Night of the Twisters (film)

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Night of the Twisters
Night of the Twisters film poster.jpg
DVD cover
Genre Action
Based on Night of the Twisters
by Ivy Ruckman
Written by Sam Graham
Chris Hubbell
Directed by Timothy Bond
Starring Devon Sawa
Amos Crawley
John Schneider
Lori Hallier
Laura Bertram
David Ferry
Music by Lawrence Shragge
Country of origin Canada
United States
Original language(s) English
Executive producer(s) William F. Burns
Anne Marie La Traverse
Wayne Rogers
Producer(s) Michael Lambermont
Stephen Roloff
Sean Ryerson
John Calvert (line producer)
Production location(s) Kleinburg, Ontario
Cinematography Peter Benison
Editor(s) Gary L. Smith
Running time 92 minutes
Production company(s) MTM Enterprises
Atlantis Communications
PorchLight Entertainment
International Family Entertainment, Inc.
Original network The Family Channel
Original release
  • February 11, 1996 (1996-02-11)

Night of the Twisters is a 1996 made-for-television disaster film that was directed by Timothy Bond. The film premiered on The Family Channel (now Freeform) on February 11, 1996, as the cable channel's first original movie (and appeared on the channel until 2004, under its successor brands Fox Family and ABC Family).

Filmed in Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada and based loosely on the 1984 young-adult novel of the same title by Ivy Ruckman (a semi-fictionalized account of an outbreak of seven tornadoes that struck Grand Island, Nebraska on June 3, 1980, killing five people and injuring 134 others), the film centers on a family's struggle to survive a night as a bizarre tornado-producing supercell thunderstorm tracks into and becomes stationary over their town.


The film's prologue takes places in an area of rural farmland in Dannebrog, Nebraska in Fall 1996. While there, Bob Irisen – a storm chaser with the National Weather Service – is driving down a country road to track a massive supercell thunderstorm. As a tornado touches down yards away, right as their daughter Sarah, arrives home from school, Bob warns a family living nearby, about the oncoming twister, which sends them running into their root cellar just before it destroys their farm.

Meanwhile, in (the fictional town of) Blainsworth, Nebraska (the book is set in the real-world city of Grand Island, Nebraska),[1][2] teenager Dan Hatch, an aspiring and practicing artist who is constantly being pushed by his stepfather Jack to be an athlete, participates in a bike race and damages his bicycle; Jack pushes Danny into finishing the race on his bum bike, where he falls behind the other racers. Much to his luck, he wins a new bike in a raffle held by a local bank. While trying out his new bicycle, Dan and his best friend Arthur Darlington run into Arthur's two sisters, Stacey (whom Dan is infatuated with) and Ronnie Vae, while at the park. Dan and Arthur arrive home as the former's mother Laura is preparing dinner, when she also asks Dan to tend to his baby half-brother, Ryan. Later, Laura's sister, Jenny, calls to inform her that they have been assigned to a fill-in shift as waitresses at the Salty Dawg, the local diner where they both work.

On the road, while continuing to track the massive storm creeping toward the town, Bob decides to head southeast into Blainsworth, as Stan - the meteorologist he is radioing to - is astonished at the rogue uncharacteristic spring-like nature of the storm system for the fall when it is far too cold; while there, he meets Laura and Jenny while getting some coffee at the diner. The action begins after Jack comes home at mid-evening; as he sits down to watch television, the show he is watching is abruptly interrupted by a KHAS-12 severe weather bulletin about a tornado having been reported near Dannebrog, 14 miles (23 km) northwest of Blainsworth. Several minutes after Jack leaves to check on his mother, Belle, who was fast asleep in her rocking chair when he phoned her, tornado sirens suddenly blare throughout town, only to cut off abruptly as Dan goes to get Ryan from his crib. The eerie stillness outside afterward suddenly gives way to a violent tornado that approaches Blainsworth's Capital Heights neighborhood, with the sucking noises emitting from the drains notifying Dan and Arthur of its pending arrival; they and Ryan take cover in the basement bathroom's shower as the twister starts to obliterate the Hatches' home.

