SPC Stats

Path length: 28.81 miles

Width:  3000 yards

Fatalities:  11

Injuries:  63

Rating:  EF5

County:  Comanche, Kiowa

The Greensburg Tornado of May 4, 2007 was the first to be given an EF5 rating under the new Enhanced Fujita Scale.  That scale went operational in February of 2007.  The focus of this summary will be on this monstrous tornado that wiped out 95% of Greensburg, KS.  But first, I want to do an overview. 

The supercell that generated the EF5 also produced more than 20 other tornadoes across parts of SW KS during an 8-hour period.  There were several satellite tornadoes spawned around the larger Greensburg twister.  But there were also 3 other extremely large, significant tornadoes that plowed through this area during the late hours of May 4.

I discovered a powerpoint presentation entitled, “The Historic Greensburg Supercell of 4 May 2007”, created by Mike Umscheid of the NWS DDC and Leslie R. Lemon of the NOAA/NWS Warning Decision Training Branch.  It was presented at the March 5-6, 2010 DuPage County, IL Advanced Severe Weather Seminar. 

In it, Umcheid and Lemon describe “The Big 4”.  These are the 4 large tornadoes generated by the Greenburg Supercell.  The graphic below from the powerpoint shows the tracks of those tornadoes along with their rating, duration, length, mean width, max width and damage area.  

"The Big 4" - Umscheid/Lemon Presentation

The Greensburg tornado was NOT the widest tornado to occur that night.  That designation was given to the Trousdale tornado.  The max width was estimated at 2.2 miles! 

Here are the Storm Data damage details on the Trousdale, Hopewell and Macksville tornadoes.  All rated EF3 and all occurring from the same supercell that produced the Greensburg EF5.
 
  • Trousdale:  Formed as the Greensburg tornado was dissipating.  It quickly grew to over 2 miles wide.  Two farms in Kiowa County had strong EF3 damage.  Several pieces of machinery was destroyed.  A combine was thrown ~1/4  of a mile.  “It disintegrated upon impact.”  Numerous pivot irrigation sprinklers were destroyed.  The tornado moved into Edwards County causing high end EF3 damage to farms, trees, machinery, pivot sprinklers and power lines.  Dozens of cattle and horses were killed.
  • Hopewell:  Began in NE Kiowa County and was on the ground at the same time as Trousdale.  Damage was initially to trees and pivot irrigation sprinklers in NE Kiowa and SE Edwards Counties and given a rating of EF1.  As it moved into Pratt County, it grew to be more than a mile wide.  A man was killed near Hopewell as a basement wall collapsed on him when his home was demolished.  “Very little of the home was left visible.”  The tornado tracked into Stafford County and dissipated south of Macksville.  Strong EF3 damage occurred to farms, trees, machinery and vehicles.  “A Blazer was carried over 3/4 of a mile was barely recognizable as a vehicle.”  A well built house was “completely swept off its foundation.”
  • Macksville:  This tornado formed as the Hopewell tornado was dissipating.  A police officer who was watching the dissipating tornado was caught off guard by this newly forming tornado.  “His car was thrown at least 1/4 of a mile and was found in a field.”  He passed away several days later.  EF3 damage was found to over a dozen farms, trees, machinery, vehicles, pivot irrigation sprinklers and power poles.

The Greensburg Tornado

The tornado that would hit Greensburg, KS began in Comanche County at 9pm CDT.   This supercell had already had a history of producing tornadoes near Ashland, Sitka and Protection.   In Comanche County, EF1 damage to some oil tanks and trees was recorded. It was noted in Storm Data that “oil was strewn across pastures and a county road.”
 
At 903pm, the tornado crossed into rural Kiowa County.  At 919pm, the first tornado warning mentioning the town of Greensburg was issued by the NWS Dodge City. 

From the powerpoint presentation by Umscheid/Lemon, this is the tornado at 923pm CT. Image via Rick Schmidt

At 928pm, an update to the tornado warning was disseminated.  It stated…

Here are the next 2 updates.  The first at 936pm.

The second at 941pm.  This update used the words “Tornado Emergency.”

A new tornado warning was issued at 950pm.  This was the last warning before the massive tornado was to make a direct hit on Greensburg.  The next update came out at 958pm.  

