Wizard of Oz

Dorothy’s tame tornado quickly got wicked

When Dorothy gets whisked away in “The Wizard of Oz,” the focus is on the magical world she lands in. But what about her transportation?

Even the Scarecrow’s brains could tell you there was a tornado — a strong one.

Using the Enhanced Fujita Scale and a bit of Kansas intuition, David Rahn, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Kansas, helped determine just how powerful it was.

A twister’s rating ranges from EF0 (light damage) to EF5 (incredible damage or total destruction). Dorothy’s farm provides some key clues to what movie-makers had in mind.

As everyone scrambles for shelter, a tree snaps and blows away. And even though Dorothy appears planted firmly on the ground, the scene indicates winds of about 100 mph, or an EF1, Rahn said.

Dorothy runs inside as a screen door flies off its hinges, searching for Auntie Em to no avail. A window blows out, shattering as it hits her. She’s conked out, thus beginning her fantastical trip to Oz. Still, Rahn insists, this damage still only corresponds to an EF1.

An EF1? This storm took Dorothy all the way to Oz at an EF1?

Not quite. As her head spins, so does the twister. When Dorothy begins to dream, the house is lifted off its foundation.

“I think it is pretty safe to bump up the tornado rating to an EF5,” Rahn said. “And commend whoever built the house, since it’d get ripped apart.”


There’s nary a mention of a tornado in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Twister, yes. Cyclone, yes.

And in L. Frank Baum’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” published in 1900, Chapter 1 is titled “The Cyclone”:

Suddenly Uncle Henry stood up.

“There’s a cyclone coming, Em,” he called to his wife. “I’ll go look after the stock.” …

The north and south winds met where the house stood, and made it the exact center of the cyclone. In the middle of a cyclone the air is generally still, but the great pressure of the wind on every side of the house raised it up higher and higher, until it was at the very top of the cyclone; and there it remained and was carried miles and miles away as easily as you could carry a feather.

“Cyclone” is an old-fashioned word for tornado. Before 1950 or so, “tornado” was considered a term that could cause public panic, says Jim Keeney, severe weather program manager for the National Weather Service in Kansas City.

Meteorologically, a cyclone “encompasses all cyclonically rotating — counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere — storms, which includes most tornadoes,” Keeney says.

According to the true definition, cyclones are much larger. Tornadoes are smaller, localized events.

The government first issued a tornado warning in 1948.

| Tim Engle, tengle@kcstar.com

Help us go over the rainbow

Calling all (real) Dorothys and Toto dogs … and anyone else who’s a big fan of the 1939 movie.

The Star is celebrating this month’s 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” movie with a story every day.

Here’s how you can participate:

A group picture: We invite readers and their friends and families to don get-ups of their favorite “Oz” character (or object) and come to the Kansas Speedway at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 16. The Star will take a group photo and aim for the record books. There will be raffles for prizes and, of course, lollipops. Let us know you’re coming by registering at http://wizardofozrecordbreaking.eventbrite.com.

“Oz” memories: Share a personal anecdote about the movie. As a kid did you flee the living room when the flying monkeys attacked? Did your family watch it on TV every year? Email your story (no more than 150 words, please), along with your name, phone number and city, to starfyi@gmail.com. Put “Oz memory” in the subject line. Deadline for submissions: 11:59 p.m. Aug. 18.

Local Dorothys: If your name is Dorothy, we want to hear from you. Tell us how you came to be a Dorothy and about life with that name. Send an email to starfyi@gmail.com and include your name, age, city and phone number. Put “Dorothy” in the subject line. Deadline: 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

Toto dogs: Do you own a cairn terrier or a dog named Toto? We want to see your pictures! Upload them into our photo gallery at Mingle.KansasCity.com. Make sure to tell us your name, city and contact information. If you submit your photo by Wednesday, we might select it for the print edition as well.

Coming Saturday in FYI: Oz comes to Legoland.