In light of some major natural disasters over the past few years, such as Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti and most recently, the tremor that rocked Japan earlier this year, people are becoming increasingly leery of Mother Nature's unforgiving weather patterns. Former meteorologist H.W. "Buzz" Bernard’s debut weather thriller, Eyewall, taps into this fear with a villainous hurricane that endangers the lives of his characters. Today Bernard shares his feelings about the rise of disaster fiction and how weather has been transformed into something sinister for many contemporary movies and books.
It doesn’t seem much of a stretch these days to make weather or nature the villain in literature and movies.
Heaven knows, we’re assaulted by natural disaster headlines virtually everyday. A searing mid-summer heat wave east of the Rockies. A withering drought in Texas. Massive flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers earlier this year. A killer tornado swarm in the eastern U.S. in late April. The deadly Joplin, Missouri, twister. The devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Big quakes in New Zealand, Chile, and Haiti. Katrina. The Indonesia tsunami. The list goes on.
So as far as I’m concerned, as a novelist, you don’t have to delve into science fiction to create terrifying scenarios. There are plenty of such story lines stalking us in the real world. That’s why I’m a science-reality writer. For instance, the descriptions detailing the reconnaissance, forecasting and effects of my fictional Hurricane Janet in Eyewall are all fact-based.
But Eyewall isn’t a novel just about a hurricane. Much to my surprise, it zoomed up to number 1 on Amazon’s list for Romantic Suspense and remained there for a couple of weeks in July. Me? A romance writer? Well, apparently. And all I thought I was doing was injecting a little sex and infatuation into the story. Ah, The Doctrine of Intended Consequences....
But back to disasters. I’ve been often asked if these killer catastrophes are becoming more frequent and intense of late.
My sense— and I don’t have any hard evidence to back this up —is that they aren’t. They’ve been around as long as the Earth has. Probably long before there was anything much to kill. Today, unfortunately, with our burgeoning populations, we offer target-rich environments. We take up residence in flood plains and near fault lines. We build on barrier islands and along the ocean’s edge. Tragically, we may neglect storm cellars in Tornado Alley or have warning systems that don’t work. To a large degree, it all comes back to us and not exclusively to nature.
And with 24-hour TV news channels, iPhones, Tweets and Skypes, we hear about and see calamities almost instantly, no matter whether they clock Kansas City or Katmandu.
But are such events, storms in particular, growing more intense? There is some evidence that that may be the case. It’s been documented, for example, that more of our rainfall now comes in big, drenching downpours. Think floods.
We also know that with warming oceans there’s a greater potential for more violent hurricanes. That doesn’t mean every tropical system will grow into a monster, only that, other things being equal, there’s a better chance now than a century ago for a hurricane to morph into something beyond the pale.
Come to think about it, it isn’t just the general population that lives in target-rich environments these days, so do novelists. We don’t have to hunt very hard to find “bad guys.” All we gotta do is watch the nightly newscasts.
- H.W. “Buzz” Bernard
Want to find out how the characters in Bernard's thriller strive to survive? Pick up a copy of Eyewall available now.