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What Are Your Top Weather Documentaries?

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With all of us shuttered in for Hurricane Sandy, it seems like a good time to consider what great documentaries about the weather are out there.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many. Even director Barry Levinson, when asked to make a documentary about environmental issues facing Chesapeake Bay, chose instead to make the fictionalized eco-horror film, The Bay.

The greatest purely weather-focused film has to be Twister, which was certainly a thrill at the time, but I can’t muster the gumption to recommend watching that computer generated cow being tossed in the wind nowadays.

So let’s consider my favorite weather docs, two of which are about the last great hurricane to hit American soil, Hurricane Katrina:

An Inconvenient Truth
Davis Guggenheim’s film about Al Gore’s crusade against global warming reenergized the environmental movement. The notion that we humans could have an impact on the earth’s temperature — and therefore weather patterns — might seem like a piece of fiction, but this film delineated how it’s grounded in science. Sadly, belief in such science has become a political issue, so there are now an increasing number of global warming-deniers, and many have taken note that the recent political debates never mentioned climate change.

Owning the Weather
This 2009 documentary goes beyond issues of global warming and weather-induced disasters to look at geoengineering and the scientists who are figuring out ways to control temperature and precipitation in an attempt to save our lonely planet. Can Man do better than Mother Nature? Sounds like another eco-horror film, but it’s the real thing.

Trouble the Water
Carl Deal and Tia Lessin’s much celebrated documentary follows the first great non-fiction weather action hero, Kimberly Roberts, who videotaped Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans. This story of devastation, neglect, tragedy and human resilience will be the one to put in the time capsule for future generations.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
This Spike Lee-directed doc, assured and comprehensive, tells the story of Katrina through news footage and still photography with the lyricism and strong eye we’ve become accustomed to with Lee. With a jazz score, and financing from HBO, When the Levees Broke is the most polished doc to depict the Katrina storm and its aftermath.

Deep Water
This is not a pure weather doc, but it is very much about one man taking on the elements, and his own sanity. This story of Donald Crowhurst, a foolhardy businessman who took to the seas in 1969 to accomplish a round-the-world sailing race on the power of his amateurish enthusiasm, is a riveting tale of the strength and fragility of a tragic anti-hero. It also happens to be the only film listed here that’s streamable on Netflix. It’s the perfect documentary to watch, wrapped in a blanket with a glass of wine, while the weather outside is so frightful. Stream it now, or tomorrow, or whenever the rain stops…

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • jim

    There have been some excellent documentaries on PBS about weather. There was a good one about The Hurricane Of 1938, The Johnstown Flood, and The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake among others on The American Experience.