"Thoughts about Greensburg" by Nathan Lee, Barber County, Kansas Barber County, Kansas.  

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Thoughts about Greensburg.

by Nathan Lee

I rarely read an actual newspaper anymore. Most of my news info comes from the internet. But this AM, as I was waiting for my 1 PM dental appointment, I had plenty of time to bone up on the local disasters at the Pratt Library. I read the storm stories in the Wichita Eagle during the past 3 days---a time in which the locals have been transformed into rodents looking overhead for raptors. I have seen a lot of dangerous weather in my 40 years, but never a 3-plus days' ravaging from the Texas Panhandle to Iowa. Massive flooding, hundreds of twisters, and just plain ODD weather. The ol' weatherman says it could go all week, due to a pressure ridge over the Mississippi River drainage area.

Greensburg was a nice town. I speak deliberately of it in the past tense. It will not become what it was, despite the optimism of the various government big-wigs that promise funding and rebuilding under the undying spirit of the pioneers, blah, blah, blah. Much as I hate to admit it, Greensburg is gone. I will be willing to take bets that 10 years from now there will not be 400 people living there in a town that had almost 1600 only last week. We "doctored" in Greensburg, because you could always get in on short notice. Plus, they had a satellite clinic only 16 miles away in Haviland. The kids loved the Big Well and had been at least 3 times in the last few years. I can't help but think how devastated I would feel if Pratt were wiped from the map so quickly. It has been my "hometown", although it is 22 miles away.

Small town folks rarely have enough insurance coverage to allow them to have again what was blown skyward. If you are a retiree, as most of Greensburg was, what are you going to do with your $40K check? That doesn't rebuild a new house. It buys a nice trailer house or a mediocre double-wide - not palatable options for survivors of an F5 twister. They will invest that money wisely in a neighboring town's existing home (with trees) and existing hospitals and schools. That is, IF they have a good paying job and/or family in the area. If they don't have those things, what will keep them here? They will take the money and run---far away from Tornado Alley, or at least from a flattened and featureless town. Sure they have friends that they don't want to leave. But have you looked at how many vacant houses there are for sale in Pratt, Medicine Lodge, St. John, Dodge City, Coldwater, etc.?? I would opt for a town that does not have to face the task of rebuilding, a town that is a turn-key town.

Did you ever ask yourself 'what are the odds?' Of course, no one was gambling that Greensburg would or would not be hit. But look at the detailed listings of every twister that hit Kansas from Protection to Salina last Friday night. Everyone glanced a town or a farm and was a simple "rope" tornado that could manage to dehorn a tree or two, and maybe break a few windows, but that is all. Most didn't hit the ground for very long. Most were less than 1/8 of a mile wide. But this ONE was over 1 miles wide and was the first F5 twister since the OKC tornado of 1999 that killed 36 people. Did it glance a piece of the town, like the Hesston, Haysville, OKC and Andover twisters? No. It went right for the heart of town, our Mainstreet, USA, once fit for a documentary about all that makes America charming and comfortable---the sleepy bedroom community. One has to wonder why it wasn't among the ranks of the harmless twisters that existed in the vast sea of farm fields and pastures. Why was IT the only one to stay on the ground for 22 miles? Wow. I never got to see the old soda shop (an almost extinct notion today) on Main that has had the same "soda man" since 1952! I suppose he will give up and decide that destiny has called his name.

I read a scathing blog today from a former Kansan who now lives in Seattle , a very active volcanic area. He thought we are all crazy to live here in The Alley. "If we were halfway smart, we would all get out too!", he said. "To what and to where", I wonder. We can expect 20 minutes' warning for even the worst twisters. Volcanoes and earthquakes give no advance warning. I too sometimes wonder why I live here, but it has nothing to do with weather. I love the unpredictability of Kansas weather. The change of seasons is dramatic and forces a respectful sense of awe and wonderment! Blizzards, droughts, temperature extremes, horrible windchills, terribly violent thunderstorms (my personal favorite) make this a roller coaster ride that is never dull. And very little "concrete jungle" and traffic jams amid orange plastic cones. Even if we are blown away tonight, I will stay and be the exception.

-Nathan Lee, May 7, 2007

Also see:

WORK OF THE STORM FIEND: Three Mangled and Lifeless Bodies left as mute witnesses of the fury of the Elements. Sun City Swept by a Cyclone.
Medicine Lodge Cresset, April 26, 1883.

The following off-site links will open in a new browser window:

Greensburg tornado, search results from Google.com

A Terrible Tornado! Visits Coldwater on Tuesday Night, Leaving Death, Destruction and Desolation in its Path., The Western Star, May 12, 1899.


Published in The Barber County Index, May 27, 1927.
(Also see: Cyclone at the Platt Ranch by Mike Platt.)

he Tornado of May 7, 1927, As Told by Florence Mills Wells, An eyewitness account, transcribed by her grand-daughter, Peggy Wilson Newsome.

Tornado plays Havoc at the Platt Ranch, The Western Star, May 13, 1927.

Tornados in the Wilmore, Kansas area, A story about the tornado which hit Wilmore on May 20th, 1949, written by Wendel Ferrin and illustrated with photos by John Edward Schrock.

Twister Wrecks Wilmore Business District, The Wilmore News, May 27, 1949.

Town Cleaning Up After Tornado Damage, The Wilmore News, June 3, 1949.

Aftermath of the Wilmore Tornado, May 20, 1949, photos by J.R. & Gloria Cline

Thanks to Nathan Lee contributing the above commentary to this web site!

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