It was April 3, 1974 and the United States was in turmoil. Crime was soaring, unemployment and inflation were out of control, the Vietnam War had just come to a demoralizing end and the soon-to-be-disgraced President Nixon was on his way out of office. Then, over a sixteen-hour period, nature stepped forward with its own display of mayhem, as an unprecedented outbreak of 148 tornadoes descended on the country. The destruction wrought was horrifying - hundreds killed, thousands of homes demolished, a billion dollars in losses sustained.
Amidst this chaos, acclaimed journalist Mark Levine follows the devastating path of a twin set of F5s - the rarest, and most deadly, category of tornado, and their impact on a rich cast of intertwined characters. Ordinary lives are transformed in one bewildering, terrifying instant: a pair of teenage lovers caught while driving on a dark country road; a Vietnam veteran trapped at home with a newborn baby; a sheriff caught in the line of fire twice in rapid succession; a black preacher with a past of dire hardship struggling to protect his family. Other figures enter the story from the broader cultural scene: Hank Aaron, on his way to challenging baseball's home run record amid racist death threats; Patty Hearst, whose image as kidnapping victim is undergoing a radical shift; Richard Nixon, intent on using the storms for his political advantage; and a memorably eccentric scientist, known as Mr Tornado, who regards the "Superoutbreak" as the apotheosis of his scholarly life.
'American Tornado' provides a vivid and remarkable portrait of a unique point in time - a time of incredible and unsettling convergence, where weather and people collided, and the fortunes of a series of characters, obscure and famous, would change forever.