Plainfield and Joliet, IL Tornado, Aug 1990

Plainfield and Joliet, IL Tornado, Aug 1990

An F5 tornado struck the Illinois cities of Plainfield and Joliet, killing 29 people.

The 1990 Plainfield tornado was a devastating tornado that occurred on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 28, 1990. The violent tornado killed 29 people and injured 353. It is the only F5 tornado ever recorded in August and the only F5 tornado to strike the Chicago area. There are no known videos or photographs of this heavily rain-wrapped tornado. The Plainfield tornado was part of a small outbreak that produced several tornadoes in the northern US and in Canada.

The tornado 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 near Rockford 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 to move to the southeast, the supercell spawned a tornado that touched down near Oswego in Kendall County, eventually and rapidly strengthening into a violent tornado. The tornado traveled southeast into Wheatland Township Will County, near the Wheatland Plains subdivision, northwest of Plainfield. At 3:30 p.m. CDT in Wheatland Township, the tornado damaged nearly all of the homes in a Wheatland Plains subdivision where there were several injuries, including one child who had to be airlifted to Loyola University Hospital in Chicago, who later died of injuries. Twelve homes were destroyed in Wheatland Plains.

Past Wheatland Plains the tornado continued to strengthen as it tore across open farmland, and reached F5 intensity in this area. A narrow swath of very intense ground scouring was observed, as mature corn crop was completely stripped from the ground, leaving nothing but bare soil behind. Several inches of topsoil were removed as well. As the tornado crossed US-30, a 20-ton tractor-trailer was thrown more than half a mile from the road, killing the driver. Three other motorists were killed in this area as their vehicles were thrown from the road. Some cars were picked up and carried considerable distances through the air. Beyond this point, the ground scouring became less pronounced as the tornado weakened slightly as it approached Plainfield at high-end F4 intensity.

The tornado struck Plainfield, Illinois, around 3:28 p.m. Around 3:30 p.m. the tornado directly struck the Plainfield High School, killing three people, including a science teacher and two maintenance workers. Students who had been out practicing for the fall football programs ran into the high school to take shelter a few minutes before the storm hit. After an alarm was pulled by a dean in the main office, the volleyball players preparing for a game in the gymnasium rushed to the nearest door and took shelter in the hallway. It is reported that as soon as the last player was through the door, a coach quickly closed it, only for it to be immediately ripped back off by the storm. The gymnasium proceeded to fall apart and crash down filling the gap in the doorway. They took shelter in the same hallway as the football team, 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 the wife of a custodian 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 the son of the cook at the rectory. Fifty-five homes were destroyed in Plainfield itself, a few of which were swept away. A grocery store east of the high school was badly damaged. Gravestones in the nearby cemetery were toppled, and a metal dumpster was found wrapped around the top of a partially debarked tree. Damage in Plainfield was rated as F5.

The storm then worked its way southeast towards the large city of Joliet, damaging homes in the Crystal Lawns, Lily Cache and Warwick subdivisions and killing five more people: one in Lily Cache subdivision of Plainfield, and two each in Crystal Lawns and Warwick subdivisions; an additional three people would later succumb from injuries sustained during the storm. The tornado ripped through the Grand Prairie Elementary School (Plainfield School District), causing significant damage. Observers watched from the doors at the Louis Joliet Mall, as the tornado passed just southwest of them. Sixty-nine 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 F3 damage and claimed another eight lives, destroying 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, none of which have been rebuilt. A married couple died while in their car on Cedarwood Drive outside the apartment complex. The tornado then destroyed three apartment buildings on Elizabeth Court. Three more homes were destroyed in Bridalwreath, southeast of Elizabeth Court. Homes were damaged on Arden Place, and two high tension wire structures were destroyed at Douglas Street and Palladium Drive West. They were replaced with different structures than the previous two and can be seen as such today.

Further southeast, the tornado lost strength until lifting near Woodlawn Avenue and Campbell Street in Joliet. The parent thunderstorm continued until it crossed over the Indiana border, where it dissipated around 4:30 p.m.

The Plainfield Tornado caused over $140 million worth of damage. As the storm tore through Plainfield, nine people were killed (one additional victim would die afterward, from carbon monoxide poisoning, while guarding his home after the storm). The remaining victims were from Joliet and Crest Hill, in North Eastern Illinois. In all a total of 29 people would die because of the tornado. 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.