Weather Thesaurus Entry: Tornado

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).


Sight: Overcast sky, super-dark clouds--almost black/green/purple, thunderstorms, lightning, clouds that are divided by a definable line (wall cloud), swirling clouds, a funnel varying in color from transparent to dark gray reaching to the ground, shifting winds reaching up to 300 miles per hour, debris (grass, twigs, branches, garbage, roof tiles, siding) flying through the air, hail, rain. Aftermath: demolished houses, strange destruction (houses with only one wall missing and nothing else touched), trees ripped up by the roots, a path or circle of destruction where everything is destroyed, cars flipped over, power poles knocked down, flash floods

Smell: rain, ozone,

Taste: humid air, rain

Touch: a change in air pressure that makes your ears pop, wind knocking you off balance, rain flying into your face, debris scraping your skin, a sudden calm as the storm approaches, hailstones pelting you, the heat from bodies pressed together in a room with no air conditioning

Sound: tornado sirens, howling wind, rain pelting the windows and roof, small hailstones pinging off the house, large hailstones smashing glass and bouncing off the sidewalk, a sudden quiet, the sound of a freight train as the storm barrels down on you, windows shattering, the house creaking, beams breaking, the roof being torn off or caving in, household items smashing to the floor


Mood: The nearness (or even perceived nearness) of a tornado can make people highly anxious and fearful. Luckily, there is often a bit of warning before these storms, so they can also create a sense of apprehension as people wait in their windowless basements to see what happens.

Symbolism: disorder, chaos, power or powerlessness, instability

Possible Cliches: The all-destructive tornado that causes a victim to recognize what's truly important in her life. A storm flattening one house but not touching the one next door. The discontented rebel who refuses to go in the basement, choosing instead to stare down the storm.

OTHER: Tornadoes occur in warm, moist air that precedes a cold front. They most often occur in spring and summer but can be spawned any time of year. Tornadoes can often accompany tropical storms and hurricanes that move onto land; these tornadoes usually occur ahead and to the right of the storm center's path as it comes on shore. Funnel clouds can't always be seen, due to precipitation or transparency until the cloud starts picking up dirt and debris. In semi-arid regions, rain doesn't usually accompany tornadoes. Related phenomena: waterspouts, dust devils, and cyclones. These phenomena will be covered in future weather entries.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how a peaceful character in a quiet basement could contrast the storm outside. Or how the homeless man living in his car has as much to lose from a deadly storm as the millionnaire across town. Likewise, a conflicted character could encounter revelation rather than chaos in the midst of a storm.


Lynda R Young said...

This is fantastic. I love your point about not making weather a window into the character's soul.

Laura Pauling said...

Very apt. I was just in Nashville. If you're in a city you'll hear the sirens going off, you may or may not be hiding in a bathroom of a store - with no windows - you'll see crying panicked kids, stressed moms, and store workers yelling at people to take cover who aren't listening! AWesome job!

Kelly said...

I for one am SO frightened by tornados! We have a weather radio and gave all our family one for warning!

Robyn Lucas said...

I like the idea of the tornado sirens.


tracikenworth said...

Oooh, scary. Very useful!! Thanks!!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love the emotional triggers part--excellent!

Angela Ackerman said...

Great job on this becca--such a terrifying event, but it has some great opportunity to create tension and that ticking clock feel.

ralfast said...

BTW, many people believe that a tornado's danger zone is withing the funnel, but the fact is that deadly wind gust can extend for well over a kilometer around the actual funnel, plus flying debris can injure or kill anyone it comes in contact with.

So a tornado is something to be feared. Keep your ruby slippers handy, because Kansas is going bye-bye! :D

Jeff King said...

You never fail to convey a solid piece of advice in a way I can understand it, thx for all you do.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I loved this post. Great opportunity to create tension in a WIP.


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