Videos of tornadoes ripping through homes is one thing, but translating that power into the written word is a feat in itself–and in THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM: The Life of Legendary Tornado Chaser Tim Samaras, Brantley Hargrove is unbelievably good at capturing that raw emotion.
I never watched Storm Chasers, where Tim Samaras got his fame. I didn’t know he existed until I picked up Hargrove’s book. But I have always been interested in the weather and grew up watching Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton in Twister, so the idea of learning more about the actual career of tornado chasing–not the Hollywood version of it–sounded interesting.
And boy, is THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM interesting. Even if you aren’t curious about the weather, it’s worth reading a true story about passion and following your dreams. Except this is no ordinary passion, and certainly not an ordinary dream. Samaras was not focused on making money or becoming the next Bill Gates. His greatest desire was to figure out what really goes on inside of the belly of a tornado.
Samaras grew up outside of Denver, Colorado, and was always good with technology. As he got older he loved to park on a hill and watch the storms roll in. Eventually, he decided to start chasing tornadoes. Once he started getting more involved he realized that if meteorologists knew what was going on inside the tornado, maybe lives could be saved. Somtimes, even with predictive safety measures in place, tornado sirens didn’t go off in a town until the tornado had already hit the ground. Samaras decided to build his own inventions that would measure the wind speed, barometric pressure, and eventually, film the action inside the funnel.
The problem was, Samaras had to get close to a tornado in order to deploy these tools. And as he did it more and more, he began to realize what a dangerous game it was to play. And yet, he was addicted to the thrill of getting so close to a tornado, and wedded to the idea that one day his concepts and documentation of events could save hundreds of lives.
Samaras’s story is elevated by Hargrove’s intelligent and crisp writing. Although he drops numerous scientific and technical terms, he’s never convoluted or makes the reader feel ignorant for not understanding a specific concept. He explains things quickly and easily, and continues his storytelling without a major break in the narrative. The way that Hargrove describes these weather forms is so vivid, it feels like you are watching a movie:
“Wedge tornado on the ground,” Tim says. “Oh, my God. It’s huge.”
“We gonna deploy on that thing?” asks Porter, his voice betraying more than a little trepidation.
They approach from the west down Highway 14, the main route between Huron and Manchester. The tornado is half a mile to the south of the road and moving steadily northeast, refracting sunlight like a prism. One moment the mile-wide funnel is the color of sand. The next, it is smoke, ash, sod. Tim slows up, pulling into the oncoming lane. His distance narrows to hundreds of yards, but the approach is all wrong. There is the intuitive trimming along the margins of safety, and then there is the bet whose odds are unknown. From here, Tim can’t discern the tornado’s heading or ground speed with any certainty. This isn’t the weakening Stratford twister. This is unlike anything he’s ever seen. The tornado before him is the giant of plains legend, the breed a chaser may see once in his life.
-From THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM
Hargrove sadly also has to tell the story we know already–Samaras’s tragic death “at the hands” of these great vortexes. For Hargrove to fill 250 pages of tornado action in a way that is exciting and unique in each chapter–while being aware that the reader knows what ultimately happens–is a challenge that he accomplishes, exceptionally.
THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM is a fantastic, superbly written biography of a man who literally lived and died by his passion, and in the process was instrumental to advancing meteorology as we know it today.
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