— V. E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Chapter One: The Stranger
On the 18th of June 2006, a tornado outbreak broke out in the state of Nebraska, generating fourteen significant tornadoes that carved a path of destruction through the Midwestern and Southern United States. All in all, the outbreak caused 804 deaths and upwards of 3,000 injuries throughout Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.
Typically, it is tropical cyclones—hurricanes—which are named, not tornadoes. Irma, Sandy, Katrina. Hurricanes are persistent weather systems, more easily tracked than tornadoes, more destructive and thus requiring more warning. Naming a storm makes it easier for the media to report—therefore, easier for communities to prepare. Tornadoes, however, are transient weather systems; impermanent, they can last hours or they can last minutes. They are there, and then they are gone.
The tornado that tore through the agricultural town of Claire, Nebraska on the 18th of June would later be named after the very place it destroyed. Like all the tornadoes of its family, Tornado Claire developed from a supercell: a thunderstorm characterised by the presence of a deep, continually-rotating updraft a few miles up into the atmosphere known as a mesocyclone. This is how it happens: as the storm's rainfall begins to increase, it pulls with it an area of swiftly-descending air. The downdraft accelerates as it approaches the ground, taking the mesocyclone with it—as the mesocyclone descends below the cloud base, it takes in the cool air from the downdraft part of the storm. Here, the warm air in the updraft and the cool air in the downdraft converge, birthing a rotating wall cloud.
The downdraft—known as the rear flank downdraft—focuses the mesocyclone's base, forcing it to draw air from the ground in an area that only grows smaller and smaller. The updraft intensifies, pulling the mesocyclone down and creating the condensation tunnel that becomes a recognisable tornado.
Tornado Claire took mere minutes to form. It took even less to level Claire, Nebraska—though its citizens had been aware of the storm that had developed over the past few hours, the squall line appeared to be moving towards Missouri. They were sure they were safe.