Here’s a slide show that looks back at this year’s dramatic skies through photography.
“Into the Storm” is in theaters, and one might call it the first real theatrical film about storm chasing since “Twister” in 1996. I wouldn’t, however, because the film’s “storm chasing” couldn’t be farther from the real thing. This is disaster porn, plain and simple.
In sensibility, Steven Quale’s film is closer to a TV movie, with a grim main plot (tornadoes terrorize a small town, especially its teenagers, while the incompetent “chasers” try to film and survive them) and one outlandish but funny subplot (YouTube-loving rednecks chase the tornadoes, slapstick-style).
What does “Into the Storm” have going for it? Incredible computer graphics. These are among the best stormy special effects I’ve ever seen. But they are supported by a story and characters that inspire more unintentional laughter than suspense and thrills. Cool tornado sequences do not equate to great drama or exciting action. There’s a lot of drudgery between the tornadoes, and even the deaths are highly predictable.“Twister” was no masterpiece, but it did have a sense of humor, memorable characters and dialogue, and a compelling story arc. The script in “Into the Storm” lacks those, but it may be remembered (by storm chasers, at least) for its loopy inaccuracies. When the supposedly multi-degreed researcher (Sarah Ann Callies) says the “systems” are too chaotic to track, or when said researcher/forecaster is taken completely by surprise by hail and tornadoes and gets her warnings from television, or when the radar displayed on their wall of monitors doesn’t match the weather, or when the chase team keeps talking about seeing a “vortex,” or when the team just sits around waiting for storms that supposedly are already in progress, you have to wonder what kind of stupid chasers they are. It’s especially disheartening that Callies’ character, the one major female role in the film, is such a dolt. But nobody in this film can be called a genius. With a $50 million budget, could the filmmakers not have taken a storm chaser out to dinner and asked a few questions about how storms and chasing really work?
The chasers drive around in a tank reminiscent of Sean Casey’s Tornado Intercept Vehicle, helmed by a jerk named Pete (Matt Walsh). But like all of the characters, he is barely developed and kind of bland. I can’t blame the actors entirely. They didn’t have much to work with. Perhaps most sympathetic is Richard Armitage as the dad/school official who tries to get everyone to safety. He’s dour but believable.
Credibility in the film is further strained by its halfhearted documentary style. The story is supposedly told through various video camera footage — including excruciatingly long speeches by teens in peril – but not convincingly so.
By the time the “eye of the tornado” appears, some audience giggling is inevitable. I hated to laugh at all of these earnest folks, especially when some of the movie seems inspired by (one might say exploits) the deadly Joplin tornado, but I fear it’s just too silly to take seriously. And it really wants you to take it seriously. If you added some sharks, it would be a different story.
Chris Kridler is a storm chaser who once wrote movie reviews for The Baltimore Sun and has penned her own storm-chasing adventures, the Storm Seekers trilogy.
One of the reasons I moved to Florida in 1999 was to enjoy the lightning storms. I was living in the mid-Atlantic and had gotten into chasing storms in Tornado Alley two years earlier. I looked into moving to Oklahoma, but career and geography conspired to bring me to Florida. The one thing I didn’t realize was that so few of the lightning storms in the Sunshine State are at night. Most happen during the day. And getting to a storm an hour away in Florida is not nearly as easy as getting to one in Tornado Alley. Why? It’s not just because of the traffic and road network. It’s because Florida storms tend to be short-lived; by the time you hit the road to catch that storm 45 miles away, it’s faded to a misty memory.This past week was par for the course – and the one night a little lightning hung on after dark on the east coast, where I live, I didn’t get to it until it was nearly gone. But I’ve had a crazy smorgasbord of storms upon which to feast, yielding a nice photo or two almost every day. Florida has amazing striated shelf clouds, formed by cool air pushing out from thunderstorms. And boundary collisions tend to cause quick funnels and tornadoes; I was at a small get-together at a friend’s house when a funnel cloud (not a tornado, because it didn’t connect with the ground, at least that we saw) formed beyond their neighbors’ houses. My camera got soaking wet as I ran out in the rain in my bathing suit to try to shoot photos. What a week!
Meanwhile, I’ve been working late on revisions and editing of “Zap Bang,” the final novel in the Storm Seekers trilogy. I’m thrilled to be wrapping up the story and heartbroken to be leaving these characters. It’s coming very soon!
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Nature paralleled the unnatural on Wednesday of this week when a beautiful striated shelf cloud moved over Cocoa, Florida, the Indian River Lagoon and the bridge over the S.R. 520 Causeway. It originated from a barely-moving severe storm farther west that sent out an outflow boundary. The shelf cloud almost mirrored the curve of the bridge as it went overhead.
See the set of photos from this day here.
Catch up on all the chases on my 2014 storm reports page on SkyDiary.com. More updates are in the works. You can see where I am during active storm chases on the map on the tracking page. And please follow me on Twitter for the latest!
Late last March, I got to chase a great squall line event, too. These kinds of Florida storms are good warm-ups for my Tornado Alley trip, when I get to learn all over again how to juggle cameras, radar, navigation and driving while trying to capture the storms of the Great Plains. I expect to head out in May and will be posting regular updates. I’m happy to note that I’m again among several storm chasers with whom Midland is partnering to show off the capabilities of its cameras. New this year is the XTC-400 HD Wearable Video Camera. I’m looking forward to trying it out, hopefully on a mothership supercell! Wide-angle lenses do amazing things to mothership supercells.
When I’m on the road during my annual storm-chasing trip in May, I try to post as many reports as I can here and on my Sky Diary site. But thousands of miles of driving and serious sleep deprivation often mean that I skip days and have to finish the reports when I get home – especially for the less momentous chases. This week, I finished up those reports in between Florida storms.
The report I posted today is from May 27, the same day Sean Casey got caught in a tornado with his home-brewed tank. The tornadoes were pretty messy that day, and my friends and I took our chances on more isolated storms in central Kansas that didn’t produce more than pretty structure, lightning and lovely light at sunset. If you’ve ever wondered how a typical chase evolves, my video captures the process pretty well. (By “typical,” I mean a chase with no tornadoes – because not every chase ends with a tornado!) See the page with my May 27 photos and video, or watch the video here:
I also posted an “odds and ends” report consisting of select photos from minor storm days and busts, along with pictures of people, sights and more. With it, I included a video of a dust devil chase on May 22 in the Texas Panhandle. It documents a direct hit. I definitely had dust in my teeth afterward. See the page with all the photos and video, or watch the video here:
See all the 2013 storm reports in this index – as I photograph Florida storms, I’ll add more photos and videos.
With the reports done, I’m looking forward to having more time to invest in writing “Zap Bang” – the upcoming third novel in the Storm Seekers Series.
The beaches have been under siege here in Brevard County for the past couple of days as ominous shelf clouds have swept over the sun-worshipers and surfers, harbingers of downpours and lightning close behind. I’ve caught photos in the past couple of days at Cocoa Beach and Satellite Beach. In both places, some folks didn’t seem to be in a hurry to escape the lightning danger, which was high. I take a risk, too, when I stand on the beach to shoot a photo, and I’m well aware of it.
Still need a beach read for this summer? My storm-chasing adventures, “Funnel Vision” and “Tornado Pinball,” are just $2.99 as e-books. They’re also in paperback. Check em out. (You can quite literally check them out of the Brevard libraries, too.)
I stayed ahead of the line from Rockledge to Port Canaveral, stopping to snap photos of the undulating shelf cloud that preceded it. You can see the video and all the photos on my Sky Diary site, or watch the video right here: