Greensburg, Kansas: Why the Near Bulls Eye

Greensburg, Kansas: Why the Near Bulls Eye

April 30, 2012:  A Close Call

ABOVE: Greensburg, Kansas Supercell: Apr. 30, 2012.  Radar reflectivity (left) and storm-relative velocity of a supercell near Greensburg, KS Apr. 30, 2012 at 7:03pm CDT

Just five days before the fifth anniversary of the destructive EF5 Greensburg, Kan. tornado, a so-called “high-precipitation” supercell slowly marched toward the city of just under 800 residents.

The National Weather Service first issued a tornado warning including Greensburg at 6:30 pm CDT on April 30, 2012.  Eleven minutes later, law enforcement reported a rain-wrapped tornado just 4 miles southwest of the city, which quickly lifted.  The supercell would continue to produce at least one additional funnel cloud as it tracked south, then east of the city over the next 20 minutes or so.

(MAP:  Radar history of Apr. 30 Greensburg supercell)

This isn’t the first close-call this western Kansas town has had since May 2007.  Let’s first recap the devastating tornado from May 4, 2007, then march through the near-misses since that awful night.


May 4, 2007:  EF5 Tornado Destroys a Town

ABOVE: EF5 Devastation. View of city of Greensburg, Kansas twelve days after an EF5 tornado with winds over 200 mph levelled the town.

On the evening of May 4, 2007, a massive EF5 tornado with estimated winds up to 205 mph, tore a 1.7 mile wide path of destruction, wiping out 90% of the city of Greensburg, Kansas.  Eleven people lost their lives in Greensburg.  According to a 2008 report from the NWS and FEMA, 961 homes and businesses were destroyed, and 800,000 cubic yards of debris was removed from the city.

The 2010 census listed the population of Greensburg at 777 residents.  In 2000, the population was 1,574.

This was the first “5-rated” tornado in the U.S. since the Moore/Okla. City tornado almost 8 years prior to the day (May 3, 1999).  It was also the first killer tornado on record in Kiowa County, Kan.

(MORE:  Dr. Greg Forbes blog)

Now, let’s step through several close calls the town has had since May 4, 2007, starting with, the day after.


May 5, 2007:  A Tornado Outbreak

ABOVE: The Day After. Map of severe weather reports on May 5, 2007. Reports of tornadoes are shown as red dots.

Incredibly, the Greensburg EF5 tornado occurred the evening before a forecasted tornado outbreak in the Plains states.

As a team of NWS meteorologists combed through the wreckage to assess the tornado’s strength, another EF1 tornado tracked just 2 miles outside the city to the west.  This NWS survey team was examining one area of Kiowa County about 30 minutes before another tornado roared through on May 5!

More deja vu?  Try the following May…

Quinter Kansas tornadoCREDIT: DOUG KIESLING

May 23, 2008:  May strikes again

ABOVE: Quinter, Kan. Tornado. Veteran storm chaser, Doug Kiesling, took this photo from inside his car of a tornado near Quinter, Kan. on May 23, 2008.

Just over a year after the Greensburg tornado, the area was targeted yet again.

Nine tornadoes touched down in Kiowa County that evening, among a total of 90 tornadoes in Kansas alone that day.

Miraculously, a tornado just as large as the May 4, 2007 EF5 monster turned and lifted just before hitting Greensburg, sparing the town a second destructive swipe.  Another EF2 tornado crossed the path of the May 4, 2007 tornado about 11 miles south of Greensburg.

The photo above shows an EF4 tornado which destroyed 3 homes and tossed 2 vehicles near Quinter, Kansas.

(MORE:  Dr. Forbes blog)

Just 3 days later, a brief EF0 tornado spun up in Kiowa County, south of the town of Wellsford, but posed no threat to Greensburg.


June 2009:  Brief, weak tornadoes

ABOVE: Supercell Passes By. A low-precipitation supercell thunderstorm is photographed from Greensburg, Kan. on June 9, 2009.

The supercell you see in the above photograph passed just outside Greensburg, Kansas on June 9, 2009.  Only a brief EF0 tornado was spotted by storm chasers in Kiowa County that day.

Another weak tornado touched down north-northwest of Mullinville, Kan. on June 20, 2009, well west of Greensburg.,-99.162598&spn=1.587161,3.565063&z=8&output=embed
View Winter Storm Reports – Feb. 2-4, 2012 in a larger map

April 14, 2012:  Outbreak Close Encounter

ABOVE: April 2012 Plains Outbreak

Just last month, an outbreak of tornadoes across Kansas, northern Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa most notably heavily damaged areas on the south side of Wichita, Kan. as well as the town of Woodward, Oklahoma.

(PHOTOS:  April 14 Plains Outbreak)

One of the day’s tornadoes touched down, yet again, just 2 miles west of Greensburg (denoted by the yellow house icon in the Google Map above) just after 8:30 pm CDT, then tracked to the northeast, reaching EF3 intensity near Fellsburg, Kansas.

According to the National Weather Service in Dodge City, Kan., this large tornado, up to 1 mile wide, tracked across some of the same area that was hit in 2007, but, again, thankfully, spared the city of Greensburg.

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