1. Tornado episode of WKRP in Cincinnati
The beloved series often forayed into dramedy, and does so in this episode as severe weather threatens the radio station. One of the comedic highlights: Les Nesman using a Cold War-era civil defense file to warn listeners about approaching twisters. In a classic bit of improv, he substitutes “godless tornadoes” for “godless communists.”
2. The Wizard of Oz
The tornado in this classic film has terrified generations of innocent children. Yet it’s only a warm-up to a long night of flying monkeys, witches, fire, longing, and homesickness. The only surprise is that someone other than Walt Disney came up with such glorious Technicolor sadism.
3. The Storm Season, by William Hauptmann
Discussed in our survey of university press books on tornadoes.
4. Tornado episode of Roseanne
Proving once again that impending catastrophe breeds laughter, the Conner family deals with a twister bearing down on their fictional town of Lanford, Illinois. Roseanne often brought a discomfiting level of realism to viewers. This episode is no different, as it reveals a trait that’s Midwestern to the core: when tornadoes threaten, the first thing you do is. . . go outside to look! Dan (John Goodman) sums it up: “If I knew I wasn’t going to get killed, I’d drive right out in the middle of this, this is too good to miss!”
6. Man of Steel
Another forgettable recent Superman film, Man of Steel does at least provide Superman’s adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, with a very Kansas way of meeting his maker: in a twister, while trying to rescue a dog. Add this to the ways pop culture has killed the Kent patriarch over the years, a list that includes a Brainiac-caused heart attack, a regular heart attack, an undead alternate-reality Superman, a drunk driver, and a rare tropical disease contracted from a chest of pirate treasure. A friend mentions that there’s also a scenario where Jonathan Kent appears to die but actually lives with space farmers in the far future. Since that doesn’t involve tornadoes, I didn’t ask for follow-up information.
7. “Telstar,” by the Tornadoes
This instrumental classic topped the Billboard pop chart in 1962. Featuring an eccentric and early on-vinyl use of the clavioline, “Telstar” drafted to huge hitdom in the wake of Telstar 1, a communications satellite launched in the summer of the same year. Telstar 1 was the first space launch for commercial purposes and also the first satellite to transmit a live transatlantic TV signal. Alas, the adverse effects of radiation released by H-bomb tests caused Telstar 1 to fail in 1963. The Tornadoes did not last much longer, though many other artists have covered the song, and it remains a favorite on sports PA systems.