GREENSBURG, Kan. (KSNW) – On May 4, 2007, Greensburg was hit by an EF 5 tornado that devastated the town, killing 11 people in the town and injuring 63 others.
That evening, supercell thunderstorms formed across the Midwest, spawning tornadoes in several states. The intense supercell that developed southwest of Greensburg formed 12 tornadoes. One formed in northwest Comanche County at around 9 p.m. and moved northeast through Kiowa County. The tornado stayed on the ground for 65 minutes, hitting Greensburg at around 9:45 p.m. The tornado was 1.7 miles wide when it hit the town of 1,400.
The tornado track indicated that the tornado was on the ground for nearly 29 miles and recorded surface winds as strong as 205 miles per hour. There are very few images of the tornado itself, as it hit well-past sundown and was wrapped in rain as it struck.
NOAA forecasters in Dodge City issued a Tornado Warning 39 minutes before wedge tornado hit the town. About 10 to 12 minutes before impact in Greensburg, the staff in the Dodge City weather office updated the warning with a Tornado Emergency message, urging residents to get into shelter immediately.
The devastation in Greensburg rightfully gained everyone’s attention over the weekend, and our sympathy goes out to the families of those killed by the tornado.” NOAA National Weather Service Central Region Director Lynn Maximuk said in a publication soon after the storm. “Greensburg residents experienced a level of destruction not seen in many years.”
The Greensburg tornado was the first EF5 to hit in the United States since the National Weather Service began using the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The last F5 tornado to hit in the U.S. was the Oklahoma City tornado of 1999.
“It didn’t sound like a freight train. The best way I can describe it,drive down the highway at 205 mph, windows down and stick your head out the window. You’ll get the same sound,” said Jeff Blackburn, pastor of Greensburg Mennonite Church in 2007.
When the damage would finally be calculated, the storm destroyed 961 homes and businesses and left 216 others with major damage. Another 307 homes and buildings received minor damages.
“We sorely miss those eleven lives that were lost here in town. But it could have been a whole lot worse if people hadn’t taken it seriously. The town was leveled. And now five years later it’s hard to remember sometimes looking at pictures exactly how it was,” said Mayor Bob Dixon in 2012.
In the days and weeks after the tornado, the Greensburg community made a decision to rebuild with sustainability in mind. In the years since, the area now has a wind farm, the most LEED-certified green buildings per capita in the world, including the Platinum-certified school.
“To be able to come back and have a beautiful downtown and a beautiful school, this is an amazing story,” said Ed Truelove, the City Administrator, in 2014.
Greensburg is now one of the most energy efficient towns in the country.
“One of the goals throughout town was making sure we were building things for the future, not just rebuilding things from our past,” said Superintendent of Schools Darin Headrick in 2014.
The town is still struggling to bring in residents. The population is about 800, down from about 1400 when the 2007 tornado struck.
“Prior to the storm, we were a small Kansas community struggling to maintain and grow,” said Sue Greenleaf-Taylor, the city’s economic development director, told the AP in 2014. “Now we are a small Kansas community which had a tornado struggling to maintain and grow.
The National Weather Service says 2007 set a new record for the number of tornadoes in Kansas. That year recorded 137 tornadoes, surpassing the record of 135 set two years before. May 5, 2007 produced 36 tornadoes in Kansas. In that year, 14 people died in Kansas tornadoes, 82 people were injured.
LOOKING BACK | KSN warns Greensburg of the tornado