Although civil defense is most commonly associated with
the threat of a nuclear attack, pamphlets and films often stressed how easily
nuclear preparations could be harnessed to deal with natural disasters.
Likewise, many of the same systems put in place to alert populations from
threats of nature would also sound the alarm for enemy attacks. As a
result of this interchangeability, a number of films were created where natural
phenomena were presented as thinly veiled representations of atomic devastation.
An early example of this tactic is found in the 1956 production Tornado.
Created as a public service by the United Gas Corporation and the
Eastern Texas Transmission Corporation, the film follows the spotting, warning,
and approach of a tornado producing thunderstorm near the fictional town of
Long before the age of Doppler radar and modern technology, tracking severe weather began with trained spotters operating out of their homes. The film begins in the rural home of Jesse and Helen Bremet as a thunderstorm rages outside. Jesse, a trained weather spotter, notices a tornado approaching from the southwest and phones the weather bureau to spread the warning. The narrator interjects that the tornado went on to strike a nearby town before offering a brief meteorological summary of severe weather. Tornadoes can strike anywhere in the United States but are most prevalent in the Midwestern states where thunderstorms often form in the spring and summer months. Described as violent vortexes which can spread debris over miles, the film concedes that little is known about tornadoes, but research on their formation is expanding.
Returning to the Bremet
farm, Helen and Jesse watch rain pound off their kitchen windows when they spot
thunderhead clouds approaching from the southwest. Alerting the district
Weather Bureau, all public outlets are notified of the development and the
public is made aware that conditions are favorable for a tornado."Then, at 3:26..." Bremet spots a tornado a mile east of a
nearby pumping station and phones Mr. Powell of the weather bureau who is able
to issue a tornado warning and relay Bremet's coordinates to a radar center to
track the vortex. Given thirty minutes of warning by television and
radio, the general public is able to reach their shelters. In factories
and schools as well, the occupants are able to reach prearranged shelter
space. The tornado hits Elmville causing millions of dollars in damage,
but no deaths. "There is no panic. This is an informed
As the films wraps up, it is stressed that the Weather Bureau's ability to chart a tornado's formation and progress is sharpening with each storm season. Upon release, Tornado proved popular and was distributed to large audiences, in addition to being aired on television stations across the country. As the first film to deal with the deadly phenomenon, it is credited with enhancing public reactions to tornado warnings. Parallels can easily be drawn between the storm spotters of Elmville, some of who can be seen in the film wearing distinctive CD armbands, and the "plane" spotters often featured in atomic defense films. The idea of heeding warnings and taking shelter in home and at school is another staple of atomic defense films. Although Tornado sticks closely to the subject matter promised in its title, it also provides the basis for the nature/nuclear preparation comparisons which can be found in so many films.