Tornado Ghost Towns (And why some arn't)

May 1, 2011
166
176
11
39
Michigan
www.lakefx.net
I've been working all summer on a little science/history project regarding plains towns that never recover from major tornadoes (Like Manchester). Or why some DO recover in spite of utter annihilation (Greensburg for example).

All of this is done from the perspective a storm chaser roaming the plains and visiting old landmarks, 'sacred ground' if you will for events of the past that have greatly altered history or tornado science. The goal here is to preserve, in a "Ken Burns" style mini-documentary, some of the history and lore of these towns that have been lost, but also to give storm chasers like YOU some ideas on places to visit while out on the plains. It also intersects with the need to be good patrons and neighbors to these small towns across the plains--It's tough to be a community forgotten by history and the march of progress---Only to be remembered when disaster strikes.

To be fair these are just 10 minutes long, Yet I accumulated enough material, b-roll, and ideas that this could be a full length movie style documentary. Every little place in America has a rich history and I'm only just scratching the surface here.

This is part one of two in the series, covering Manchester, SD Parrish, IL Melva, MO Codell, KS and Joplin, MO


(Mods I'd be happy to place this in the history section but ithat's divided by decade, this covers multiple time periods and wasn't sure where the best home was)
 
Jan 31, 2017
104
84
11
Joplin, MO & Iowa City, IA
Nicely done. Wish I could have helped you when you were in Joplin. Several years after the tornado, Joplin went through a lot of self-inflicted controversy over development plans for the city and the schools. I'm detailing it in the book I'm writing on how cities fight back from killer disasters. Twas not all sweetness and light. Xenia (1974) and Waco (1953) went through the same type of convulsions.

Towns that didn't come back include Glazier, TX (Woodward, OK tornado of 1947) and Picher, OK (2008). Picher was already set to be closed because of extreme contamination from the mining days. The federal government was in the process of homeowner buyouts when the tornado struck. It is sad and it is spooky. And very visual. If you want pictures, I can send them.
 
Jan 31, 2017
104
84
11
Joplin, MO & Iowa City, IA
A tornado can bring many blessings in disguise. Joplin got a lot of favorable attention from the news coverage that portrayed its determination and resilience in the first year of recovery. That seems to have led some businesses to come to town, wanting to be a part of that spirit. Plainfield, IL was just a sleepy town south of Chicago when its F5 hit in 1990. The news coverage introduced Plainfield to Chicago suburbanites who felt Joliet was getting too big for its britches. The tornado put Plainfield on the map (even as it wiped part of it *off* the map).

So many stories of how towns' futures were altered by tornadoes.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Michael Gavan
May 1, 2011
166
176
11
39
Michigan
www.lakefx.net
Thanks Steve! I'm covering (so far) Picher, Glazier, Greensburg and Wakita in the next one. Andy Berrington has been directing me to a lot of potential new ones as well. You bring up some really interesting points about the politics of rebuilding. I was aware of some of the issues Greensburg had. And of course Picher is an absolute basket case (as well as the neighboring mining towns). The main focus is on the towns that didn't (or wouldn't) rebuild, but trying to compare some situations where the town did bounce back, and why it did.

Now for example I'm covering Wakita in the next one because (other than being a really cool place) it's a really good case study for the type of town that wouldn't likely come back from a major incident, and that a real world F3/F4 calibur tornado in 1996 might have spelled the end of that town then and there. Only now it's worse--population is down, and the school is shuttered.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Andy Wehrle
Jan 31, 2017
104
84
11
Joplin, MO & Iowa City, IA
My grandfather worked the mines near Picher. My cousin and her husband took a buyout in Picher. Funny we should be talking about Picher today. This article appeared in the Joplin paper today: ‘The Picher Project’ musical to debut in New York City. More info: The Picher Project.

When small towns are hit, they risk losing a lot of their elderly population - if not to the tornado, to the challenge of rebuilding. Rebuilding is a young person's game. They have the stamina to see it through, and a longer future to make it worthwhile. The older folks may decide to get apartments in the city near their children. With them goes much of a town's institutional memory, living links to the way things were in decades past.
 
Another one you might find interesting for this comparison is Parkersburg, IA. I heard an academic presentation comparing it to Greensburg several years ago, and the gist of it was that Parkersburg fared better because of its location near the suburbs of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA metropolitan area. Kind of a similar situation to Plainfield, IL, albeit a much smaller metro area. I am pretty sure I heard the paper at a conference and don't know if it was ever published, but I will look around a little and post a link in the academic papers section if I can find it.
 
May 2, 2010
187
26
11
Springfield, IL
The town I grew up in, Utica IL, got hit by a killer F3 tornado in 2004 and has changed a LOT since then. The destruction caused to the downtown area ended up being the catalyst for a lot of infrastructure improvements and other projects that probably would not have happened otherwise. I hardly recognize the place today -- both in a good way (more prosperous/more activity) and in a "bad" way (it's not the way I remember it).
 
  • Like
Reactions: Michael Gavan