1990 Plainfield tornado

Infobox tornado single
name = Plainfield-Crest Hill-Joliet Tornado
image location =


date = August 28, 1990
time = 3:15 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. CDT
fujitascale = F5
total damages (USD) = $165 million
total fatalities = 29
area affected = Plainfield, Illinois, Crest Hill, Illinois, Joliet, Illinois
The Plainfield-Crest Hill-Joliet Tornado was a devastating tornado that occurred on the afternoon of August 28, 1990. The violent tornado killed 29 people and injured 350.cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Answers archive: Tornado history, climatology
work =USA Today
publisher =
date =2005-12-26
url =http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/askjack/watorhty.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate =2008-06-02
] It is the only F5 tornado ever recorded in August and the only F5 tornado to ever strike the Chicago area. [cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =A Study of the Chicago Area's Significant Tornadoes
work =
publisher =National Weather Service
date =
url =http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lot/?n=SigChiTorn
format =
doi =
accessdate =2008-06-02
]

It formed from a supercell thunderstorm which initially formed in the vicinity of Janesville in south central Wisconsin and produced a tornado near Pecatonica in Winnebago County, Illinois which touched down at 1:42 P.M. That tornado did not live long, but the storm continued to move southeast towards the Aurora area, but with no official touchdown and only minor roof damage. Continuing southeast, a tornado touched down and rapidly strengthened into a violent F5 tornado. At 3:30 P.M. CDT in Wheatland Township in Will County northwest of Plainfield the tornado damaged nearly all of the homes in a Wheatland Plains subdivision where there were several injuries, but no fatalities. The storm caught drivers by surprise on U.S. Route 30 just south of 143rd Street where 3 drivers were killed. The tornado was incredibly hard to spot because it was "rain wrapped", which means rain is rapidly spinning around the funnel, which made the tornado almost invisible . As the storm tore through the city, 9 people were killed (one additional victim would die afterwards from carbon monoxide poisoning while guarding his home after the storm). The remaining victims were from Joliet and Crest Hill in eastern Illinois. A total of 350 people were also injured in storm. This was the deadliest tornado event in the region since the Belvidere - Oak Lawn tornado outbreak of April 1967.

Tornado table

Atmospheric conditions

For late August standards, August 28th was a very humid, very warm day. Temperatures reached into the low 90s ºF (about 11 °F warmer than the normal of 79 °F), but dew points soared into the upper 70s °F. The presence of such a high dew point did not necessarily predict a severe thunderstorm outbreak; the prior day, similar conditions existed in northern Illinois with the exception of a warmer mid level troposphere. A warmer atmosphere inhibits the rising of surface air through the atmosphere; a requirement for convective precipitation, that is, precipitation resultant from humid surface air ascending to condense in a cooler atmosphere above, to occur. This warmer air aloft can describe either, or both, weak lapse rates thus weak instability or a capping inversion.

The atmosphere on the 28th was significantly more unstable as the approach of a low-pressure system from the northwest cooled the mid levels (and also caused dynamic lifting) as instability continued to build in the capped, muggy environment, although the wind fields (strong, but out of the west-northwest and unidirectional) were not suitable for significant tornadic development. As a result of the very high low-level temperature and dew point, convective available potential energy (CAPE) values were in excess of 8,000 J/kg; generally, values of 1,500 J/kg are considered to be moderately unstable, whereas values of more than 4,000 J/kg are considered "extreme". The lifted index (LI), the dominant estimate of instability used at the time, was also extreme. Generally, an LI value of -6 °C or below readily supports severe thunderstorm development, but during the day the LI value ranged from -12 °C to -14 °C. Such extreme instability can lead to explosive thunderstorm development, very strong updrafts, and modulates the updraft to better enable tornadogenesis.

Conditions were ripe for severe thunderstorm development, and with both low level and high level steering winds from the west-northwest, the National Severe Storms Forecast Center issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch for northern Illinois valid 1:30 P.M. through 8:00 P.M. CDT that night. The NSSFC predicted a derecho-type event for later that night as rapidly developing thunderstorms along a cold front in Wisconsin would be carried by the steering flow into the Chicago area. One of these storms developed supercellular characteristics south of Rockford, steering 30 to 40 degrees to the right of prevailing steering winds. By now, mid-level steering winds had begun to veer, causing a wind profile slightly more favorable for tornadic development. Once a tornado formed, the extreme instability contributed heavily to its rapid development into a violent, one-half mile (.75 km) wide tornado.

