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.
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.
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.
Argonne National Laboratory
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
Since the Plainfield tornado, warning and detection systems have been
vastly improved, but little can be done to lessen the effects of such a
Wendell Bechtold, Meteorologist
Forecaster, National Weather Service
Weather Forecast Office, St. Louis, MO
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Update: June 2012