Dire Forecasts | Focus On Extreme Weather

These titles look at the science behind the development of storms and other weather phenomena, the economic and human impacts, and the abilities to predict and mitigate future occurences.


Calm, sunny days don’t make headlines. When severe weather strikes, we pay attention, and weather coverage increases as individuals and communities are affected. Storms in uninhabited places may yield striking photos or scientific data, but the most dramatic weather stories combine natural forces and human actions. Sometimes storms last for days as tropical depressions gain strength and approach shore, but others grow quickly, bringing lightning strikes or flash floods. While meteorologists and other scientists can explain how blizzards, tornadoes, lightning, and other weather phenomena develop, they continually gather and analyze additional data. These studies help scientists track weather development and movement or predict potential impacts of climate change on the frequency and intensity of future storms. Studying past examples of severe weather allows people to plan and adapt, too. The destructive farming methods and drought that resulted in the huge dust storms of the 1930s eventually led to changes in agricultural practices and implementation of relief programs. Loss of wetlands, inadequate levees, and construction in coastal areas intensified Hurricane Katrina’s devastation on the Gulf Coast. Inadequate evacuation procedures and poorly organized relief efforts added to the suffering and stimulated governments to improve disaster response plans. Books on extreme weather cover many curriculum topics, from science to social studies. They also generate discussions about a wide range of emotions and provide information about preparation and survival. Many nonfiction titles include dramatic photos and eyewitness accounts. Novels and picture books provide similar tales of loss, courage, and survival. While discussions can include and acknowledge frightening aspects of extreme weather, adults can also point out safety precautions and storm preparations as well as examples of rescue and rebuilding after calm returns.


EVANS , Bill. It’s Raining Fish and Spiders . Forge. 2012. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780765321329; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781429984829. Gr 5 Up –Veteran meteorologist Evans has flown with hurricane hunters and tracked tornadoes. Whether recounting personal experiences, offering basic information about severe storms, or providing examples of extreme events, he will hold readers’ attention with his breezy style. Students can use data from numerous lists, such as state snow totals, to create charts and graphs. FLEISHER, Paul . Lightning, Hurricanes, and Blizzards: The Science of Storms . (Weatherwise). Lerner. 2010. lib. ed. $29.27. ISBN 9780822575368. Gr 4-7 –Fleisher begins with an overview of basic processes involved in storm formation: convection, condensation, convergence, and the Coriolis effect. Thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes each receive an explanatory chapter, enhanced by charts, maps, diagrams, and photos. A final section includes brief discussions of blizzards, ice storms, sandstorms, and others. HYNES, Margaret . Extreme Weather. (Navigators). Kingfisher. 2011. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9780753469545. Gr 4-7 –Large, dramatic photos and numerous small visuals and text boxes will draw browsers and reluctant readers. Hynes includes examples of disasters, rescues, and recovery from many countries around the globe as she covers a wide range of weather topics. Encourage students to identify the locations on a classroom map. PATTISON , Darcy . Prairie Storms . illus. by Kathleen Rietz. Sylvan Dell. 2011. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781607181293; pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781607181392; ebk. $9.95. ISBN 9781607181491. K-Gr 4 –Each month, a different animal encounters prairie weather. April brings flash floods to prairie dogs, while the skunk deals with a July dust storm, and bison face a December blizzard. Rietz’s watercolors deftly portray interactions of habitat, animal, and weather. A six-page supplement of reader activities and an online teacher guide provide ideas to extend learning. SIMPSON , Kathleen . Extreme Weather: Science Tackles Global Warming and Climate Change . National Geographic. 2008. lib. ed. $27.90. ISBN 9781426302817; Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781426303593. Gr 4-8 –Scientists study past and current instances of extreme weather to predict climate change impacts. Whether extracting ice cores from Antarctica, investigating drought in Mayan ruins, or tracking El Niño, they amass data that can be analyzed by supercomputers to model potential effects of global warming. Photos and diagrams complement the text.