After Dan and Arthur escape from the basement of the leveled house through the collapsing floor beams where the first floor once stood, and look in awe of the rubble that was once the Hatch family's home, Arthur runs into Stacey and Ronnie Vae, who both survived the twister themselves in the Darlington's home (their parents were out of town on a trip back home to California at the time the storm hit). As Dan struggles to find his own family, Laura and Jenny are trapped inside the Salty Dawg (as they were taking cover inside, due to Jenny's 1992 Buick Skylark Gran Sport coupe malfunctioning), which also was destroyed by one of the tornadoes. Dan and Stacey then go save Dan's grandmother, Belle, at her farm; the two teenagers find Belle underneath wooden boards blown onto her from off of the partially damaged barn near her house (which itself survived intact).

As Dan and Stacey rush in the car to get Belle treated for her injuries, Dan finds Jack on a closed road, with his truck – which was overturned by the tornado, pinning him underneath it – covered in fallen power lines; he pulls Jack out from under the truck (with the help of emergency crews, after an earlier attempt by Dan and Stacey to push the truck in order to free him nearly injures Jack further), seeing this as an opportunity for his father to finally see him as reliable. However, Jack just gives a simple thank-you to the fact that Dan saved him from multiple dangers, even though his stepson may have been the only one down the road who was able to help him as it was blocked by policemen due to it being blocked by the downed lines, debris and broken underground utility lines. Later that night at the shelter, Dan reveals to Stacey that Jack is his stepfather and that his real father, Daniel Sr., was a pilot who was killed in a plane crash when Dan was 6. After telling her that he feels he isn't good enough in Jack's eyes and talks about the good qualities that his stepfather has, Stacey helps Dan consider that the two could try to find some common ground.

Eventually, Jack – followed by Dan, who sneaks himself and Ryan into the station wagon loaned to Jack – leave the shelter to go and look for Laura. Just as Bob pulls his truck into the driveway of the destroyed house, helping passengers Jenny and Laura along with him searching for Jack, Dan and Ryan, Jack's station wagon also drives up and the family is reunited. As soon as everyone is relieved they survived the storm, three tornadoes touch down near them. Bob, realizing that there is no adequate shelter available, advises the group to make a run for it in their vehicles. The group narrowly escapes one of the twisters, which picks up a car that the Hatches' neighbors try to outrun the tornado in themselves, destroys several buildings in its path and hurls a tree branch into the windshield, briefly knocking Jack unconscious – causing Dan to take over driving the vehicle out of the storm's path. They, along with Bob and Jenny, make it to an overpass as the twister blows out the back window of the station wagon, nearly sucking Dan out before it dissipates into the air. As they walk out from under the overpass just as the sun rises on a clear day after the storm passes, Jack admits he's proud of Danny for not giving up in the face of adversity and trying to reunite the family.

In the film's epilogue, illustrating what happened with the characters one year after the storm, Dan explains that he is now dating Stacey, while Arthur became class president, and Bob and Jenny got married and are becoming first-time parents to twins. He and Jack have also become closer, and Jack is now supportive of him. He also tells that his grandma, Belle, died the following year in 1997.


Discrepancies in the film[edit]

Differences between the film and the novel[edit]

