1:29: “All the warning sirens are down.”
Tornado warning sirens were specifically designed to alert people who happen to be outdoors and only as a supplement to other means of notification, like the Emergency Alert System that frequently interrupts radio and TV broadcasts (and increasingly, your smartphone screen). There’ve been well-documented cases where people base their decision to (not) take shelter on faulty tornado sirens.
This is also a real thing. Just this spring, there were firenadoes on the outskirts of San Diego. When they occur in forest fires, which is actually fairly common, the correct term for these beasts of swirling terror is “fire whirls.” If, like here, they’re attached to a thunderstorm, then they’re just plain ol’ tornadoes that happen to be on fire. Much more rare, but these can also actually occur.
1:35: “There’s three, there’s four, they’re everywhere!”
Yelled by a storm chaser as cars are falling from the sky. I seriously doubt anything like this could ever happen in real life. The closest naturally occurring analog to this scene is being inside a multivortex tornado, in which two to five “suction vortices” have been known to occur at the same time, usually lasting less than a minute each. It’s very unlikely anyone would be able to navigate an armored tank through such an environment.
1:42: “I’ve studied storms all my life. This one is bigger than any storm that has ever been!”
It’s currently not possible to predict individual tornado strength in advance, beyond general probabilities given the overall atmospheric environment that day. Still, the National Weather Service is experimenting with the language of tornado warnings to highlight “tornado emergencies”—storms that have a particularly high chance of producing strong tornadoes. Now, if she was talking about the parent “storm” and not the tornado, I don’t know how she’d ever conclude what the “biggest storm that has ever been” was. On Earth, the biggest storms are hurricanes, which happen over the ocean. Sorry to be a spoilsport, Walking Dead lady.
1:45: Ginormous tornado appears, with great dramatic effect.
The Godzilla of tornadoes in this trailer doesn’t seem to be that far off from the largest tornadoes ever recorded. Last year, the monster tornado that hit El Reno, Oklahoma, was 2.6 miles across, the widest ever recorded. What’s more troubling here is there appears to be a line of school buses evacuating people. As tornado forecasting improves and warning lead times grow, the idea of evacuating ahead of a tornado is increasingly controversial. Last year, an Oklahoma City TV meteorologist told his viewers to get in their cars and drive away from a coming tornado, much to the dismay of most of the weather community.
2:01: Taking shelter in a drainage pipe.
It’s not that great of an idea. People drown. In fact, a few people died doing exactly this just last year in Oklahoma.
2:14: Airplanes take off on their own
In 2012, this fairly stunning video captured a decommissioned 747 briefly lifting off the ground at an airport in California under intense straight-line winds. Normal Boeing 747s need to travel about 180 mph before they take off. The one in California was stripped of its engines, so it was able to nose up at only 70 mph or so. Only the most intense tornadoes (EF-4 and EF-5) have winds over 180 mph, but even then likely only for a few seconds at a time. The tornado in the movie would need to produce winds from roughly the same direction for at least a minute or so to lift a 747 off the ground, which is extremely unlikely.
Overall verdict: Mostly realistic, except for some obviously dramatized special effects. Feel free to enjoy with minimal scientific inaccuracy–induced guilt!
By my count, three times in the 2½-minute trailer there were people holding on to other people’s hands, legs dangling straight up in the air, screaming “Don’t let go!” That same image is also on the official movie poster. Cliché, for sure.
Much more terrifying to me is the found-footage aspect, if it’s done well and brings a sense of realism. This video taken by a man taking shelter from a tornado inside a convenience store cooler in Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011, remains the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen.
Proof that reality can be much more terrifying than fiction.
This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter.