Tornadoes are deadly, unpredictable—and totally fascinating on screen

Sharks, stones, cows, trucks and a girl from Kansas.

Twisters have sucked up their fair share of animate and inanimate objects alike, and audiences have chased them since the time of Dorothy and Toto.

Tornadoes find their latest Hollywood role in “Into the Storm,” which sees the fictional town of Silverton, Okla., wrecked by an unprecedented series of vortexes. Whether it’s the hundreds of thousands of tweets during Syfy’s “Sharknado 2: The Second One” premiere or the host of tornado-chaser reality shows, why do such devastating natural disasters seem to fascinate?

“I think there’s something in the human spirit that likes to see things blow up,” said Bob Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. “We have the desire to see destruction; the great thing about movies is we don’t actually have to watch people blow up and die.”

Thompson said weather disaster movies have been on the rise in the past 10 years, in his opinion, due to increasing debate about global climate change as well as audience demand for exaggerated versions of real-life disasters.

“If you’re going to create a monster, you want to give it a sense that it’s actually going to happen,” he said, adding that while movies like “Into the Storm” might not be scientifically accurate, they still can terrify. “The movie’s got to make up for the fact we know it’s all fake by giving us high dosages of it.”

Reynolds Wolf, an on-camera meteorologist and correspondent with The Weather Channel, has spent 21 years witnessing the destruction that tornadoes can create. After watching “Into the Storm” at a screening last week, he said that while some aspects of the film are a stretch, it calls attention to how devastating the real disasters can be.

Elements of the movie that suggest tornadoes can be predicted are particularly misleading, Wolf said. Additionally, tornadoes sucking up fire (as seen in the movie’s trailer), several tornadoes hitting the same place or even sharks (as Syfy would have us believe) are highly unlikely—but he never says never.

“[Mother Nature] always has a surprise for us,” he said.

The surprises of nature are familiar for Olivia Castellini, a senior exhibit developer at the Museum of Science and Industry, who worked with national experts to create the museum’s four-story tornado simulator. On a daily basis, she sees reluctant and sometimes shocked visitors enter the vortex to learn about the physics of what makes tornadoes occur in nature. She said she hopes increased interest in films like “Into the Storm” and even “Sharknado” help bring in curious patrons looking for the science behind he trumped-up disaster movies.

“People have an inherent interest in these things. The impact is very personal and direct,” she said. “Tornadoes [in nature] can be very devastating.”


The forecast on ‘Into the Storm’

Weather Channel on-camera meteorologist Reynolds Wolf got a sneak peek at “Into the Storm” last week, and hit the red carpet Monday for the premiere. But how does the bonafide weather guy’s rate the flick? Here are some highlights.

>> Better than Twister: Wolf said he enjoyed the film a lot more than 1996’s “Twister,” mostly because of performances by lesser-known actors that seemed more believable.

>> It’s not a doc: Wolf said those going in expecting a scientifically accurate depiction of tornadoes will be disappointed, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

>> It still has a message: Wolf said for all its exaggerations and unlikelihood, “Into the Storm” contains the serious message that tornadoes should be taken very seriously. “Is it Schindler's List? Absolutely not.”


Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Movie disasters
    Movie disasters

    By Mick Swasko, @swasko RedEye In 1971, University of Chicago professor T. Theodore Fujita introduced the Fujita Scale, a method of classifying tornadoes by severity and damage wreaked. With the release of "Into the Storm" on Friday, we took a look at notable disaster movies and assessed the...

  • Meeting draws sharp debate over dog ban at Maggie Daley Park
    Meeting draws sharp debate over dog ban at Maggie Daley Park

    More than 200 people crowded into a Loop meeting to sound off about the Chicago Park District's decision to ban dogs from the recently opened Maggie Daley Park.

  • 1 killed, 2 wounded in South Side shootings
    1 killed, 2 wounded in South Side shootings

    One man was killed, and two others were wounded in shootings Tuesday afternoon and evening in the city's Park Manor, Bronzeville and Morgan Park neighborhoods.

  • City lists 'problem landlords' on website
    City lists 'problem landlords' on website

    Chicago's Building Department published its first "problem landlords" list on its website Monday night in an attempt to crack down and publicly shame apartment building owners into providing tenants with basic services such as heat, hot water and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

  • Chicago brothers who infiltrated cartel given 14 years in prison
    Chicago brothers who infiltrated cartel given 14 years in prison

    After more than six years in protective custody, the twin brothers from Chicago's West Side didn't look the part of hard-core drug traffickers when they walked into a public courtroom Tuesday for the first time since flipping on the notoriously violent Sinaloa cartel.

  • Emanuel, mayoral challengers face off for first time
    Emanuel, mayoral challengers face off for first time

    The first face-to-face meeting of the Chicago mayor’s race featured Rahm Emanuel offering a measured defense of his first term against a barrage of attacks from challengers who assailed his record on neighborhood development and crime and even his temperament.