The tornado destroyed nearly 95 percent of the city of Greensburg.  As we can see, there was adequate warning but sadly, 11 people were killed.  Some were killed in their basements.  The max width of the tornado was 1.7 miles.  From an article about the Greensburg tornado by US Tornadoes, “Despite great warning, Greensburg is only about 1.5 miles wide at its widest.  So the tornado impacted the whole town in some way. The scene was perhaps better described as post-apocalyptic than post-tornado.”

I found the damage survey conducted by Tim Marshall (Haag Enginnering), Dan McCarthy (NWS), James LaDue (NWS) and members of the Center for Severe Weather Research.  It states, “Peak implied wind speeds were 92 m/s near the center of the tornado path, making this the first EF-5 rated tornado using the new EF-Scale.”  92 m/s = 205.8 mph. 

Per Storm Data:  A total of 961 homes and businesses were destroyed, 216 had major damage and 307 received minor damage.  There were 63 injuries.

Per the damage survey, 662 homes were analyzed and assigned an EF-scale rating.  7 homes were found with EF-5 damage.  That is 1% of the homes surveyed.  16% of the homes had EF4 damage.    

From the damage survey

Greensburg High School was destroyed by this tornado and damage there was estimated at EF-4.  Per the damage survey, “The High School was located about one block east of the convergence line and experienced the strongest winds from the south through east.”  

From the damage survey

The NWS Storm Data entry mentions that several oil storage tanks were destroyed and there was an environmental concern.  Hazardous material was “strewn everywhere.”  There was approximately 400,000 cubic yards of debris removed from the area.  The major highway through town was clsoed for one month. 

The official path length was 25.8 miles and the path was unique.  It moved NE out of Comanche County into Kiowa.  It then curved north then northwest before making a complete loop northwest of Greensburg.  Per Storm Data, about the “loop”, “this was documented on both high resolution doppler radar and through the ground survey.” 

In an article entitled “Remembering those who died in the Greensburg tornado”, Stan Finger from the Wichita Eagle lists those who perished along with a brief bio.  I encourage you to read that here.  Here are the names of those who died. 

Claude Hopkins, 79

Larry Hoskins, 51

David Lyon, 48

Colleen Panzer, 77

Ron Rediger, 57

Evelyn Kelly, 75

Sarah Tackett, 72

Beverly Volz, 52

Max McColm, 77

Richard Fry, 62

Harold Schmidt, 77

 

Rebuilding the Town

The following information about the rebuilding effort comes from the City of Greensburg website and their 10th anniversary booklet.  Greensburg was declared a major disaster area on May 6, 2007 by President George W. Bush.  More than $100 million in federal assistance was provided for emergency response, temporary housing, repair, etc. 

A grass-roots community rebuilding effort, guided by a FEMA long-term recover team, held meetings to develop a plan for the future of Greensburg.  Their goal was to rebuild “better, stronger and greener.”  What does that mean?  From the commemorative booklet, “For Greensburg, it means designing and building structures that will endure for generations, and be environmentally sound.  Two ways we embrace this building philosophy are by using alternative energy sources, as well as energy-saving fixtures.  The results mean a more efficient use of natural resources as well as reduced operating and maintenance costs for many public buildings and homes throughout the city.”  Some of the ways Greensburg is “green”:

  • Greensburg has the most LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings per capita in the US;
  • Several buildings are built with reclaimed materials such as wood and brick (saves landfill space);
  • First US city to use all LED streetlights;
  • 100% renewable, 100% of the time.  All electricity is generated by wind energy;
  • Save millions of gallons of water by using low-flow fixtures and incorporating native plantings in landscaping to collect rainwater;
  • Provides single-stream curbside recycling;

Tornado Path

Extracted from the "Damage survey of the Greensburg, KS tornado"

Radar

Radar composites at the time of tornado warning updates

Reflectivity and velocity loop of the Greensburg supercell from the Dodge City, Kansas doppler radar. (Author via NEXRAD data on Amazon) via US Tornadoes

Images

From the Greensburg, Kansas Tornadic Storm: A Storm of Extremes (Umscheid/Lemon)
From the May 2007 Storm Data Publication. Damage in Greensburg including a fire hydrant ripped out of the ground.
Destroyed water tower. Image from Storm Data.
Oil storage tank destroyed south of Greensburg. Image via Storm Data.
Via FEMA Report
From visitgreensburgks.com
Pre-tornado aerial of Greensburg via EPA Archive
Post-tornado aerial of Greensburg via EPA Archive
Diagram of tornado's path overlaid on aeiral photo of Kiowa County, KS via EPA Archive

Videos

Tweets

Newspaper Clippings

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