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February 24, 1991|Charles Solomon

THE TORNADO by John Edward Weems (Texas A & M University Press: $10.95, illustrated). On May 11, 1953, a tornado struck Waco, Tex., killing 114 people and doing tens of millions of dollars of damage in less than an hour. Weems, who covered the story for a local paper, follows the citizens of what was then a small city as the disaster interrupts their daily rounds of work, errands and lessons. Patrons at a matinee heard the roaring wind and saw the movie theater crumble around them; a falling wall in an office building pinned a receptionist to her switchboard. Buildings collapsed, windows shattered, bricks and mailboxes flew through the air and cars rolled end over end down the main streets of the city. Weems supplements his account of the events of 1953 with explanations of how tornadoes form, the advances in predicting and tracking storms that have occurred over the last three decades, and why certain regions of North America are struck more often by tornadoes than others. His highly readable description of the devastation wrought by one of the most awesome natural phenomena includes one reassuring fact: Between 1953 and 1988, only four tornadoes were reported in the state of California.

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