding down outside . . . it's a bit unsettling.
posted by miss patrish at 8:56 PM on August 20, 2010


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