The science of Sharknados, and why we like bad movies
Sharknado 2, the sequel to a movie about a tornado laden with sharks, was released on July 30 and actress Tara Reid warned that such a thing could happen, which made us run and ask our severe weather expert if we should be on guard.
Professor John Hanesiak is an expert in severe weather systems and he runs Canada’s only storm-chasing course. UM Today asked the professor of environment and geography to crunch some numbers and see if a tornado could pick up a shark and fling it about. He obliged, but there’s one problem: we lack the data to give a full answer.
[There is] not much to calculate here actually as we do not really know what the “upward pull” strength of tornadoes are, and in fact, many believe that the upward pull is rather minimal compared to the horizontal speeds – it is the extreme horizontal winds that shreds structures, then the turbulent motion and aerodynamic nature of the debris around the tornado lifts the objects up which can then be tossed about. There have been reports of small fish falling from the sky after possible water spouts in various parts of the world, so I suspect this is where the movie gets its idea from. The likelihood of a large shark being plucked out of the water is extremely small. The shark would have to be essentially right at the surface of the water with a large tornado – just guessing here, an EF4 or EF5. I think a shark would avoid getting close to the surface with such turbulent water under a tornado.
In the unlikely event a tornado lifts a shark from water, would the shark survive? Common sense says no. And so does biologist Gary Anderson, associate head of the department of biological sciences at the U of M.
“If in the extraordinarily unlikely event of this ever happening I would very much doubt a shark would survive, particularly if they were slammed against the ground or by anything else that might have been picked up by the tornado. I should also add that the odds of me ever watching Sharknado, never mind Sharknado 2, are similar to the odds of sharks ever getting picked up by a tornado and surviving,” he says.
What to do if you see a sharkless Tornado
WHY DO WE LIKE BAD MOVIES?
The first Sharknado movie, according to Wikipedia, took in less than $200,000 at the box office at 200 screens. Yet it’s enduring and popular enough in the cult scence that a second Sharknado was made. Why do we like bad movies such as this? UM Today asked English, film and theatre professor Brenda Austin-Smith this question. She was travelling at the time and emailed us this:
Off the top of my head (not having seen Sharknado 1, let alone 2) B movies are fun because they are CHEESY and clever–or, because they are still cheesy and very, very dumb. I’d be happy to expand on this apparent contradiction if you’d like; in short, we like at times to be on top of films, to know more than they seem to know about themselves. We love to roll our eyes at how awful and silly a film is. And at other times, we love laughing at a film that laughs at itself, a film that credits us with being in on the joke, but still breaking up over it. And we often adore films that mix it up a bit: that are a combination of sincere silliness and winking, knowing, self-consciousness. “Sharknado” dares us to take it seriously; it knows that it is a product of a late night marketing joke run amok. But it runs with it, and we crack up and love that the film acts as if it takes itself seriously, and does/doesn’t admit it. We love films that act as if they are William Shatner all the time. We watch because we can’t believe what we are seeing (“Surely they can’t be serious. They aren’t serious–are they?”).