Heat and Drought

BROWN , Don. The Great American Dust Bowl . illus. by author. Houghton Harcourt. 2013. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780547815503; ebk. $18.99. ISBN 9780544307995. Gr 5 Up– Brown’s initial eye-catching illustration of man and animals fleeing a massive dust storm draws readers into his presentation of how human actions and dry weather resulted in the 1930s killer storms. Brown and yellow images capture the historic disaster. Students can compare this graphic novel format with Marrin’s treatment of the same topic (see below). DELALLO, Laura. Hammered by a Heat Wave! (Disaster Survivors). Bearport. 2010. Tr $25.27. ISBN 9781936087518. Gr 3-6 –The dramatic account of an ambulance driver working to save Chicago residents during the deadly 1995 heat wave should focus readers’ attention on the symptoms of heat illness and precautions DeLallo identifies. Photos and fact boxes accompany accounts of other heat waves, including the deadliest in recent history: Europe, 2003. FRADIN , Linda & Dennis Fradin. Droughts . (Witness to Disaster). National Geographic. 2008. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781426303395. Gr 4-7 –Photos of wildfires, bleached animal bones, and cracked, barren fields introduce readers to the realities of droughts around the world in the early 21st century. The authors discuss causes and impacts of the phenomenon and provide examples of mitigation efforts, including water conservation and changes to agriculture. MARRIN , Albert . Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl . Penguin. 2009. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780525420774; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780142425794. Gr 6-10 –Vintage sepia-toned photographs and engravings effectively illustrate the harsh weather of the Great Plains. Blizzards caused hardship and deaths of people and animals. More severe were massive dust storms of the 1930s that led to changes in agriculture and the establishment of relief programs. A final chapter considers potential for future dust storms worldwide. SLJ1411w-FT-FO-CVs-2

Thunderstorms, Blizzards, and Floods

BRANLEY , Frank . Flash, Crash, Rumble, and Roll . illus. by True Kelly. HarperCollins. 1999. lib. ed. $16. ISBN 9780808535799; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780064451796. K-Gr 3– This overview of how and why thunderstorms develop includes explanations of thunder and lightning formation. Branley provides safety guidelines to help readers avoid injury from lightning during storms. Attention-grabbing illustrations and minimal text make this a good read-aloud choice, perhaps before trying one of the suggested activities. MURPHY , Jim . Blizzard! The Storm That Changed America. Scholastic. 2000. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780590673105. Gr 5-10– The Blizzard of 1888 demonstrates how a dramatic weather event can spur societal changes. Using photos and contemporary artists’ drawings to illustrate accounts of survivors and victims, Murphy recounts how the storm generated public support for the New York City subway system and led to an expanded mission for the Weather Bureau. Audio version available from AudioGO. ORR, Tamra B. Forecasting a Flood. (Explorer Library: Follow the Clue). Cherry Lake. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50. ISBN 9781624317781; pap. $14.21. ISBN 9781624317880. Gr 4-6– After presenting information about causes of various kinds of floods, a meteorologist works with a class to make predictions about whether a nearby river will flood that day. Using the scientific method, they make observations, gather information, develop and test their hypothesis, and analyze results to reach a conclusion. SEEGER , Laura Vaccaro . Walter Was Worried. Roaring Brook. 2005. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781596431966. K-Gr 2 –This deceptively simple picture book pairs changing emotions with a storm’s arrival and departure. Seeger creates each facial expression by varying typeface, size, and colors in the letters of the related adjective. The following double-page spread depicts the weather event generating the emotion. Encourage listeners to make their own word portraits. SILVERSTEIN , Alvin, Virginia Silverstein & Laura Silverstein Nunn . Floods: The Science Behind Raging Waters and Mudslides. (The Science Behind Natural Disasters). Enslow. 2010. lib. ed. $18. ISBN 9780766029743. Gr 5-9 –Clear, concise writing plus photo examples and text boxes provide plenty of information about the causes and consequences of various kinds of floods. Examples such as landslides in La Conchita, California, illustrate basic meteorological explanations of how heavy rains, storm surges, monsoons, and other conditions can cause major flooding. SIMON , Seymour. Lightning . HarperCollins. 2006. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780060884352. Gr 2-5 –Dramatic photos of lightning will grab the attention of browsers and provide a focus for small groups absorbing Simon’s introduction to the topic. His clear prose offers facts about lightning, explains experiments, highlights recent discoveries of new types, and outlines precautions to take during storms. STEWART , Mark . Blizzards and Winter Storms . (The Ultimate 10). Gareth Stevens. 2009. Tr $31. ISBN 9780836891508. Gr 4-7 –Introductions to 10 major winter storms include fact boxes with dates, statistics, and maps. Aided by photos and diagrams, Stewart incorporates general information about winter storms into accounts ranging from the 1846 Donner Party tragedy to the 2008 Chinese New Year’s blizzard. His summaries serve as starting points for group or individual research. STEWART , Melissa . Inside Lightning. (Inside). Sterling. 2011. lib. ed. $16.95. ISBN 9781402758782; Tr $9.95. ISBN 9781402789496. Gr 5-9 –This broad compendium ranges from ancient ideas about lightning to recent images sent by spacecraft of storms on other planets. Among the useful features are step-by-step diagrams of how lightning bolts travel from cloud to ground. Photos of damage to countryside and buildings plus interviews with strike survivors underscore lightning’s power and danger.


