STORM WARNING by Nancy Mathis


The Story of a Killer Tornado
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A ferocious day of twisters spotlights the fight to boost survival odds in Oklahoma’s “Tornado Alley.”

Debut author Mathis documents in depth a single day—May 3, 1999—when what meteorologists called an “outbreak” of severe storms and tornadic activity buffeted the same wide swath of the state that comes under threat every year. Moving roughly from southwest to northeast Oklahoma, 71 tornadoes were documented. At least one was on the ground for 11 hours running, and at one point, four were touching down simultaneously. The twister labeled A9 had winds of more than 300 mph and was the strongest ever recorded. Yet when the day’s statistics were reckoned, Mathis notes, they revealed something of a grim victory for the warning systems implemented by weather professionals, local media and administrators. While some 11,000 homes were destroyed, fatalities directly associated with the storm system totaled just 47. The author provides plenty of background on why the Central Plains have always been a prime breeding ground for the “super cell” thunderstorms most likely to produce tornadoes. She also relates the spotty history of the National Weather Service, whose forecasters for decades had such limited ability to predict the where and when of funnel clouds that they were forbidden to use the word “tornado,” for fear it would spark needless panic. Mathis pays tribute to the late Tetsuya “Ted” Fujita, creator of the Fujita Scale for tornado wind-speed ranges, whose pioneering research during the ’50s and ’60s into violent wind and weather events included early identification of the “microburst” phenomena that can bring down airliners.

If climate change means more violent weather, this will make a good primer for those not already vulnerable to the wrath of Mother Nature.

Pub Date: March 6th, 2007
ISBN: 0-7432-8053-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2007


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