Tornados are featured in several recent books – from literary fiction to genre mysteries.
In Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos, a tornado is the catalyst for the trajectory of the lives of several people. A 1978 storm takes the life of a mother; many years later the dysfunctional siblings gather for a funeral.
The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum is another story about the effects of tornados on a family. A sister joins a group of storm chasers in order to locate her mentally ill brother, who is a storm chaser, himself.
A 1963 tornado in Oklahoma changes the lives of four people in crisis in Five Days in May by Ninie Hammon.
There are rumors of a movie of The Breathtaker by Alice Blanchard. Set again in Oklahoma, this is a fast-paced thriller about a police chief who realizes that foul play, rather than the storm is the cause of death for several deaths. The murders mount as the tornado season progresses.
In other books, a tornado is not the driving force in the narrative or psychology of characters, rather it’s a convenient plot point.
The Riesling Retribution by Ellen Crosby is a mystery that begins with a skull discovered after a tornado.
Similarly, in A Bad Day for Pretty by Sophie Littlefile a body is found in the aftermath of a tornado.
Storm Kings is a riveting tale of supercell tornadoes and the quirky, pioneering, weather-obsessed scientists whose discoveries created the science of modern meteorology.
While tornadoes have occasionally been spotted elsewhere, only the central plains of North America have the perfect conditions for their creation. For the early settlers the sight of a funnel cloud was an unearthly event. They called it the “Storm King,” and their descriptions bordered on the supernatural: it glowed green or red, it whistled or moaned or sang. In Storm Kings, Lee Sandlin explores America’s fascination with and unique relationship to tornadoes. From Ben Franklin’s early experiments to the “great storm war” of the nineteenth century to heartland life in the early twentieth century, Sandlin re-creates with vivid descriptions some of the most devastating storms in America’s history, including the Tri-state Tornado of 1925 and the Peshtigo “fire tornado,” whose deadly path of destruction was left encased in glass.
Drawing on memoirs, letters, eyewitness testimonies, and archives, Sandlin brings to life the forgotten characters and scientists who changed a nation—including James Espy, America’s first meteorologist, and Colonel John Park Finley, who helped place a network of weather “spotters” across the country. Along the way, Sandlin details the little-known but fascinating history of the National Weather Service, paints a vivid picture of the early Midwest, and shows how successive generations came to understand, and finally coexist with, the spiraling menace that could erase lives and whole towns in an instant. (description from publisher)
If you are a weather buff (and who isn’t in Iowa), you’ll find this book a suspenseful read. Mark Levine, a University of Iowa poetry professor, tells the story of April 3rd, 1974, an infamous date in weather history. The term Super Outbreak was coined to try to describe the unprecedented 148 tornados that pounded the U.S. from Alabama to Canada for 18 hours. The author focuses on rural northern Alabama and we get to know the victims and survivors as well-rounded individuals, so their fates become even more meaningful.
Many survive multiple tornados – actually being in the tornado itself and being bypassed by multiple funnel clouds. A particularly nightmarish scene is in the small Athens, Alabama hospial as it is flooded with victims and is threatened by tornados itself and finally loses power.
Levine’s skill is both in dramatizing each person’s experience and explaining the technical, meteorological reasons for the storms. The book will appeal to those who want to learn their science or history in a dramatic way.