This supercell unleashed torrents of rain upon the Chicago area until approximately 4:30 pm when it got eerily silent and the sun came out. It was at this time, the tornado touched down in Plainfield.

Tornado touchdown, path, and damage

In Kendall County, the supercell spawned a tornado that touched down near Oswego, eventually strengthening to an F5. The tornado traveled southeast into Wheatland Township Will County near the Wheatland Plains subdivision, moving into Plainfield, Illinois around 3:28 P.M. 12 homes were destroyed in Wheatland Plains.

Around 3:30 P.M., the tornado directly struck the Plainfield High School, killing three people, including a science teacher preparing for classes the next day and two maintenance workers. Students who had been out practicing for the fall sports programs ran into the high school to take shelter. They took shelter in a hallway, and once the tornado had passed, that was the only hallway left standing in the building.

The tornado then demolished the Plainfield School District Administration building where a secretary was killed. The tornado crossed Route 59 (Division Street) and ripped into St. Mary Immaculate Church and school claiming an additional 3 lives, including the principal of the school, a music teacher, and a cook at the rectory. 55 homes were destroyed in Plainfield itself, and a strip mall and grocery store east of the high school and north of St. Mary Immaculate were damaged. Gravestones in the nearby cemetery were toppled.

The storm then worked its way southeast through the large city of Joliet, damaging homes in the Crystal Lawns, Lily Cache and Warwick subdivisions killing 5 more people, one in Lily Cache subdivision, and two each in Crystal Lawns and Warwick subdivisions. (An additional 3 people would later succumb from injuries sustained during the storm). The tornado ripped through the Grand Prairie Elementary School causing significant damage. Observers watched from the doors at the Louis Joliet Mall as the tornado passed just southwest of them. 69 homes were destroyed in Crystal Lawns, 75 homes were destroyed in Peerless Estates, 55 homes were destroyed in Lily Cache, and 50 homes were destroyed in Warwick. Most of the homes in Peerless Estates and Warwick were newly built.

The tornado then moved towards Crest Hill. At 3:38 P.M. the storm ripped through the Crest Hill Lakes Apartment complex where it caused more F5 damage and claimed another 8 lives and destroyed one apartment building, and half of another apartment building. Neither have been rebuilt. The tornado also ripped through the Colony West subdivision, destroying 12 townhomes which have never been rebuilt. A married couple died while in their car on Cedarwood Drive outside the apartment complex. In all a total of 29 people would die because of the Tornado. Then the tornado destroyed three apartment buildings on Elizabeth Court. 3 more homes were destroyed in Bridalwreath, southeast of Elizabeth Court.

Further southeast, the tornado lost strength until it finally left the ground near Woodlawn Avenue and Campbell Street in Joliet. From there, it passed over neighborhoods until it became a thunderstorm. It continued as a thunderstorm until it crossed over the Indiana border where it dissipated around 4:30 P.M. The Plainfield Tornado traveled a distance of 16 miles (26 km) in 8 minutes causing over 140 million dollars worth of damage.

Aftermath

Tornado preparedness

The Plainfield Tornado challenged both meteorologists and citizens in terms of tornado preparedness. Substantial safety measures were enacted in the years following the tornado; among these are frequent and regular tornado drills performed in schools.

After the tornado, meteorologists studying tornadic patterns in the area found that a major tornado (F3 or higher) strikes Will County about every 12 to 15 years. There have been no major tornadoes in the county since 1993. However, an F1 tornado swept through the historic Catherdral Area in the near west side of Joliet on April 20, 2004 (April 2004 Utica tornado outbreak). There has been another tornado in Plainfield in April, 2007 that hit a nursing home and tossed a truck into it. The twister lasted for 3 miles and ended up in Bolingbrook. An EF2 rated tornado hit Plainfield Central High School, June 9th, 2008, doing damage to the schools roof and tennis court fences. It had also directly struck the 1990 memorial, meaning the small tornado was following the same path as the 1990's historic F-5.

Deployment of NEXRAD

The development of NEXRAD (Next Generation Radar) contributed greatly to the ability of meteorologists to recognize tornadic activity. Where previous generations of radar could show only reflectivity data and no direct information on air flows (although tornadic supercells and tornadic signatures such as the hook echo and bounded weak echo region (BWER) were identifiable), NEXRAD contained the ability to detect the wind speed and direction inside the storm. The ability to see rotation inside a storm on both the microscale (tornadic) and mesoscale (supercellular) measurements has allowed forecasters to issue severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings in more timely fashion and with a higher probability of detection.

