ASU professor details weather extremes in new book

Need a good book for a rainy day? Look no further than Arizona State University geography professor Randy Cerveny's recently published "Freaks of the Storm," a collection of true stories about weird weather phenomena recorded all over the world. The book, which debuted in January, is published by Thunder's Mouth Press and is available online and at many bookstores.

"Freaks of the Storm" explores weather-related topics like tornadoes, lightning, rainstorms, extreme temperatures and more, providing documented occurrences of freak events. In each category, Cerveny looks into strange accounts of phenomena like the case of Virginia park ranger Roy Sullivan who was struck by lightning on seven separate occasions between 1942 and 1977 and lived through them all.

Stranger still are the numerous reports of falling frogs and fish during storms. Or of snow that turns blood red when crushed or stepped on. As bizarre as these stories might seem, Cerveny's book finds rational explanations for all of them (in the case of the fish and frogs, strong upward gusts of wind can collect hundreds or thousands of tiny critters and drop them some distance away; the bloody snow is the work of microscopic red algae).

The book has been popular with readers and critics alike, largely because weather events and catastrophes are fresh in people's minds, Cerveny said.

"With weather making the front page with stories about Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaging the East Coast, it is a timely book that helps put the weather in perspective," Cerveny said. "It will help people understand that weird and unusual weather can be found anywhere--not just on the East or West Coasts."

Even the Phoenix Valley has its share of weird weather, Cerveny said. In July of 1995, the temperature in Phoenix peaked at 121 F--the second highest temperature on record--before falling to 105 that evening. Then around 10 p.m., a giant thunderstorm to the south began pushing clouds up toward Phoenix, preventing the day's heat from escaping. An hour later, the temperature had soared back up to 114.

The idea of writing the book first came to Cerveny six years ago when he was doing legal work involving the occurrence of weather events. In the course of that work, he started an archive of weird weather stories. Since then, the archive has grown to include more than 8,000 entries.

Cerveny decided to take about 500 of those entries and compile them into a book. He spent a year writing the material and another year hunting down the right photographs before it was ready to publish.

Cerveny would like for this book to help generate more public interest in weather-related phenomena and foster a greater appreciation for its power and unpredictability.

"It's written for a non-technical audience," Cerveny said. "I want to get people interested in weather. We still don't know everything about the weather, and I think that's one of the most interesting things about it."

The success of the book and his research has prompted Cerveny and several other environmental scientists from across the world to look into compiling a global archive of recorded weather extremes.

"One fundamental reason for maintaining a global weather archive is to address the severity of natural disasters. When media say things like 'Katrina is the worst natural disaster of all time,' we can then look at other important, more deadly disasters and keep things in perspective," Cerveny said.

"The archive also will help us address questions involving climate change by knowing when and where the worst, biggest and most frequent natural disasters are occurring," he added. "We can use that to figure out if climate change is taking place or not."


Randy Cerveny, (480) 965-7533

Media contacts:
Mike Price, (480) 965-9690
Skip Derra, (480) 965-4823

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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