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Disaster Movie 'Into the Storm' is a Disaster

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 4:30 PM GMT on August 17, 2014

From the beginning of tornado disaster movie, "Into the Storm", we are treated to the most magnificent special effects that Hollywood can create. In the eighteen years since the infamous "Twister" of 1996, computer graphics technology has progressed remarkably. The spinning fire tornado and jetliners hurtling through the air in "Into the Storm" make the flying cows and clumsily rendered tornadoes of Twister seem quaint. Unfortunately, as is the case in nearly all disaster movies, the plot, dialogue, and acting of "Into the Storm" are a disaster. The movie opens humorously, with a scene featuring two low-wisdom yahoo storm chasers who look like they came straight out of "Jackass". They put on the most believable acting job of anyone in the movie, but unfortunately, are only minor characters. The rest of the movie features main characters whose acting ranges from mediocre to bad. Not only is the acting bad, but none of the characters are sympathetic, and there is very little character development. As a result, we have no one to root for. The characters range from bland (meteorologist Allison) to annoying (Vice Principal Gary, whose school gets devastated by a tornado) to drab (his son Donnie, who gets trapped in rubble with his wanna-be-girlfriend Kaitlyn), to downright obnoxious (storm chaser Pete.) The scene of Donnie and Caitlin trapped in tornado rubble and recording their final words on their cell phones for posterity is quite possibly the most melodramatic and painful disaster movie scene in cinema history. I had to shut my eyes and think about how good "Sharknado" was by comparison to shut out the interminably long debacle of dialogue and acting.

Figure 1. The cast of "Into the Storm" contemplate the very bad day they are having thanks to an onslaught of destructive tornadoes. Image credit: Official Into the Storm website.

Meteorologically, "Into the Storm" had less to complain about than other major weather disasters movies like "Twister", "The Day After Tomorrow", and "Sharknado". The tornadoes were believably rendered in most cases, and the damage they did was fairly realistically portrayed. Still, there were a lot of problems with the movie's meteorology. The winds of the tornadoes were able to hurl impressively heavy vehicles incredibly long distances, yet not blow the characters around much. A string of five separate tornadoes (not a multi-vortex tornado) were able to spin in very close proximity, something not observed in nature. In one scene, we are treated to the view up the inside of a tornado, which is remarkably symmetrical and light at the top. It would certainly be very dark at the top inside a tornado, and not so perfectly symmetrical.

The main characters of the movie were its tornadoes, and they certainly put on an impressive performance that was thrilling at times. But great special effects can't make up for awful plot, dialogue, and acting, and I give "Into the Storm" one and-a-half stars out of four. Aggregate critic ratings of the five major weather disaster movies of the past twenty years from the movie ratings site, Rottentomatoes.com, agree that "Into the Storm" was the worst one of the lot, with only 20% of critics liking the movie. The percentage of critics liking these movies:

82%: Sharknado
58%: Twister
54%: Sharknado 2
45%: The Day After Tomorrow
20%: Into the Storm

Video 1. Official trailer for "Into the Storm." The most impressive special effects are shown here, so save yourself $10 and the painful melodrama of the movie and just watch the trailer.

Quiet in the tropics
A tropical wave located in the middle Atlantic, midway between the Lesser Antilles Islands and the coast of Africa, is headed westwards at about 10 mph. Satellite loops show the wave has a broad, elongated surface circulation, but heavy thunderstorm activity is almost entirely lacking due to high wind shear of 20 knots and dry air. Water vapor satellite images and the Saharan Air Layer analysis show that the wave is surrounded by a very dry airmass. Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) are marginal for development, about 26°C, but will be warmer late in the week as the wave approaches the Lesser Antilles Islands. The Sunday morning runs of two of our three reliable models for predicting tropical cyclone genesis, the European and UKMET models, did show some weak development of the wave by late in the week. The models differed wildly in the forward speed of the disturbance, with the UKMET model predicting the wave would pass a few hundred miles northeast of the Lesser Antilles on Thursday night, and the European model predicting that this would not occur until Sunday night. Given the rather divergent opinions of the models and the presence of so much dry air, the risk of development this week is low. In their 8 am EDT Sunday Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave the disturbance 2-day and 5-day development odds of 10% and 20%, respectively.

I'll have a new post by Monday afternoon at the latest.

Jeff Masters

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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.