Night of the Twisters Summary

Ivy Ruckman

Night of the Twisters

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Night of the Twisters Summary

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Night of the Twisters (1984), a young adult novel by American author Ivy Ruckman, is based on the 1980 Grand Island tornado outbreak in Nebraska in which five tornadoes hit the same city in one night, resulting in five deaths and 134 injured. Adapted into a movie, the book received many literary prizes, including the Golden Sower Award and the Iowa Children’s Choice Award.

In the early evening, a few hours before the tornadoes start raining destruction down on their town, twelve-year-old Danny Hatch and his best friend, Arthur, bike to the Mormon Island State Recreation Area planning to go swimming for the first time that summer. They encounter two of Arthur’s sisters: fourteen-year-old Stacey, whom Danny has a crush on, and ten-year-old Ronnie Vae. Winds begin to pick up, but nothing tornado-like yet. Ronnie Vae is scared and wants a ride home on one of their bikes, but Danny and Arthur decline.

After dinner at Danny’s house, they see a severe weather warning interrupt the regular programming on television. Danny’s mom, Linda, wants to check on their eighty-one-year-old neighbor, Mrs. Smiley, but the phones are out. She leaves to make sure Mrs. Smiley is all right, putting the two boys in charge of taking care of Danny’s much younger brother, Ryan. Many minutes pass, though it feels like hours. However, just as Danny is considering leaving to find his mom, tornado sirens blare and violent winds tear at the Hatch household. Danny and Arthur guide Ryan down to the basement where they hide in the shower of the basement bathroom.

There are noise and destruction all around them. When the chaos dies out, the three emerge from the basement unscathed but find that their house is a pile of rubble. They see Stacey running over, as she is worried about Danny and Arthur. She tells them that her family is safe, although Ronnie Vae was briefly picked up by the storm winds before being dropped down into their neighbors’ bushes. Ronnie Vae lost consciousness for a time but seems to be okay now, Stacey says. Soon after, Linda emerges and embraces Danny and Ryan.

Although Linda found shelter with Mrs. Smiley, the elderly woman is now missing. Danny and Arthur insist on being part of the search party looking for Mrs. Smiley and other unaccounted for residents. Eventually, Linda gives in to their demands to be a part of the search party, departing soon after with Ryan on a bus headed for a local shelter. Stacey joins Danny and Arthur, and the three of them help save Mrs. Smiley who is passed out on her couch amid her crumbling house. While she is taken to a hospital, the three youths are escorted by a police officer in a cop car to a nearby K-Mart being used as a shelter. However, while they are on the road, another tornado touches down, breaking the glass of the car windshield. The officer driving the car is blinded by broken glass, and so Danny must take the wheel and guide the four of them safely out of harm’s way.

The youths are taken to a police station where the women’s cells are being used as a shelter. Danny is afraid for his father and grandparents who were out in nearby farm country when the tornadoes hit. The weather is still bad outside, and Stacey begins quoting scripture to help soothe Danny’s anxiety and frayed nerves. In the middle of a line of scripture, however, the generator powering the police precinct suddenly goes off, scaring everyone and leaving them in the dark. Without power and with violent winds still raging, there isn’t much to do until morning.

The next morning, Arthur and Stacey are reunited with their father at a local armory being used as a shelter. Danny still hasn’t seen his family since the previous night, so he decides to walk through the barren destruction to the K-Mart shelter where Linda and Ryan were headed. When he arrives, however, he learns that the store flooded the night before and had to be evacuated. Alone and despondent, Danny wanders the streets looking for any clues as to his family’s whereabouts. Then, miraculously, a car pulls up. His father is driving and the rest of Danny’s family is in the car. His father tells him that the storm missed the farmhouse but the crops are flooded and probably ruined. Nevertheless, Danny is beyond thrilled to be reunited with his family.

In an epilogue, Danny’s family has a party on the one-year anniversary of the storm in their newly rebuilt house. They have a new cat after their old cat disappeared in the storm. Mrs. Smiley, the reader learns, survived the storm and helped with recovery efforts but died of natural causes three months before the epilogue.

Night of the Twisters is a thrillingly realistic portrayal of a harrowing true story.