Call them twisters, call them cyclones, call them (incorrectly) willy willys—tornadoes are as much a part of spring as blossoms on the trees and ants in the kitchen. Roughly 75% of Earth’s tornadoes strike the United States in a given year. Another five percent whip across Canada.
This most North American of disasters continues to fascinate the generations. A tornado played by a nylon stocking plays a pivotal part in a traumatic film pushed on children. Tornado porn built the Weather Channel in the 1990s and convinced millions to watch a film with basically no plot, characters, emotions, or logic not just in theaters, but twice per week on basic cable.
Whether you like your cyclonic storms in fiction, photography, or as cutting-edge science, university presses provide what you need from this amazing and ever-profitable phenomenon. Below we present some of the Essential Tornado Media published by UIP and other presses in the Technicolor world of scholarly publishing. Turn up the weather radio. Scan the dark skies. See if your cat is acting strangely. It’s springtime!
The Storm Season, by William Hauptman
University of Texas Press
The Storm Season tells the story of railroad worker Burl Drennan, who barely survives a twister and makes it his mission to chase storms across Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle. Drennan buys a scanner, watches the Weather Channel, learns about drylines and the rain-free base, and even decides to leave the blue-collar grind behind to study meteorology.
Before that, though, he has to overcome self-destructive behaviors like smoking meth, romancing a biker’s woman, driving toward tornadoes, and being abducted by aliens. In other words, all the things we want in a novel, or in life. The prose is as spare as the Texas fauna and the story is world’s away from most of what’s hip in lit. An excellent novel.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Kansas Centennial Edition, by L. Frank Baum
University of Kansas Press
Boasting an introduction by Ray Bradbury and evocative ink illustrations by Michael McCurdy, this edition of the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz recreates an evergreen pop culture phenomenon. L. Frank Baum, an early adopter of the franchise model that now rules children’s fiction, wrote thirteen more Oz books after this one. His original, meanwhile, sold tens of thousands of copies in its first six months on the shelves and within two years had inspired a stage play. The book differed from the movie in many ways. Silver slippers instead of ruby shoes, for instance, and a Wicked Witch with a single telescopic eye, and a Wizard who comes from Omaha (!). Later, Baum’s brainchild brought us Judy Garland, the stage blockbuster The Wiz, that other stage blockbuster Wicked, Geoff Ryman’s acclaimed novel Was, and the incomprehensible cult film Zardoz, among other wonders.
Citizen Spielberg, by Lester D. Friedman
University of Illinois Press
I wish I had been a newspaper headline writer in 1996. Because I would be proud to have placed the header “Twister blows!” above the movie review. Nonetheless, the film made millions. Not surprisingly, for one of its executive producers, Steven Spielberg, has ruled our thrill-happy mob culture ever since Jaws shattered box office records in 1975.
Lester D. Friedman delves into Spielberg’s fear-no-genre career as a director, arguing that Spielberg’s films present a sustained artistic vision combined with a technical flair matched by few other filmmakers, and goes on to make a compelling case for Spielberg to be considered as a major film artist.
Tornado Alley: Monster Storms of the Great Plains, by Howard B. Bluestein
Oxford University Press
A terrific primer for the tornado-curious, Tornado Alley brings the stunning photos we want but adds models, diagrams, and text that explain, in actual laymen’s English, how storms develop. Readers also get to learn those insidery stormchasing terms used on reality shows. A tornado scholar himself, Bluestein sprinkles in anecdotes of his own research in the field, with all the ruined equipment, errant weather reports, and hailstones that entails. There’s enough science to impress your friends at cocktail parties and enough pictures to keep you occupied when you’re not in the mood to read. All that and a blurb from well-sculpted daredevil meteorologist Jim Cantore. Highly recommended.
The Tornado: Nature’s Ultimate Windstorm, by Thomas P. Grazulis
University of Oklahoma Press
Published by people who know from severe weather warnings, The Tornado clears up misconceptions about the charismatic storms, explains the Fujita Scale used to measure tornado intensity, and answers the age-old question: can a tornado really de-feather a chicken? Grazulis also lays down the facts about what tornadoes are not, beginning with stats and stories that reveal railroad crossings pose a far greater risk to American lives than the whirling funnels of doom forecast so often by Weather Channel personalities and other meteorologically-focused haircuts.
The always-popular Oddities in General section begins on page 17. Speaking of chickens, a live one was found in a dresser drawer a week after a tornado in Alabama. There’s rains of fish. Vinyl records driven into poles. It’s all here, and worth the price of admission.
Frank Batten: The Untold Story of the Founder of the Weather Channel, by Connie Sage
University of Virginia Press
Messiah to weather-obsessed old men everywhere, the late Frank Batten founded TWC in 1982 and was on the verge of shutting it down before it became the basic cable colossus of today. Prior to creating his all-weather vision, Batten lived a full life in journalism and business. He also overcame cancer, argued for racial equality in the Fifties, and influenced the media of his and future times.