The Man Who Caught the Storm
By Brantley Hargrove
304 pp. Simon & Schuster. $17.
It’s possible, though unlikely, that you read my review from last August of “The Topeka School,” one of 2019’s best reviewed books.
If you didn’t, that’s ok — I’ll give you the abridged version. The book sucked. Not least because its cover, very deceptively, depicts a tornado, a churning mass of black wind, threatening cars on a nearby highway. This despite there being absolutely zero tornadoes anywhere in the book.
I was upset, I still am. Don’t judge a book by its cover? Oh, I do, and that cover straight up lied.
My desire to read about tornadoes was, obviously, not sated, so I had to instead find an actual book about tornadoes. Which led me to “The Man Who Caught the Storm: The Life of Legendary Tornado Chaser Tim Samaras.”
Unlike “The Topeka School,” this is a book about tornadoes that doesn’t, for whatever reason, actually feature a tornado on the cover — only some suspicious cloud formations. But it has got the goods, by which I mean, tornadoes — loads of them!
I’ve long been interested in the tornado as natural phenomenon. The Arikara tribe of North Dakota called tornados “the black wind,” while other Native American tribes referred to them as the “whirlwind woman.” Point is, tornadoes have intrigued and mystified humanity for the entire course of our existence.
As the title would suggest, this work of nonfiction follows a chaser who is even more intrigued by tornadoes than the rest of us, and his journey is a harrowing one.
All sorts of interesting factoids riddle this thing, mostly concerning the science of tornadoes. One such factoid is that it is infinitely more likely, statistically, for a tornado chaser to die on the way to the site of a possible tornado than it is for him or her to actually die as a result of the tornado itself.
Car accidents, we forget, are still one of the top causes of death both globally and in the US.
I was very surprised to learn that Samaras was reportedly the very first storm chaser to be killed by a tornado. And unlike those who chase for merely sport, Samaras was driven in a scientific pursuit to discover how tornadoes form and why, in an effort to create more effective early warning systems for those ultimately devastated by them.
If it sounds like the plot of “Twister,” that’s because it is pretty literally the plot of “Twister.”
Tornadoes are beautiful occurrences in nature, and yet are terribly destructive as well. “The Man Who Caught the Storm” is a great look at “the black wind” and gives you a new appreciation for the mysteries of Mother Nature . If you have any interest in the subject, I highly recommend this one.