Is Storm Chasing Depicted Accurately in ‘Twister’ and Reality TV?


Storm Chasers’ stars are rising thanks to a healthy serving of tornado documentaries, movies and reality television shows. Specifically, the film Twister heightened its profile significantly.

The 1996 thriller stars Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt who team up against a rival group of storm chasers, zipping around Oklahoma during a severe tornado outbreak. They make a lot of ill-advised decisions throughout the movie, and while it’s wildly entertaining, most of it doesn’t seem rooted in reality.

Where Twister doesn’t get it right

Perhaps Twister’s biggest offense is its constant incorrect use of storm chaser jargon. Though, it should be noted that many particularly ridiculous phrases from the movie are often quoted in jest by storm chasers to this day. “We’ve got cows!” springs to mind.

Another notable head-scratcher from the film is how tornadoes seem to form out of everyday stratus clouds. Or in the case of the big bad F5 tornado, you can see a beautiful blue sky almost right next to the funnel! A tornado of that magnitude would be part of a large supercell that would turn the whole sky dark.

Tornados in the movie also tend to go from 60 to 0 in a matter of seconds, instantly fizzling out into nothing. As we know, a big tornado would take its time pittering out, entering a rope stage where it snakes out and slowly lifts off of the ground.

How about the science in Twister?

The storm-measuring instrument packs seen throughout the movie, called “Dorothy,” is actually based on a real-life experiment. Researchers in the 1980s tried putting a 55-gallon drum filled with sensors directly in a tornado’s path. However, it was never hit by a tornado.

Storm Chasers and other reality TV shows

On the reality TV side of things, Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series tends to depict only the most exciting parts of storm chasing. Just like Twister, it’s entertainment value is unquestionable, but I’m not sure you could get a true depiction in a day of the life of a storm chaser by watching these shows.

For one, storm chasers don’t actually drive around in armored vehicles with crazy nicknames. And in reality, the majority of a storm chase is pretty dull. “Hurry up and wait” is often the status quo of a chaser.

One thing that movies and TV shows get right, though, is its depiction of the passion and enthusiasm that storm chasers have. Storm chasing is not an average profession by any stretch, and it’s true that real life chasers are as geeky and zealous as portrayed in the media!

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Written by
Johnny Rodgers
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Written by Johnny Rodgers