TV

'Perfect Storms': TV Show Investigates Weather That Changes The Course Of History

04/08/2013 12:28 EDT
AP
FILE - This Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 aerial file photo shows the Breezy Point neighborhood, in New York, where more than 50 homes were burned to the ground as a result of Superstorm Sandy. The Hispanic community in New York remained divided on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 over a law that will reduce the percentage of Latino construction companies that can work with the city. Many construction companies expect to make more revenue now, with reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Talking about the weather is a national pastime (especially during those awkward elevator encounters) here in Canada. So it's a safe bet that History's new series, "Perfect Storms," is sure to fuel plenty of water cooler conversations across the country. It delivers a unique look at some of the most extreme weather in history, from hurricanes to earthquakes to volcano eruptions.

The series explores an incredibly diverse range of storms, from a thunderstorm in 9 A.D. that changed the course of history to the Great Kato Earthquake of 1923 that killed between 120,000 to 140,000 people in Japan.

HuffPost Canada TV caught up with the show's producer, Steve Gamester, to find out everything from how these storms have shaped history to whether Sandy fits their criteria for a perfect storm.

HuffPost TV: How did you choose the storms?

Gamester: When you look back through thousands of years of history, unfortunately there's no shortage of massive disaster stories to choose from. We wanted to have a range of different types of stories to choose from. We knew we wanted to do a volcano story, we knew we wanted to do some kind of hurricane story, some kind of earthquake story. And we also wanted to have a range by time period. Of course, we went for the best tales that we could find, that we thought were particularly intriguing and had massive consequences on world history.

For the older events, like the one in 9 A.D., what sorts of sources did you find during the research process?

The further you go back, the more critical you have to be of your sources in some cases. But we did have accounts of this battle, Roman accounts, that had been passed down. There's inevitably a degree of broken telephone, but you do have those first-hand accounts of the fact that this battle happened, that it had a huge impact on the Roman Empire. Because this event is seen as one of those history-turning points, it has received quite a bit of serious scholarship. There's a great book out there called "The Battle That Stopped Rome," where they use a lot of archaeological evidence to try to piece together what happened in this battle. They found remnants of the battlefield, they found some human remains. So it's a jigsaw puzzle of combining first-hand historic accounts, archaeological information and the work done by modern historians.

What was the process of recreating the storms like?

Recreation is always a tricky business because the audience is pretty savvy about this stuff. They see big Hollywood feature films with incredible production value. So we knew we couldn't attack it on the same scale. When it came to those, that's when our approach really came to try and give the audience a sense of the experience of a couple of individuals, and really bring it down to that scale. We knew that we could cover the big scale through the animation to give the audience a sense of what these disasters would have looked like through a bird's eye view, to give that epicness. But we used the dramatizations to go into that individual experience. So for instance, if you look at some of the episodes, we use things like slow-motion effects and blurring, which is actually based on the actual physiological response that people have to disasters.

In the Galveston episode it was really interesting to see the U.S. Air Force's Hurricane Hunters ... I didn't realize such a unit existed!

The Hurricane Hunters is pretty unique. It's an unbelievable capability they have to fly into these hurricanes. Hurricane science is incredibly complicated. One thing the Hurricane Hunters can do is provide warning. They won't be able to tell exactly where a hurricane is going, but they'll have a pretty good idea. That does save lives.

Did anything surprise you while you were researching the show?

The Tokyo story is one that really stuck with me, because it was a story that I didn't know much about. We interview a woman who survived the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake that hit Tokyo. She's 108 years old. She told us her survival story. You know, that really wasn't that long ago if it's within living memory. And 120,000 to 140,000 people were killed in that disaster. Most of Tokyo burned to the ground. And some historians believe that disaster was really what set Japan on a path towards the Second World War. Because in the chaos of disaster, one of the only institutions that was able to restore order and reorganize society was the military. So the military gained power in Japan, and less than 20 years later Japan is one of the instigators of the Second World War. These events, there's the immediate impact where lots of people are killed and displaced, and there's lots of property damage. But the ripple effect of a lot of these disasters throughout history is pretty amazing.

Would Sandy make your list of perfect storms?

We've developed ten more episodes for a possible Season 2, maybe we'll be lucky and get another season. And Sandy is on that list. It would be a bit of an outlier if we did that one. It's obviously very recent, so do we have enough perspective to tell that story? Did it change world history? Well it's obviously way too early to tell, but certainly it does seem to have had an impact. Some people believe that it might have handed Obama the election, that Romney surged just before the hurricane hit, and that Obama's response to the hurricane and very public appearances helped push him over the hump. Who knows? The other thing you hear about its impact on immediate history is that, like Katrina, it's another piece of concrete evidence for the general public that there might be something to this global warming thing. Sandy would certainly be an interesting story to tell.

Who do you think the show will appeal to?

I think it appeals to anyone who's interested in history, anyone who's interested in science. A lot of people are very interested in weather. And I think people are interested in a great story. We didn't want this to just be 'watch the volcano explode.' We wanted to provide the story of people who went through these events. These are people worth remembering.

"Perfect Storms" premieres on History on Monday, April 8 at 9 p.m. ET/ PT.