Tracking a furious, lethal storm.
In her debut nonfiction book, Yahoo News correspondent Bailey, a former White House correspondent for Newsweek, gives a tense recounting of the devastating tornado that struck her hometown of Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013. Central Oklahoma is called “tornado alley” because of the frequency and severity of twisters that tear through the region, but after five tornadoes struck Moore in 15 years, that town earned an epithet as “the tornado alley of tornado alley.” As in many disaster books, we first meet the major players: Gary England, a trusted TV weather forecaster aiming to tamp down sensationalism; his feisty rival Mike Morgan; their young counterpart, Damon Lane, newly hired at another station; a National Weather Service forecaster; the principal of an elementary school directly in the twister’s path; Moore’s city manager; and many others. Nail-biting chronology drives the plot, which lags a bit when characters’ worries repeat in chapter after chapter. Tornadoes are mysterious weather phenomena, Bailey learned, that only recently have become somewhat predictable. In Oklahoma, the base ingredients—a collision of warm and cool fronts—are particularly volatile: “Intensely moist air from the Gulf of Mexico will often collide with cool, dry air wafting down from Canada over the Rockies, and the two forces are further churned together by the jet stream.” When temperatures or moisture levels vary significantly, a supercell may—or may not—form, generating a tornado. A mile wide, with winds over 200 miles per hour, the May 20 tornado began “as nothing more than a wispy little funnel, dancing shyly between the clouds and the ground”; within minutes, it “morphed into a hulking beast devouring everything in its path”: houses, trucks, electrical wires, even grass. Though occasionally overheated, Bailey’s prose vividly evokes the tornado’s power and menace.
Storm chasers will find thrills in this tale of nature’s wrath.