Forecast criticism

In the months following the tornado, the National Weather Service was heavily criticized for providing no warning of the approaching tornado.cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =1990: Southwest Suburban Tornado Leaves 29 Dead
work =
publisher =CBS2 Chicago
date =
url =http://cbs2chicago.com/vault/tornado.Will.County.2.331531.html
format =
doi =
accessdate =2008-06-02
] The NOAA Disaster Survey Report was highly critical of the forecast process within the Chicago office as well as coordination with local spotter networks and the preparedness of these groups. Prior to 1990, the National Weather Service in Chicago was responsible for providing forecasts for the entire state of Illinois.

As the Chicago office was overwhelmed with its workload, no warnings were issued by the office until 2:32 p.m. — nearly an hour after the first tornado was sighted southeast of Rockford. A second severe thunderstorm warning was issued almost an hour later at 3:23 p.m., but this provided no indication that a tornado was on the ground and did not mention the area where the tornado had tracked. No tornado warning was issued until after the tornado lifted.

According to the Chicago Tribune, NWS Chicago had "the worst record in the nation" for issuing warnings for severe storms, only issuing warnings 24% of the time when a warning was justifiable.cite news |author=Mills, Marja |title=Weather Warnings Called Lacking |publisher=Chicago Tribune |date=1990-12-03 |page=4] The office's awareness of this poor record may have contributed to their hesitation to issue tornado warnings before this tornado hit; even today, many meteorologists refer to the Plainfield Syndrome as the idea that it's better to issue too many warnings and be wrong than to miss one critical warning, as was the case for the Plainfield Tornado. [ [http://vrfarchive.com/vrf_archive/TheLegendOfTheBlackCat.htm The Legend of the Black Cat ] ] At some point after the 1990 tornado, the National Weather Service reduced the Chicago office's workload by creating an office in Lincoln, Illinois and allowing offices in the Quad Cities, St. Louis, Missouri, Indianapolis, Indiana and Paducah, Kentucky to issue forecasts for their respective areas.

See also

* List of tornadoes and tornado outbreaks
** List of North American tornadoes and tornado outbreaks
* List of tornado-related deaths at schools
* April 2004 Utica tornado outbreak — a similarly unexpected tornado outbreak caused largely by relatively minor changes in the surrounding meteorological environment.

References

* Baumgardt, Dan A. (1992). "A Three-Dimensional, Subjective Investigation of the Synoptic and Mesoscale Environment for the Plainfield/Crest Hill, Illinois Tornado August 28, 1990". M.S. Thesis, University of Wisconsin at Madison.
* Brenner, Sue Anne, and Eric K Noji (1995). "Tornado Injuries Related to Housing in the Plainfield Tornado". "International Journal of Epidemiology", vol 24, no 1, p 144-9.
* Fujita, T.T. (1991). "Plainfield tornado of 28 August, 1990". WRL Research Paper 234, University of Chicago, 25 pp.
* NOAA (May 1991). "The Plainfield/Crest Hill Tornado", "Natural Disaster Survey Report".
* Beaird, Tina (2005). "Black Sky: Plainfield Tornado August 28, 1990". Plainfield. Plainfield Public Library; Local History Collection. 142pp.

External links

* [http://www.tornadohistoryproject.com/tornado.php?yr=1990&mo=8&day=28&st=%25&fu=%25&co=Any&l=auto&submit=Map&ddat=on&dsta=on&dfuj=on&dfat=on&dinj=on&dcou=on&format=basic&p=1&s=1 Map of August 28, 1990 Tornadoes] Tornado History Project
* [http://aepo-xdv-www.epo.cdc.gov/wonder/PrevGuid/m0001878/m0001878.asp Tornado Disaster -- Illinois, 1990] (CDC, MMWR 40(2); 33-36)
* [http://www.roytaylor.info/roy/writing/plainfieldtornado1990.html Plainfield, IL Tornado 1990]
* [http://www.roytaylor.info/roy/writing/plainfieldtornadovideos.html Video Clips of the Aftermath]
* [http://plainfield.lib.il.us/general/tornadohistory.asp Plainfield Tornado History] (Plainfield Public Library)
* [http://www.nislwx.com/coverstory2.html Northern Illinois Storm Lab]
* [http://wgntv.trb.com/news/local/eveningnews/wgntv-news-030205plainfield,0,4436111.story?coll=wgntv-evening-news-1 Reflections on the Plainfield tornado by Tom Skilling]
* [http://www.fema.gov/news/event.fema?published=1&id=2078 Federal Disaster Declaration] (FEMA)


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