The 1990 Plainfield, IL Tornado Information Page
Please also visit my research paper on the Plainfield IL Tornado 1990.
Just some background information to read before you get to some interesting short videos on the Plainfield, IL 1990 tornado below.
I grew up in Plainfield, IL, as did my parents, their parents and even some of their parents. I graduated from Plainfield High School in 1989, the year before the tornado destroyed the building I, my mother and sister attended. At that time, I believe there were less than 2000 total attendees of the Plainfield School District, which then had 3 elementary schools, one junior high school, and one high school. There were then roughly 4000 residents of the Village of Plainfield and probably roughly 6000 to 7000 total residents of Plainfield Township.
The tornado hit on the second day of classes of my sophomore year at Illinois State University. In 1989, my freshman year, 99% of the people I met asked me "where the hell is that" when I mentioned Plainfield, IL. The following year, the tornado put Plainfield on the map.
Now, perhaps even more sadly, Plainfield is no longer the fairly idyllic little town just 40 miles from the third-largest city in America. I'd bet that there are now close to 60,000 residents of the school district and it is well on its way to being close to the largest school district in the state outside of Chicago.
Unfortunately I choose not to carry on my family's tradition of residence in Plainfield because it's far from the place where I grew up, but I digress. Here's a little information, hopefully some myth-dispelling and my boring story about August 28, 1990.
I was a fairly inquisitive little kid but also had a few anxieties from birth. One of them being of very severe storms and tornadoes. For this reason I was drawn to reading all the books I could get from the library on the subject. (Please remember this was the 1970's WAY before the Internet). Imagine having to go to the library to learn something these days?
I remember dining at Stefanich's Restaurant in downtown Joliet on my Grandmother's birthday on June 20, 1974 (I was 3) when a tornado hit Plainfield and "blew the roof off" the high school. I remember the days before Plainfield got its first tornado siren (around 1983 I'm guessing) when a blue revolving light on the village hall or the old fire siren would signal a tornado's imminence. And in 1984 (April 27) another small tornado touched down south of the village. As mentioned, I had read my whole life about the massive tornadoes that devastated places like Xenia, OH and Wichita Falls, TX, and always wondered if something like that would or could happen near my home.
Let me take this opportunity to point out, despite the aforementioned three tornado events in Plainfield from 1974-1990, the notion that "there's a tornado alley IN/AROUND/OUTSIDE Plainfield" is preposterous. I've heard people mention this, even radio personalities mention it on air. There is no such thing as A tornado alley. Tornado Alley is a general term for the midsection of the United States, where most of the world's tornadoes occur. That's all.
I was just 19 years old and at a public pool in Normal, IL, on August 28, 1990. I had gone back to school for my sophomore year as early as possible, as usual, for a couple days of R & R (i.e. partying) before classes started. At the pool at right around 3:30 p.m., when the storm was roaring through Plainfield, I remember a few raindrops fell on a generally sunny day. Strange.
Back in my room at my fraternity house, at probably 4:30 or 5:00, my next-door neighbor who was from Lockport, IL, stepped inside and handed me the phone. "My Mom wants to talk to you." Huh? Strange. That's when she told me about the tornado and how it had "hit and destroyed most of the downtown." I grew up and my family still lived right downtown. I panicked, of course, when I called home and got a "call can not be completed" message. I immediately called a friend from Joliet and we made arrangements to hop in the car and drive back, a 90 minute drive.
Still totally panicked, just as I was closing my door to get in the car, my sister called with news that all of my family, houses and businesses were OK. Wanting to get back to see it anyway, my friend and I barged into two classes and picked up two other guys from Plainfield and we all drove back, fighting our way past checkpoints to see our families.
My sister was at home literally three blocks away from the worst tornado in the history of Illinois, and didn't hear a thing until emergency sirens from dispatched vehicles started wailing. My then-86 year old Grandmother ran a little newsstand downtown, just a block from where the storm roared across Lockport St., and was spared. My father's auto parts store was probably 150 feet away from the tornado, and came away with one board through the roof. He could see it coming and had dove under his pickup truck parked in back of the store.
The videos below are from a friend of mine that drove around to document the damage on September 1st. Enjoy. If you'd like to e-mail me, my address is listed on the home page of this site.