BEARD, Darleen . Twister. illus. by Nancy Carpenter. Farrar. 1999. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780374480141. K-Gr 3 –Summer play ends abruptly as a tornado approaches. In the storm cellar, Lucille, the narrator, tries to amuse her brother, but the tornado’s “monstrous howling” leaves them shaken and crying. Storm damage matters little when they see Mama and their neighbor emerge from a nearby shelter. Soft-edged but powerful illustrations reflect the children’s courage, fear, and relief. FRADIN , Judith Bloom & Dennis Brindell Fradin . Tornado!: The Story Behind These Twisting, Turning, Spinning, and Spiraling Storms . National Geographic. 2010. lib. ed. $26.90. ISBN 9781426307805; Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781426307799. Gr 4-8– Voices of tornado witnesses and survivors punctuate compelling accounts of deadly storms. Attractive and varied layouts add visual interest to presentations about storm formation, prediction, and terminology. Dramatic photos include a sequence depicting a tornado as it passes over a camera, plus spreads of massive storms and their destruction. A top-notch overview. GIBBONS, Gail. Tornadoes! illus. by author. Holiday House. 2009. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780823422166; pap. $7.95. ISBN 9780823422746. K-Gr 4 –Dramatic paintings on oversize pages facilitate group sharing of this clear introduction to tornado formation and classification. Especially striking are double-page spreads showing levels of destruction from EF-0 to EF-5 tornadoes. Illustrations that identify safety precautions at home or in a car can provide reassurance and stimulate discussion. MILLER, Ron. Chasing the Storm: Tornadoes, Meteorology, and Weather Watching. Twenty-First Century. 2014. lib. ed. $33.26. ISBN 9781467712842. Gr 5-8 –Interviews with professional storm chasers emphasize both the dangers and excitement of their pursuits. Miller explains tornado basics and considers whether climate change may increase frequency. Instructions for creating a weather station involve readers immediately as they consider future opportunities as trained volunteer storm chasers or weather spotters or professional meteorologists. MUELLER , Carolyn E . Lily: A True Story of Courage and the Joplin Tornado. illus. by Nick Hayes. Reedy Pr. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781935806677. Gr 2-5 –Among those assisting tornado survivors in 2011 in Joplin, Missouri, were Lily, a search-and-rescue dog, and her owner, Tara. Hayes’s stark images of the twister churning through town and Lily’s searches through rubble are tempered by hopeful views of neighbors helping one another. Photos of Lily and Tara follow this unique view of a deadly storm.


