A better answer is that I did not intend to write a research paper. Information about the tornado - the force of the wind, the cubic yards of debris, etc. - is already available, and I find that it dehumanized the event. I did not set out to impress readers with numbers, but to capture the spirit of our fair community that followed the EF5 tornado on that Sunday evening.
At the risk of repeating myself, the storm was prologue. In fact, in my book, Out of the Wind, the tornado occurs in the opening pages. It begins with a siren, a power outage, a rumble. It passes through Joplin, and only then does the story really begin.
I realize that seems to break with most story patterns. The tornado, with its excitement, would be a terrific villain in a book. The weather event of May 22, 2011, would make an astounding climax in the plot. In Out of the Wind, however, cold, meteorological event is not the climax. Instead the story intensifies in a series of searches - for a missing boyfriend, for closure, for hope, for compassion, and for life.
The central concept of the story is what we all realized in the summer following the tornado. It was best stated by one of the volunteers in the story, when he noticed that, In Joplin's own time of need, Joplin reached out to help others. I didn't want to write a cold, objective account of the storm; I chose instead to portray the heart of Joplin. I wrote a personal, emotional story to bring others into the experience. No, I can't describe the read feelings of exploding windows and breaking cinder block, the pressure on the ears, the sting of the dust and debris...but I can capture the confusion and the emotion, the compassion and the frustration, hope and the lack of hope that all emerged from the wind.