The Greensburg Tornado Essay

The Greensburg Tornado Essay

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On May 4, 2007, the town of Greensburg, Kansas was devastated by an exceptionally strong tornado. With maximum winds estimated to be in excess of 205 miles per hour, and leaving a damage path as wide as 1.7 miles, the storm would go on to be rated a rare EF5, the first recorded in the United States since 1999. When the storm finally subsided, 95 percent of Greensburg had been destroyed, killing eleven people.

The Setup


May 4 began in much the same way as many other spring days in the Great Plains. Cool, dry air from the north clashed with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, creating the sort of unstable atmosphere that is so common to "Tornado Alley." An intense low pressure system moved in and stalled over the area during the morning hours, providing all the ingredients that meteorologists and storm chasing groups expect for severe weather. With an extremely volatile mix of conditions in place, the National Weather Service began to issue watches in anticipation of developing storm activity.

By late afternoon and early evening, storms began to blow up across parts of Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. Although the storms began with only moderate and disorganized activity, they developed quickly into well-organized, explosive storms. As the day wore on, the National Weather Service and Storm Prediction Center began to issue more urgent updates to alert the public to the growing danger. Several storm chaser teams began to close in on the southern portion of Kansas, where conditions appeared most favorable for twister development.

As evening approached, several thunderstorms began to take on the characteristics of a supercell thunderstorm. Supercells, which are intense, broadly rotating thunderstorms, are the most v...


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...ing path that nearly caused it to strike the town a second time. The storm system continued on, spawning another massive twister shortly after that damaged the community of Trousdale. In all, the Greensburg supercell alone was responsible for as many as 22 tornadoes, including at least 12 twisters confirmed by the National Weather Service. During the three-day outbreak, a total of 123 tornadoes were confirmed across several states.

Although Greensburg was almost entirely destroyed, the storm helped to reinforce the important role that storm chasers play in the tracking and warning process of severe weather. By having well-trained, experienced people in the field, meteorologists and weather services are better able to track the exact location and characteristics of tornadic events, relaying that information to the public faster and more accurately than ever before.

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