TORNADO ALLEY by Howard B. Bluestein


Monster Storms of the Great Plains
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Radical-event meteorologist Bluestein (Univ. of Oklahoma) depicts with paint-by-number clarity (albeit with a more delicately shaded and elegant end product) the lives and quirky personalities of severe storms, particularly tornadoes. Tornadoes are one of the last frontiers of atmospheric science because, being on the ferocious and elusive side they don’t exactly lend themselves to intimate study. And it doesn’t help that these most violent of storms come in multiple personalities: Sometimes they—re accompanied by powerful thunderstorms and mega-hail, sometimes not; they spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, clockwise in the Southern, and sometimes the reverse; they are oriented vertically, or not; they occur at all times of day, be it cold or hot; they proceed along a course, unless they decide to turn around. Bluestein shuffles between explaining what has been learned of severe-storm physics (and the wealth of instruments deployed to measure wind, temperature, pressure, and electrical behavior) and yarn-spinning his and his fellow storm-chasers” antics. It’s a tribute to Bluestein that he can keep the attention of those who are less than weather junkies, even when he must get across to readers that “air being squirted in the main updraft at the tropopause level has enough kinetic energy to flow back against the upper level winds.” The descriptions of the storms themselves are nothing less than awesome. In one, a man peers into the heart of a tornado as it slowly jumps over him, revealing its half-mile-high walls of rotating, debris-strewn air, an infernal chamber backlit by a spectacular electrical light show. This fusion of the terrible and the sublime has spawned an artful lexicon: updrafts and downshears, splashing cirrus and overshooting tops (not to mention the less poetically named mountainadoes and gustanadoes). An entrancing summary of what is known and conjectured about tornadoes, from a man who has been running after them for over 20 years. (67 color, 44 b&w photos, 50 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-19-510552-4
Page count: 179pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999


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