  • Dan's grandmother was mentioned in passing several times within the novel, however she was never given a name; the name assigned to Dan's grandmother, Belle, is actually the first name of Dan's neighbor in the novel, Mrs. Smiley, who like Belle, dies by the time of the one-year anniversary of the tornadoes.
  • Other characters featured or referenced in the book are excluded in the film adaptation; in particular, Minerva (the Hatch family cat, who is replaced after it disappears – Minerva is implied to have been killed in the storm – following the tornado in the novel); Mrs. Smiley (a character possibly adapted into Belle Zephyr Hatch); Officer Kelly (whom Danny helps steer a police vehicle, when he loses eyesight after being hit by flying glass from a tornado while transporting Danny, Arthur and Stacey to a nearby shelter, in a situation similar to the Hatch family's attempt to outrun the final tornadoes in their loaned car towards the end of the film; the character was likely adapted for the film into the character of Officer Calvert [played by Graham McPherson]); and Mrs. Minetti (the matron of the women's jail at the police station).
  • In the film, Stacey does not help Dan and Arthur out of the basement; Dan instead is the one who gets him, Arthur and Ryan out. In the novel, Danny and Arthur fail in their attempt to escape the basement of the Hatches' wrecked house because of the fallen support beams and other debris blocking their way; Stacey – who arrives there, after convincing her mother to let her search for Danny and Arthur – instead helps the boys out of the basement through an opening in the bathroom.
  • While the film takes place in 1996, the novel takes place in 1980.

Differences between the film and the actual event[edit]

  • In the film, the series of tornadoes that hit Blainsworth occurred in the fall. In real life, the Grand Island tornadoes occurred on June 3, 1980 during the late spring.
  • The first tornado that hits Blainsworth in the film was on the ground for several miles and moved quickly. In real life, the tornadoes stayed within the Grand Island city limits, with some crossing over their paths by looping around; most moved at forward speeds of only 8 mph (13 km/h).
  • Eight tornadoes struck in the film (not counting the one in the opening prologue, although Jack's narration in the final scene prior to the epilogue states that half of Blainsworth was "ravaged by anywhere from 10 to 15 tornadoes"), while seven hit Grand Island that night. In addition, four tornadoes are depicted as being on the ground simultaneously in the film, while only two were on the ground at the same time in the Grand Island event. In addition, the final scene in which the Hatches leave the overpass that they take shelter under in the final tornado has the family walking off as the sun has risen – Jack states in his narration that the tornadoes occurred over the span of three hours, thus creating an incorrect timeline as the events leading up to the tornadoes hitting Blainsworth take place in the evening; the Grand Island outbreak does take place in just under three hours, however the seven tornadoes that were spawned by its parent supercell touched down between 8:45 and 11:45 p.m., with the last tornado lifting at 11:30 p.m. (the actual timeline is followed by the novel, although the characters experience only two tornadoes during the course of the book).[3]
  • The most destructive tornado occurred first at an unknown strength, although Bob Irisen states during a press conference that it is "at least a five on the Fujita Scale" (an F5 is the highest conceivable rating on the scale, although its original iteration included categories otherwise considered improbable to scale damage upon based on the estimated wind speeds). On June 3, 1980, the fifth tornado of the Grand Island outbreak was the most destructive at F4 intensity.


At the time of the film's release in 1996, Night of the Twisters received positive ratings when it aired on The Family Channel, but received very poor reviews from critics, many of whom criticized the special effects used in the film. However, the film maintained a strong presence with audiences, with The Family Channel airing it until 2004, under its later Fox Family and ABC Family brands. The film is popular among families because of is intention to engage children in disaster suspense, without the display of gory or disturbing images, as well as the incorporation of a happy ending.


Night of the Twisters was released on VHS by GoodTimes Entertainment shortly after its television release. As VHS became less popular, the film was re-released on DVD by the distributor in 2006. As of 2012, both the VHS and DVD versions are currently out of print.


  1. ^ Colleen O'Neill (February 9, 1996). "'Night of Twisters' now a movie". Grand Island Independent. Morris Communications. Archived from the original on January 11, 2013. Retrieved November 23, 2015.
  2. ^ Colleen O'Neill (February 10, 1996). "Film portrays Grand Island family". Grand Island Independent. Morris Communications. Retrieved November 23, 2015.
  3. ^ "The Grand Island Tornadoes: A Look Back at June 3rd, 1980". National Weather Service Hastings, Nebraska Office. Retrieved October 18, 2015.

External links[edit]