Friday, November 4, 2011

Mysterious Weather

Here it is the first week in November and leaves on the oak tree outside my window are still in the process of shifting from green to red. At the moment they're about half-and-half. Normally, they would have been fully red by now. This year's weather has been weird from the get-go. Snow, rain, floods, searing heat, we've had it all in spades. The message is if you want to use weather in a mystery novel, don't worry about it being unbelievable. Anything can happen.

I've used hurricanes to good effect. Also thunderstorms, snows, and torrential rains. Scorching summertime heat as well. William Kent Krueger used a derecho in his latest book, The Northwest Angle. It's a violent, widespread straight-line windstorm accompanied by showers or thunderstorms. I'd never heard of it before, but he made it very believable.

One of the most violent weather phenomena is the tornado. I don't recall ever reading about a tornado in a mystery. They should provide excellent fodder. They can turn a house into kindling and leave its contents spread all over the place. They can kill and maim. What if one of the bodies found in the shambles of a house had a bullet wound? Ah, the plot thickens.

I know what tornadoes can do. I was in one that hit East Nashville back on March 14, 1933. I still remember the day like it was last week. A seven-year-old at the time, I remember how still the air seemed that afternoon on the schoolyard. The temperature had risen to an unseasonable 80 degrees. Early that evening the old Atwater Kent radio on the living room table began to crackle with static, indicating lightning in the area. Chandu the Magician became so difficult to hear that we turned the radio off.

Hail began to batter the roof and around 7:30 p.m., the lights went out and a roaring wind came up. It sounded like a locomotive racing by in the street. Bricks began to fall down the chimney into the fireplace, and my dad herded us into the basement. It was over in minutes but the rain came down in torrents. We made our way to my aunt's house several blocks away that hadn't been damaged.

Fifteen people were killed that night. We were lucky, living in a one-story house between two-story houses, so our damage was mostly to the roofing and chimneys. A large house two blocks away was demolished, injuring a whole family. Down the street, one house had columns blown out on the porch, allowing the roof to swing down and block the front door and windows. At a friend's house, a post had blown through a wall and just missed a baby grand piano. An iron pipe sticking up above a fence in the alley behind us had been bent 90 degrees. All sorts of strange things had happened.

Freaks of the 1933 Nashville Tornado. A. A piece of plank driven through a two-and-a-half-inch limb of a Mississippi Hackberry tree. B. A two-by-four driven through a door panel without leaving splinters. C. Weatherboarding pierced by a cornstalk.

Do you know of any mysteries involving tornadoes?

Chester Campbell
Visit me at Mystery Mania


Anonymous said...

I don't know about tornadoes, other than Wizard of Oz (which is kind of a mystery) but in my upcoming Oak Tree Press mystery, American Caliphate, archaeologists are rushing to wrap up an excavation before El Nino hits. That was kind of fun to write!

William Doonan

Jean Henry Mead said...

I have every kind of weather in my mysteries except a tornado or hurricane, but I lived in Califonria where earthquakes were the order of the day. In fact, I was tossed out of bed on my 16th birthday in Los Angeles by an earthquake. I did include a tornado in my WIP, a Wyoming historical, No Escape: The Sweetwater Tragedy.

Bob Sanchez said...

No, I don't know of fiction that includes tornadoes, except for the Oz book. Good concept, though. A house gets ripped apart and strews a swindler's money across the countryside? Lots of good possibilities.

Morgan Mandel said...

Yes, weather is a great instrument for mystery writing.

I agree tornados are scary. You never know exactly where they'll hit. If the siren goes off, I'm into the basement.

Morgan Mandel

Chester Campbell said...

We don't have a basement, Morgan, but my wife has a favorite place in a walk-in closet that contains pillows and blankets to bury under. Our house has been battered by lots of windstorms but no tornadoes yet.