Saturday, April 25, 2009

Greensburg: Planet Earth cable series from Leonardo DiCaprio


Greensburg: A Story of Community Rebuilding” is a television series on the “Planet Green” cable network, with Leonardo Di Caprio and Craig Piligian as creators, about the “green” rebuilding of a southern Kansas town after it was leveled by an F5 tornado on May 4, 2007. Netflix offers four DVD’s of the series. The first DVD has four episodes titled “The Tornado”, “Homecoming”, “The Building Begins” and “The Ice Storm” (the last of these was the name of a famous 1997 indie movie).

The coverage of the wedge tornado (some of it from station KAKE) is quite harrowing, and families had only about twenty minutes notice. The tornado was over 1.5 miles wide. Families quickly discovered the extent of the devastation as they came out from the storm. The aerial shots in the film are impressive, and show the pancake-flat countryside.

In time, some of the townspeople start to become “characters” in the story. Steve Hewitt is the faithful city administrator, and high school student Taylor Schmidt, after losing his grandfather in the storm, starts appearing and makes a trip to a green building conference in Chicago. Another student who appears frequently is Levi Smith. Gradually they become the "stars" of the docudrama. I think I've seen Taylor Schmidt in an antidrug television ad and apparently he has a small part in the new indie film "The Quiet Ones". Is that the same person? It appears that the tornado may have given him the chance to start a career. (Tree Hugger's interview with Taylor Schmidt is here.)

The town decides to rebuild green to a Leed Platinum certification standard, and become the greenest town in America.

A mother signs a deal with a contractor for $197000 to rebuild her two-story home green, and he disappears after $180000 is spent and the house is one-third built.

Many residents live in FEMA manufactured housing for a long time and will celebrate moving into new homes. But there was a question as to how many residents would stay.

The fourth episode does show an ice storm, but it was not as severe as the storms in Arkansas and Kentucky in 2009. The southern plains are prone to ice, particularly in the late fall or early winter. The fourth episode ends with the Christmas parade.

One of the best live videos is by Verne Carlson.



There are other storm-chasing videos, and some of the weather maps of the storm.

The closest I ever came to having a home damaged by a tornado was in December 1987 in Dallas, when a small F1 tornado missed me by about one mile. When I attended the University of Kansas in the 1960s, students would go out and “chase tornados” with every watch. Severe storms would occur in the fall as well as the spring. When I worked for Chilton in Dallas, a coworker told of surviving the Wichita Falls, Texas 1979 wedge tornado while working in a fast food restaurant that took a direct hit.

I grew up in the East Coast in the DC area, but I could see when living in mid-continent (Dallas, Minneapolis and Kansas) that the weather is more extreme there. Lawrence Kansas was at the same latitude as Washington but seemed to have much colder winters.

Picture: Flint Hills, Kansas (mine), August 2006.



Second picture is a White House photo in public domain, from the Bush Administration, in Wikimedia Commons, attribution page here.

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