After Franklin's promising start (while wrong on much of the science, he at least approached it with an empirical mindset) based on his electrical research with the fabled kite and key, work on tornadoes went dark for many years. Amazingly, for many of those years even the existence of tornadoes was questioned; the few eyewitness accounts from the small and widely-scattered population in the most prone areas of the midwest were ignored, discounted or explained away.
Then an 1835 storm in New Jersey attracted both professional researchers and amateur onlookers to study and theorize about what had caused such damage and what had caused the "so-called tornado" itself. Now entered the field James Espy, an amateur, Robert Hare, a professional scientist, and William Redfield, yet another amateur and businessman. Each offered a different theory about the cause of the storm and of tornadoes in general, and in the course of time and through very public disputes became bitter enemies as each defended his view in denigration of the others. The tragedy, writes Sandlin, was that scientists would eventually find that each had uncovered a part of the complex science of tornado formation, so that if they had overcome their personal and professional differences they might have contributed to better understanding of tornadoes and how to forecast and survive them generations earlier.
Over time in Sandlin's account, even as the science advances, we find that the field remains the province of many decidedly unique and difficult personalities, leading Sandlin to speculate whether it is the subject itself that attracts the solitary and unsociable personality. Eventually the science began to unpeel some of (but even today not all) the mystery of the tornado. From 1954, when the first book dedicated solely to study of tornadoes in the 20th century was published, to today, when storm chasers are reality TV stars and adventure tour guides, we have learned much about these monsters of meteorology, and have even become able to identify weather patterns well enough to provide usable forecasts to help save lives.
While the history makes for fun fast reading, it isn't much value for research. There is no index or footnotes, just bibliographical footnotes by section. Still, for the popular science reader it is deep enough and interesting enough to satisfy the curious mind and perhaps stir the amateur meteorologist to their own bitterly-defended theory of tornadoes.
What did you think of this review?