Jenna Blum got hooked early.
She was four years old and visiting her grandmother in Caledonia, in southeastern Minnesota.
“At night, while everyone else was asleep, I looked out the window and saw my first tornado,” she said. “It turned me into a weather addict.
“To me, it’s about the learning curve: the more I learn, the more I keep wanting to learn.”
For the past six years, she’s been chasing storms in Tornado Alley – at first trailing behind Tempest Tour groups and now serving as a guide for the company. She made storm chasing the driving force of her second book, aptly titled “The Stormchasers,” which was released in 2010 and just come out in paperback.
The book allowed her to merge two of her greatest passions, she said: writing and storm chasing.
“The Stormchasers” is about a bipolar man who chases storms when he’s manic, and his sister who chases him and tries to keep him safe.
“The storm is a natural metaphor for mental instability,” Blum said. “Like severe weather, the moods appear to come from nowhere, cause devastating damage to those it touches, and then vanish.”
Blum splits her time between Boston and Minnesota, and she said her friends in New England paid little attention to tornadoes.
Until this spring.
Tornadoes have struck city after city this spring – including the Springfield metropolitan area in Massachusetts. As she was pursuing a developing thunderstorm on the Great Plains with Tempest Tours, Blum was hearing from friends in Massachusetts about the tornadoes touching down there.
“People were scrambling to figure out what to do,” she said. “One of my friends actually asked, ‘Can I drive downtown?’ during the tornado.”
Another said, “My basement is too creepy. I’d rather ride it out upstairs.”
That experience prompted Blum to write an op-ed piece for the Boston Globe about how to respond to the threat of severe weather.
“People just need to have more situational awareness,” she said. “They don’t know what to do or they don’t have adequate shelter.”
With a death toll of more than 525 people – the highest in 75 years – this tornado season has emphatically driven home the point that people need to be alert and prepared no matter where they live, Blum said.
She was in Wichita Monday for “Three Chasers” – a book signing that also included severe weather photographer Jim Reed and Mike Smith, founder and chief executive of WeatherData, the Wichita based private forecasting service that is now a subsidiary of AccuWeather.
When she’s not chasing storms or on the road for speaking engagements, Blum teaches master novel workshops for Grub Street Writers in Boston and writes in the rural Minnesota town where her mother and grandmother grew up.
It’s like a witness protection program for writers, she joked, and she plans to hole up there for a while later this summer to begin work on a third book.
Her first book, “Those Who Save Us,” was a New York Times best-seller. It explores a woman’s efforts to learn more about her mother’s past as a woman living in Germany during World War II.
Like “The Stormchasers,” Blum’s first book delves into how people deal with the upheaval that comes when events much larger than themselves disrupt their lives.
“I find that very compelling,” she said.