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Literary Weather: Run for the Cellar!

The most famous tornado scene in American literature comes from L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz . Yes, that is the correct title of the original work inspiring the legendary film The Wizard of Oz.

Natural disasters are a big part of life and abound in fictional stories, although I’m guessing thunderstorms and earthquakes are more popular than tornadoes.

Where rainstorms are fairly predictable, however, quakes and twisters happen without much warning, as in this scene from Baum’s novel:

It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly.

Today, however, they were not playing. Uncle Henry sat upon the doorstep and looked anxiously at the sky, which was even grayer than usual. Dorothy stood in the door with Toto in her arms, and looked at the sky too. Aunt Em was washing the dishes.

From the far north they heard a low wail of the wind, and Uncle Henry and Dorothy could see where the long grass bowed in waves before the coming storm. There now came a sharp whistling in the air from the south, and as they turned their eyes that way they saw ripples in the grass coming from that direction also.

Suddenly Uncle Henry stood up.

“There’s a cyclone coming, Em,” he called to his wife. “I’ll go look after the stock.” Then he ran toward the sheds where the cows and horses were kept.

Aunt Em dropped her work and came to the door. One glance told her of the danger close at hand.

“Quick, Dorothy!” she screamed. “Run for the cellar!”

Toto jumped out of Dorothy’s arms and hid under the bed, and the girl started to get him. Aunt Em, badly frightened, threw open the trap door in the floor and climbed down the ladder into the small, dark hole. Dorothy caught Toto at last and started to follow her aunt. When she was halfway across the room there came a great shriek from the wind, and the house shook so hard that she lost her footing and sat down suddenly upon the floor.

Then a strange thing happened.

Presto, a great story begins. If you’d like to read the entire novel, it’s available online here. Meanwhile, science has moved a step closer to predicting tornadoes. From the GeoSpace blog on December 6:

Last summer, geophysicist Benjamin Barnum of Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland detected a previously unknown electrical signal generated by lightning activity that foreshadowed a tornado touchdown. This electrical signal could potentially be used with existing tornado prediction methods to improve the early warning system. Barnum presented a poster of the discovery Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting.

To learn more, read the entire article.

Featured painting “A Tornado in the Wilderness” (1835) by Thomas Cole (public domain) courtesy WikiPaintings

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