top of page

Twister & Tornadoes

Closing out their Natty 'Zasters series, the Ghouls discuss the horrors of Tornadoes. Gabe explains how accurate the film is to tornadoes and how Twister had such a beneficial impact on storm science? Kat explains what you should do in the event of wind murder. Remember to grab your shoes and your helmet!

Sources in episode:

NOAA tornado scientists inspired 'Twister' creators 20 years ago

Is Twister A True Story? How Accurate The Movie Is To Real Storm Chasing

Here's Everything They Got Wrong (and Right) in the Movie Twister

Severe Weather 101: Tornado Basics

National Severe Storms Laboratory

7 Things You Should Never Forget When Tornadoes Strike

How Do Tornadoes Form? | NOAA SciJinks – All About Weather

--- Support this podcast:


Media from this week's episode:

Twister (1996) Director: Jan de Bont

Summary by IMDB: Bill and Jo Harding, advanced storm chasers on the brink of divorce, must join together to create an advanced weather alert system by putting themselves in the cross-hairs of extremely violent tornadoes.


Twister: Inspiring Future Storm Chasers

Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Twister is a fun movie and I was genuinely spooked by it as a child. There used to be a Twister Ride at Universal Studios in Florida. I refused to go in because I was so afraid, despite having gone on Jaws that same day. Eventually, my mother convinced me and it turned out to be really boring. It just blew wind on you and showed you the cow flying. I was pretty embarrassed.

Growing up in Florida, we would have tornado drills at school and I recall one summer when I was little where I was panicked because my parents were out late working during a tornado warning. The woman who was taking care of me at the time had us sitting in the bathtub with a mattress over us. Stressful stuff but we survived. I’m more familiar with hurricanes and their effects. Again, because I’m from Florida. One year in high school we missed about a month of schooling because of 4 consecutive hurricanes. My uncle had to use a boat to get out of his house and we didn’t have power for quite some time. We lived off of those army dehydrated food packets and our neighbors shared their generator with us. It was quite the time.

I love the Wizard of Oz, The Wiz, and Wicked but I can’t say I am too knowledgeable about tornadoes. Anywho, let’s get into my section and ask those key questions about the film.

Does it accurately represent the horrors of a natural disaster?

When I was watching the film and the credits came up I was expecting to see a title screen explaining how this is based on a true story and that Dorothy, the device in the film is a real thing that scientists made to help predict tornadoes. There is no title screen, however, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in an article titled, NOAA tornado scientists inspired 'Twister' creators 20 years ago,

In an effort to collect weather data from inside a tornado, NOAA researchers created the TOtable Tornado Observatory (TOTO), named after Dorothy’s little dog from the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” During the 1970s and ‘80s, several groups from NSSL and the University of Oklahoma tried to deploy TOTO, but never scored a direct hit.

TOTO was retired in 1987, but not before it inspired screenwriters Michael Crichton and Ann Marie Martin to develop a story around a similar device.

In the film, Dorothy is a device that houses hundreds of little sensors that would be released within a tornado. The whole film is about them chasing the Tornadoes in an attempt to get Dorothy to the right place at the right time to get gobbled up by a tornado and distribute their sensors to gather information about its behavior to hopefully be able to predict them easier. This is similar to the device TOTO.

Furthermore, the film went above and beyond to be as close to scientifically accurate, while still being entertaining and fun, by incorporating real scientists in the script design. In that same article the NOAA explains,

To make sure their script was as realistic as possible, the screenwriters, along with producers Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, consulted with scientists from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma. Several actors, especially Bill Paxton, spent a lot of time at NSSL to get a feel for the coordination needed to be successful in tornado experiments. Actual tornado researchers took many of the actors out on a real tornado chase.

If you’re like me and wondering if Dorothy or TOTO worked, currently scientists continue to study tornadoes using different technology to improve prediction and ultimately save lives. These days, they have smaller devices that are easier to deploy in large numbers into tornadoes and have successfully collected a wealth of data for this purpose.

However, even with all they got right there’s still a bit that was dramaticized for excitement. In an article on Screenrant titled Is Twister A True Story? How Accurate The Movie Is To Real Storm Chasing by Kara Hedash, they explain that the film took some liberties with our abilities to predict this specific natural disaster. The warning in the opening scene mentioned the possibility of an F5 tornado on the way; the strength and wind speed can't be confirmed until after the tornado makes landfall. Their ranking on the Fujita scale is determined by the amount of damage and track of destruction. However, the problem with the opening scene was also the fact that it took place in 1969 and the Fujita scale wasn't invented until 1971.

They go on to mention how the tornadoes were also based on true events, The Vane (via Gawker) noted that the final film's tornado, which took out Jonas and some of his team, was eerily similar to a tornado that hit El Reno, Okl