As I have written elsewhere, Tom Grazulis is a different breed of storm chaser. Rather than ply the highways and dusty country roads of Tornado Alley, hoping to encounter an emerging funnel, he combs the dusty archives of libraries, government agencies and newspaper offices for the accounts of tornadic storms long dissipated. His landmark tome Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991 is the most encyclopedic reference on American tornados available. As co-founder of The Tornado Project, he has also produced or consulted on many of the best tornado video productions to date.
Therefore, as I began to read Grazulis' most recent book The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm, I had high expectations. In addition, I was once told that he intended this book to be a sequel of sorts to Snowden D. Flora's 1953 classic Tornadoes of the United States, also published by the University of Oklahoma Press. Fortunately, my high expectations for this book were fully realized. Grazulis has again produced a reference on tornadoes that will surely sit next to Flora's classic and with its newer information will surely replace Flora as the best general book on tornadoes available to the lay audience.
In the "Preface," the author states his goal has been "to write a book for the general public that touches on the full scope of tornado studies and answers most of the commonly asked questions. I have tried to set the record straight about tornado ‘risk,' the Fujita Scale, the number of tornadoes that touch down annually, and certain myths that will not go away. I have tried to shed light on misconceptions and contradictory ideas about tornadoes."
Grazulis has succeeded, in my opinion, in achieving these goals. The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm is a book written in an easy, flowing style, comprehensible to the lay audience yet technically meaty enough for the rabid tornado-phile. It is fairly well illustrated (though there are spots where additional figures would be helpful) and has a good selection of material for further reading. The book covers topics such as:
In covering these topics, the author interweaves his information with relevant accounts of real storms and the people they affected. Most importantly, he takes great strides in dispelling many of the major misconceptions and myths about tornadoes that have been given us through the media, motion pictures and "bad science" over the years. As examples: trailer parks do not attract tornadoes; opening windows will not keep a house from exploding due to the low pressure within a tornado (in fact, houses do not explode but are torn apart from within when high winds enter broken or open windows, thus lifting the roof and pushing out walls); a highway overpass is not a safe haven if caught on the roads; and the southwest corner is not the safest location in a house.
Some may criticize this book for its lack of storm-chaser drama and vivid funnel cloud photographs, but if that is the reader's only interest, there are many alternate choices out there. Rather than be another "oh-wow" fluff book of pictures and little substance that abound today, The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm is a serious look at the tornado and all its impacts written for the general audience. While author Tom Grazulis fully appreciates the awesome power and beauty of the tornado, he has more important issues to discuss and concerns to raise than to devote this work fully to sensationalistic accounts.
There is, however, much in this book to learn. Even an old meteorologist like me can come away with new knowledge and added wisdom concerning the tornado and its impacts. Tom Grazulis has again provided an important work in the field of tornado knowledge and awareness, particularly with regard to storm risk and safety concerns. Hopefully, The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm will become a best seller and top borrowed book in libraries across the United States. Those of us outside the contiguous 48 states will also find benefit from reading this book, particularly if tornadoes are a part of our weather concerns.
Not only do I highly recommend The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm to all interested in weather, natural disasters and tornadoes, I strongly urge everyone living in tornado-prone regions of the United States to read this book. It might save your life!
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD, ACM
THE WEATHER DOCTOR
23 May 2001