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One For The Road: The 1990 Plainfield Tornado

By Samantha Abernethy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 28, 2012 10:30PM

On this date in 1990, a tornado tore through the Chicago suburbs, killing 29 people, injuring 353 people and causing $165 million in damage. The tornado was at its strongest when it hit Plainfield, hitting F5 on the Fujita scale. It also ripped up Joliet and Crest Hill, but Plainfield took the brunt of the storm.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the storm developed so rapidly that it was not detected by conventional radar systems. Plus, to the observer it looked more like a wall than a funnel. As a result, residents had little to no warning that it was coming. The CDC writes:

The tornado in Will County was atypical for several reasons. First, it was not characterized by a classic funnel appearance; instead, eyewitnesses described it as having a wall-like appearance. Second, it occurred in late August; 75% of tornadoes and almost all tornado-related fatalities occur by late July. Third, the Will County tornado approached from northwest to southeast; most tornadoes follow a southwest to northeast path (5). Fourth, it did not weaken or leave the ground for the entire 16.4 miles of its path. Finally, this tornado attained a rating of 5 on the Fujita scale--the maximum intensity for a tornado; based on this rating, the Will County tornado is among the highest 3% of the most violent tornadoes in U.S. history.

Because the tornado developed extremely rapidly, it was not detected by the conventional radar systems in use; a more sensitive Doppler radar was not in use because of a previous malfunction. The affected area was served by two emergency warning sirens; however, because official tornado spotters had not observed funnel clouds, the sirens were sounded only after the tornado began its destructive course through the town of Plainfield.

Watch amateur videos of the damage below, taken by two 19-year-olds in the days after the storm. For more videos, check Roy Taylor's website.