CARSON, Mary Kay . Inside Hurricanes. (Inside). Sterling. 2010. lib. ed. $16.95. ISBN 9781402758805; Tr $8.95. ISBN 9781402777806. Gr 5-9– The first of many gatefolds opens a set of maps that underscore the worldwide extent of tropical cyclones. Impressive visuals include a hurricane cross-section to explain formation and movement. Carson introduces scientists studying the storms, offers safety strategies, and profiles historic hurricanes, such as Hurricane Mitch, the subject of Terry Trueman’s novel (see below). DEMAREST , Chris L. Hurricane Hunters! Riders on the Storm . illus. by author. S. & S. 2006. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780689861680. Gr 1-4– Demarest takes readers on a flight of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. Heading into a storm, crew members release probes that transmit information to help the National Hurricane Center predict the hurricane’s path and intensity. The oversize format allows for dramatic panoramas of the plane’s flight, on-shore storm preparations, and a detailed cross-section of the WC-130 Hercules aircraft. GREGORY, Josh. The Superstorm: Hurricane Sandy. (True Books). Scholastic. 2013. lib. ed. $29. ISBN 9780531237502; pap. $6.95. ISBN 9780531237519. Gr 3-6– Although Sandy was only a Category 1 hurricane when it made landfall in the eastern United States, powerful winds and massive flooding affected millions. A time line, map, and photos help readers follow the storm’s development and impact on other countries and understand how people in the U.S. prepared, weathered the storm, and started recovery efforts. McGRAITH , Barbara Barbieri , comp. The Storm: Students of Biloxi, Mississippi, Remember Hurricane Katrina. Charlesbridge. 2006. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781580891721. Gr 3-8 –After Hurricane Katrina ravaged their city, K–12 students from Biloxi recalled their experiences through artwork, essays, and poems in sections titled “Evacuation,” “Storm,” “Aftermath,” and “Hope.” Striking images of rising waters and whirling debris accompany accounts of loss and destruction, but there are words and pictures of thanks and hope as well. PHILBRICK , Rodman. Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina. Scholastic. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545342384; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545633475. Gr 5-8 –Visiting New Orleans from New Hampshire, Zane, the 12-year-old biracial narrator, is shocked not only by Hurricane Katrina’s physical destruction but also by the prejudice he witnesses against people of color and poor residents as he and his rescuers search for food, shelter, and medical care. A gripping survival tale. RODGER , Ellen . Hurricane Katrina . (Disaster Alert). Crabtree. 2007. lib. ed. $25.ISBN 9780778715863; pap. $8.95. ISBN 9780778716181. Gr 3-7 –Readers follow Hurricane Katrina’s formation and initial destruction plus the massive flooding that displaced thousands. Readers learn about governmental and individual failures of planning and response that compounded the disaster and eventually led to reforms. Students can compare photos and descriptions of various parts of New Orleans in Rodger’s nonfiction account with similar events in Philbrick’s novel. TRUEMAN , Terry . Hurricane: A Novel . HarperCollins. 2008. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780060000189; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062216960. Gr 5-10 –Hurricane Mitch’s torrential rains precipitate a mudslide that engulfs most of José’s village in Honduras. The 13-year-old must help his family and other survivors cope with the destruction. Mourning the dead, sharing shelter, searching for food and clean water, José expresses sorrow, anger, and determination in this compelling story based on true events from 1998. WATSON , Renée. A Place Where Hurricanes Happen. illus. by Shadra Strickland. Random. 2010. lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780375956096; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780385376686. K-Gr 4– Four friends introduce themselves and their New Orleans neighborhood before Hurricane Katrina strikes and then share their families’ experiences with the storm. Two evacuate, one finds temporary shelter in the Superdome, and one needs rescue from a flooded home. While some of Strickland’s paintings show devastation, others offer images of rebuilding as the friends reunite a year later.

Kathy Piehl is professor emerita at Memorial Library, Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Digital Picks

For Educators

NOAA Educational Resources: Weather and Atmosphere. (Accessed 9/23/14). Links to video clips, archives of weather data, photos, graphs, maps, and activity pages will bolster curriculum, especially in middle grades and above. Resources vary widely, from current satellite imagery of developing hurricanes to a 1928 eyewitness account of a Kansas tornado.

For Students

Hurricanes. (Accessed 9/23/14). Gr 4 Up –While emphasizing hurricanes’ impact on south Florida, the site includes general information about hurricane formation, prediction, and preparation. Highlights include video clips of hurricane hunters on flights to study storms and “Prepared Game,” an interactive feature in which players assemble emergency supplies and learn how their choices would help them survive after a major hurricane. SpacePlace: Wild Weather Adventure! (Accessed 9/23/14). Gr 4 Up –Students who want to test their weather knowledge can play alone, against the computer, or with friends. To move their weather blimps around the globe, players choose easy, medium, or hard questions, some involving map reading. “Special event” markers can speed or hinder progress.

For Both

Be a Hero! (Accessed 9/23/14). Gr 3-7 –After exploring fact pages about natural disasters, students can advance through levels of the “Disaster Master” game by helping friends cope with emergencies including a tornado and blizzard. Pages for educators and parents provide lesson plans and suggestions for family preparedness. Learning Zone. UCAR Center for Science Education. (Accessed 9/23/14). Gr 5 Up –Educators will appreciate “Teaching Boxes” that include standards-aligned activities and multimedia about tornadoes, flash floods, and other weather topics. Students can view short videos, such as one depicting a flash flood’s rapid rise, or explore interactive simulations that demonstrate how altering factors produce different outcomes in a hurricane or thunderstorm.

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