Tornadoes, the Fujita Scale, and Research for a New Novel

So, who cares about tornadoes, the Fujita Scale, and research for a new novel?

Well, I do. Because I'm playing around writing a political thriller complete with with Russian baddies, journalists, and politicians gone awry. Sound like something from today's news? I certainly am effected by current events and so decided to stretch out into this new genre. Don't get me wrong. I'm still plugging away on my upmarket women's thriller series, which started with STORM SEASON. However, I usually work on a few stories at once. That is, until one grabs me by the throat and I feel compelled to finish it.

“You'd be amazed how much research you can get done when you have no life whatsoever.” ― Ernest Cline, Ready Player One


This new novel is in its earliest stages. I've only started working on characters, setting, and the story premise. Thomas Nash works as a White House Correspondent for CBN (Cable News Network, a fictional station). During a first flight of characterization for Thomas, I find out he has become involved with his camera person, Cassandra Modine. Cassandra goes by Cassy. Cassy and Thomas are connected by the hip professionally but Cassy prefers her “alone time,” as she puts it. Cassy has lost her entire family when, in Pennsylvania one summer, an F5 tornado flattened a spot near the small town of ______________ - - um. Hmm...


After the stuttering stopped came the pause of not knowing where my speedy fingers might take the story.  It was here in the writing when I began researching tornadoes. I wanted to add a sense of detail, a sense of truth to my storytelling. Honestly, I wasn't even sure if there had ever been any F5 tornadoes in recent past, or if any persons had been killed in any if there were. I certainly didn't know if this "small town" had suffered the hit of an F5 tornado.I learned a couple things. First, the original town where I had killed off Cassy's parents had, indeed, never been hit by an F5 tornado. I also learned what the F in F5 stands for. The F ranking stands for the Fujita Scale.After further snouting, I located a town which had been hit by an F5 tornado, one (sadly) in which many poor souls had lost their lives.  THE FUJITA SCALE was introduced in 1971 by Tetsuya Fujita of the University of Chicago, in collaboration with Allen Pearson, head of the National Severe Storms Forecast Center, currently called the Storm Prediction Center. The scale was updated in 1973, taking into account path length and width. In the United States, starting in 1973, tornadoes were rated soon after occurrence. The Fujita scale was applied retroactively to tornadoes reported between 1950 and 1972 in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Tornado Database. Fujita rated tornadoes from 1916–1992 and Tom Grazulis of The Tornado Project retroactively rated all known significant tornadoes (F2–F5 or causing a fatality) in the U.S. back to 1880. The Fujita scale was adopted in most areas outside of Great Britain. In 2007, the Fujita scale was updated, and the Enhanced Fujita Scale was introduced in the United States. The new scale more accurately matches wind speeds to the severity of damage caused by the tornado. (As cited from


I picked up the backstory of Cassy's characterization this way: one spring, near the small town of Newcastle, Oklahoma, just northwest of the Newcastle Casino, close to where Cassy grew up. At the time, Cassy was in Atlanta, Georgia covering a talk to students at Morehouse College by then-President Obama who was talking about education and healthcare when the F5 tornado hit, killing 24 people, including both of Cassy's parents who had been at the Newcastle Casino when tornado sirens went off. They tried to get home where they had ample cover but the tornado touched down at an intersection at the precise moment their car was turning. The car containing Cassy's parents got lifted off the ground and was sent sailing. In the end, 212 more lost their lives.Can you see how the research filled in empty spaces of the storytelling? The number of casualties, place are factual, the date of the tornado, and the intensity of the tornado are all factual. Then-President Obama gave the commencement address at Morehouse College on the 19th, which I fudged, and not the 13th. But I couldn't make all of the facts line up perfectly so I jimmied the commencement speech by a few days. I hope readers will forgive this adjustment. I may end up adjusting the name of the college to a fictional one to be sure not to offend anyone's sense of the facts.But research never fails to surprise me, to excite my imagination, and to add depth to whatever knowledge I'm gathering. It's my greatest hope that the surprise, excitement, and depth comes through in my stories.

It's Alive!

By the way, will you check out my new website? I love it. AuthorBytes designs websites specifically for authors. I couldn't be happier with the new look and easy-to-use format. And I'd be happy to hear what you think about it too! ~Susan.