'Into the Storm': The Real-Life Events That Inspired the Tornado Movie

"A version of everything that’s in the movie, we found in real life" screenwriter John Swetnam told THR at the film’s world premiere in New York.

The image of a tornado of fire, or a firenado, may sound like a creation out of the campy Sharknado franchise. But the twister of flames featured in the new, fictional found-footage disaster movie Into the Storm, is just one of many seemingly absurd moments in the film that were based on real-life events.

“A version of everything that’s in the movie, we found in real life and actually put them in the script, so it’s special-effects driven, but it’s all based on stuff I saw on YouTube,” screenwriter John Swetnam told The Hollywood Reporter at Into the Storm’s world premiere Monday night in New York. “It was kind of like taking stuff that happened in the real world and amping it up to another level.”

The film — directed by Final Destination 5 helmer Steven Quale and starring The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage, The Walking Dead’s Sarah Wayne Callies and Veep’s Matt Walsh in a rare dramatic role — explores how storm chasers, thrill-seekers and everyday people are affected by and document the extreme weather.

Swetnam says he even took pictures of the firenado and other thrilling incidents included in the movie and inserted them into the script.

Sure enough, a YouTube search for “fire tornado” yields nearly 450,000 results, including the video below, taken in Hawaii in 2010.

Even the main idea for the movie, about an unprecedented onslaught of tornadoes hitting the town of Silverton over one afternoon, was based in reality.

“I based it on, there was actually something in the '80s that happened in Iowa, where there was a town that got hit by, like, nine tornadoes in an hour, so it’s real,” Swetnam says.

Searches for Iowa tornadoes in the ‘80s show that there were several occurrences of multiple tornadoes striking the same county at approximately the same time, and on May 9, 1986, eight tornadoes hit Dallas county over a roughly one-hour period.

Into the Storm actor Jeremy Sumpter, arguably best known for his role as quarterback J.D. McCoy in Friday Night Lights, also had a real-life experience to draw on while he was making the movie.

“I actually had a tornado tear through my school when I was a kid,” he told THR at Monday’s premiere. “When I was in the first grade, we all had to rush to the hallways, and it was a scary moment. But I’m a big fan of the weather and the weatherman’s my hero. I thought it was awesome.”