Posted by: JeffMasters
"Matt's compact Jeep became impossible to handle. Water rose on the road. We saw a family hiding in the nook of an overpass and decided that joining them was our best chance to escape danger. We parked the car and ran. Then the tornado ground straight in our direction. Thick tree branches snapped like bread sticks and made gunshot-style sounds that pierced the tornado's baritone howl. Mud flew everywhere. Air getting sucked into the tornado rushed through every seam in the overpass."
Meteorologist Reed Timmer, star of Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers, and writer Andrew Tilin have teamed up to write a highly entertaining and solidly educational book that is filled with gripping stories like this, detailing Timmer's amazing career as a storm-chasing meteorologist. Into the Storm begins in 1998, when Timmer enrolled as an undergraduate in the University of Oklahoma's meteorology program. His early chase stories leave one marveling that he is still alive, as his strong obsession to experience and learn about severe storms was not accompanied by much knowledge or common sense. The excerpt above is an account of his chase of the infamous F5 Bridge Creek, Oklahoma tornado of May 3, 1999--the strongest tornado ever measured, with Doppler-estimated winds of 302 mph. Timmer lucked out, as the tornado made a sudden turn and spared him its full fury. He goes on to explain in detail how taking shelter under an overpass in a tornado is a bad idea (the overpass can magnify the winds, you've elevated yourself into a region where surface friction is not slowing down the winds as much, and you're exposed to flying debris.)
Timmer's narrative of his encounter with the Bridge Creek tornado sets the for the book--chase stories interwoven with meteorological education. The meteorology is described in a way that a high school-educated person can understand, and is generally accurate and well-done (one exception: he fails to go into enough detail on how hurricanes get their energy, merely saying they get it from warm ocean waters.) Mixed in with the chase stories and meteorology lessons are details of Timmer's personal life, his past, and feelings about his severe weather fascination. These add a very human touch to the book that will make it appealing to a wide audience. A center eight-page section of color photos enhances the presentation, though I would have liked to see more photos illustrating the University of Oklahoma, the Storm Prediction Center, and the locations of the two dramatic hurricane chases told in the book. His chase stories of Hurricane Katrina (where he weathered the storm at the jail house in Slidell after getting arrested as a suspected looter), and Hurricane Floyd (where he spent the storm in a mobile home near the eyewall), are eye-poppingly insane. He also talks a good deal about the dilemma faced by many meteorologists--how to reconcile our passion for storms with the great suffering and destruction they wreak. He opens the book thusly:
"It's an interesting proposition, seeking happiness from tornadoes. For those few of us who are unquestionably mesmerized by them, chasing tornadoes can be the most fantastic experience in the world. Tornado chasing taxes your intellect and puts you at one with incredible, spectacular forces of nature. Chasing is also a fix for any adrenaline junkie and, if you do it often enough, can become your career. But an obsession with stalking tornadoes can kill or maim you too, and even if chasing doesn't leave you with physical scars or a need for crutches, it's hard to escape unscathed. You'll witness death and destruction of property that sickens your stomach and saddens your heart. Your family will worry about you. Significant others will tire of playing second fiddle. Peers will disagree with the way you chase, and you'll lose friends to your obsession."
Timmer achieves some degree of relief from this dilemma by realizing that storm chasers do a public service by calling in reports that lead to more accurate tornado warnings, saving lives. He is also dedicated to collecting data for tornado research using video and instrumented chase vehicles. Still, the dilemma of attempting to gain happiness from tornadoes is one Timmer does not entirely have the answers to, giving this book a human element often lacking in books written by scientists. I recommend Into the Storm to both scientists and non-scientists; the stories are amazing, and the science is presented in a non-obtrusive way that does not slow down the book, but instead enhances it. Teaching meteorology using stories is a great way to educate people, and Timmer has done a great service to the field of meteorology by writing this book. Three and a half out of four stars. Into the Storm is $16.33 (hardback) from amazon.com. The amazon website and Timmer's tornadovideos.net website also have a spectacular 2-minute video clip highlighting some of the chases documented in the book.
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