Atria Books: 3/10/2015
eBook Review Copy, 320 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9781476763064
April 27, 2011, marked the climax of a superstorm that saw a record 358 tornadoes rip through twenty-one states in three days, seven hours, and eighteen minutes. It was the deadliest day of the biggest tornado outbreak in recorded history, which saw 348 people killed, entire neighborhoods erased, and $11 billion in damage. The biggest of the tornadoes left scars across the land so wide they could be seen from space. But from the terrible destruction emerged everyday heroes, neighbors and strangers who rescued each other from hell on earth.
With powerful emotion and gripping detail, Cross weaves together the heart-wrenching stories of several characters—including three college students, a celebrity weatherman, and a team of hard-hit rescuers—to create a nail-biting chronicle in the Tornado Alley of America. No, it’s not Oklahoma or Kansas; it’s Alabama, where there are more tornado fatalities than anywhere in the US, where the trees and hills obscure the storms until they’re bearing down upon you. For some, it’s a story of survival, and for others it’s the story of their last hours.
Cross’s immersive reporting and dramatic storytelling sets you right in the middle of the very worst hit areas of Alabama, where thousands of ordinary people witnessed the sky falling around them. Yet from the disaster comes a redemptive message that’s just as real: In times of trouble, the things that tear our world apart also reveal what holds us together.
What Stands in a Storm by Kim Cross is a very highly recommended account of the April, 2011 superstorm tornado outbreak in Alabama. If you are a weather geek or live anywhere prone to tornadic activity, this book should be a must-read. Having grown up and lived much of my life in the region that most people think of when they hear "tornado alley," I have plenty of tornado memories, close calls, and stories of my own, but certainly nothing that even reaches close to the heart breaking devastation Cross describes in this account that is an expanded version of an article that first appeared in Southern Living magazine.
In the foreward Rick Bragg writes: "April 27, 2011, became the deadliest day of the biggest tornado outbreak in the history of recorded weather. It was the climax of a superstorm that unleashed terror upon twenty-one states—from Texas to New York—in three days, seven hours, and eighteen minutes. Entire communities were flattened, whole neighborhoods erased, in seconds, by the wind. This was an epic storm in an epic month: April 2011 saw three separate outbreaks and a record 757 tornadoes—nearly half of which (349) occurred during the April 24-27 outbreak that inspired this book."
The book is divided up into three sections: “The Storm,” “The Aftermath” and “The Recovery.” The first section introduces us to the people who will play a prominent role in subsequent stories and provides some information of the history of forecasting. Cross tells the story through the individuals who lived it, including meteorologists, storm chasers, and the individuals caught in the storms, some who survived and some who did not. The book reflects the year of extensive research and interviews Cross undertook in order to present the information and the story in a very approachable, caring, personal way that humanizes the event that claimed 348 lives in 72 hours.
Most of the dramatic footage you see of tornadoes are from the Great Plains, the marked tornado alley, where the wide open relatively flat land allows you to see a storm coming from miles away. In Alabama, the terrain of the land and the amount of trees obscure residents view of the sky. There are also a plethora of old wives tales and folk lore about the movement or directions tornadoes will or won't take that are simply not true. (I've heard many of these over the years and have tried to explain to more than one person that their facts are not true at all.)
This extremely well written account of the storm and the aftermath is heart breaking, but there is a resilience and neighborliness in the South that transcends the devastating aftermath of the storms. Cross captures the essence of this in the August 2011 edition of Southern Living:
"But that same geography that left us in the path of this destruction also created, across generations, a way of life that would not come to pieces inside that storm, nailed together from old-fashioned things like human kindness, courage, utter selflessness, and, yes, defiance, even standing inside a roofless house. As Southerners, we know a man with a chain saw is worth ten with a clipboard, that there is no hurt in this world, even in the storm of the century, that cannot be comforted with a casserole, and that faith, in the hereafter or in neighbors who help you through the here and now, cannot be knocked down."
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Atria Books for review purposes.