Boggling stories of crazy weather, from ice fogs and black blizzards to whirlwinds of fire, accompanied by explanations of the whys and wherefores.
“Nature is powerful. On occasion, it also can be incredibly weird,” writes Cerveny (Weather and Climate/Arizona State Univ.) with characteristic conviviality. Its weirdness comes across with a vengeance in these accounts of eye-popping, jaw-dropping weather events. The ferocious force of great storms is one thing, as anyone who has experienced a major hurricane or a tornado will attest, but it is the oddities, the real freaks of weather, that Cerveny uses to capture his readers. People are swept up in tornadoes and settled gently back down to earth. Cows and train cars fly. A single stroke of lightning kills 835 sheep. Bailing out of a plane, pilots get caught in the frigid up-and-down drafts of a thunderstorm, are encased by ice and fall to earth as human hail. It rains fishes, toads and snakes. An intense 1929 downpour of rain scoured a Colorado hillside to reveal deposits of gold. In 1949, after a storm-related heat burst along the coast of Portugal, thermometers recorded an air temperature of 158 degrees. A 1970 tornado pushed and rolled an 18-ton liquid-fertilizer tank for more than half a mile. Mayhem and misery are part and parcel of such storms, but for sheer madness, it is hard to top the hordes of snapping turtles and alligators a hurricane visited upon the city of Mobile, Ala., in 1819: “Sources suggest that fully half the two hundred casualties were the result of alligator and turtle bites.” With consummate professionalism, Cerveny deciphers these events to the best of his knowledge and steers clear of demonizing nature, a force that he appreciates can both create and destroy.
An entertaining survey of highly unusual happenings that situate humans rather low on nature’s food chain.