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Name: Ben
Status: other
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001


Question:
Hi, Why is Plainfield IL called Tornado ally. Is that area in great risk of being hit more so then other areas around it? Is there a web site that I can look into to see the history of Plainfield? I know that Texas is hit with a great deal of storms.

Is Plainfield also at a greater risk.


Replies:
Plainfield Illinois is located close to the home of the Newton "Ask a Scientist" web site, hence I am compelled to answer your question. Several years ago, a major tornado tore through the town which much damage and commensurate personal tragedies. I don't know why it has received this name, but one such event is clearly enough.

Dr. Myron


Ben,

I used to live in Plainfield and still have friends who live there. One of my friend's Mom lives in a house that was hit with a tornado in both 1976 (I think that that was the first one) and 1990. Plainfield and the area right around it have seen several tornados in the last 50 years. There is an area southwest of Chicago, that includes Plainfield, that has had an unusual frequency of tornados. Northern Illinois is really at the northern border of a donut shaped area that encompasses the Great Plains and Midwest that receives a lot of tornado activity because of the positioning of fronts and the jet stream during the Spring in particular. The specific reasons for the frequency in the small area southwest of Chicago is not known. The 1990 Plainfield tornado resulted from a freak situation, where a weak back door (from the North) cold front was positioned under the jet stream (also not very strong) in just the right way to produce strong convection and rotation. I was doing field work at Argonne National Laboratory at the time. I saw the incredible convection to the north and then heard a continuous rumble (like constant thunder from a distance), a sign of a tornado,and I immediately hastened everyone back to our brick office building. The tornado was 19 miles away, but could be easily heard. I visited Plainfield a few days after the tornado and was amazed at the damage. Numerous landmarks that I was used to seeing had simply been obliterated. I was able to follow the tornado path easily from the damage. The most interesting sight was trees chopped off like toothpicks about 25 feet above the ground, with the tops nowhere to be seen, carried away by the storm. At that point of the storm (late in the storm), the tornado was not touching the ground but was still very intense.

David Cook
Argonne National Laboratory
(meteorologist)


Dear Ben-

The Plainfield tornado was a very damaging storm, and struck with little warning. The area of northern Illinois is outside the area of most frequent tornadoes, but they can occur there, and even farther north. This particular storm struck with little warning, and was unusually severe. Storms that severe are very rare, even in areas where tornadoes are more common.

Quite a bit has been written about this particular storm. If you go to AltaVista.com and do a search for "plainfield tornado" you'll get more than 50 links to articles or accounts of the storm, and about tornadoes in general.

Since the Plainfield tornado, warning and detection systems have been vastly improved, but little can be done to lessen the effects of such a devasting storm.

Wendell Bechtold, Meteorologist
Forecaster, National Weather Service
Weather Forecast Office, St. Louis, MO


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