A monstrous mile-wide tornado with shrieking winds over 210 mph grinded its way through Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013. In the path of the deadly twister were homes and businesses and schools, schools filled with terrified small children and no underground shelters to keep them safe. Fourteen years earlier a deadly F5 tornado demolished parts of the town, a town so unlucky to be known as “tornado alley in tornado alley”, but this time could be even worse.
News correspondent Holly Bailey, an Oklahoma native, tells the story of this tornado in The Mercy of the Sky. Weather geeks and armchair storm chasers will be caught up in the science of tornado prediction including a surprisingly interesting digression on the weather wars at the local news stations, but the real heart of the story lies in the personal stories of the residents of Moore.
Bailey sets the clock ticking at 4 am on May 20 when Gary England, a rock star local meteorologist (a blog once rated him the most powerful person in Oklahoma – beating out Jesus), steps outside and instantly realizes that the feel of the warm, moist air portends disaster. As the hours ominously pass the reader is introduced to all manner of people, from the city manager to a farm worker, but most of all to staff members at two local elementary schools, schools that were directly in the path of the monster.
In fact the most powerful and affecting scenes take place in these two schools: the rising terror of both staff and students, the desperate attempts to find better shelter than the hallways, the panicked cries of “it’s coming!” all put a jolt of real dread in the reader. If you ever doubted that teachers are heroes the indelible image of courageous teachers shielding their students with their own bodies, taking the brunt of the debris, will surely change your mind.