Along with her novels "Those Who Save Us" and "The Stormchasers," Jenna Blum is shown chasing storms, as well as with her boyfriend - extreme weather photographer Jim Reed - near his chase vehicle in late December when they were interviewed in Spring Grove. The EF4 tornado pictured was seen Aug. 7, 2010, near Campbell, Minn.  (Photo credits: Upper left, Chad Cowan; upper right, Jim Reed; lower right, Lisa Brainard/Bluff Country Newspaper Group; and the rest come from http://jennablum.com)
Along with her novels "Those Who Save Us" and "The Stormchasers," Jenna Blum is shown chasing storms, as well as with her boyfriend - extreme weather photographer Jim Reed - near his chase vehicle in late December when they were interviewed in Spring Grove. The EF4 tornado pictured was seen Aug. 7, 2010, near Campbell, Minn. (Photo credits: Upper left, Chad Cowan; upper right, Jim Reed; lower right, Lisa Brainard/Bluff Country Newspaper Group; and the rest come from http://jennablum.com)
When New York Times bestselling author Jenna Blum wants to write, or do research for a novel, or just take a break from her favorite hobby of storm and tornado chasing, she can always find her safe harbor in the storm just down the road in "New Heidelberg."

That would be Caledonia to the rest of us.

Those who've read her books "Those Who Save Us" and "The Stormchasers" might recognize some scenes or settings as located in southeastern Minnesota or even northeastern Iowa.

Blum's home away from home is a sanctuary she lovingly describes in her writing as "the blue house." It sits in Caledonia where Blum's mother - Franny Joerg McCarthy - is from and where she now again resides.

Showing her sense of humor, Blum explained, "She came back here to hang out with her high school posse."

Dave Joerg of Preston is Blum's uncle and Chris Joerg her cousin. Speaking of Preston, in case you're wondering about location adaptations in her books, one has to figure you'll readily identify with stopping for a meal at the "Wagon Wheel" in "Creston" for its magnificent view of the town. Or, she also explained, Spring Grove has always been and will always be "Norwegian Ridge" when it shows up in her books.

In using these names, Blum said she can write about the towns "without the restriction of accuracy, but it's still recognizable enough." To illustrate this, she pointed out in talking with a class at Caledonia school last year that one student observed, "You wrote about my house."

If she's writing a scene where something bad will happen, Blum said, "I'm still a little superstitious." She'll change town names and the surrounding topography to make a setting that doesn't relate to a real location.

In "The Stormchasers" a tornado wiped out the town of Oweeo, SD. Blum showed her humor and her love of "The Wizard of Oz," saying she made up the name from the tune sung by the guards for the Wicked Witch of the West as they marched. She also noted such liberties can make it tough on her copy editors, who just couldn't find, or in turn verify, the town of Oweeo in South Dakota.

When she does use a real place in a book, she's "super careful to get it right." That includes driving through it to double check locations. She's not so shy about using real locations such as Rochester, La Crosse and bigger cities in her books. "I don't want it (something bad portrayed in her books) striking close to home. But cities like Minneapolis are big enough to take care of themselves."

Whirlwind meeting

The Ivy Grove Café in Spring Grove was the site for the interview with Blum, along with her beau, Jim Reed, an extreme storm photographer. Blum, who saw a tornado from the vantage of a living room as a young child, has remained fascinated by them and the storms that cause them. She went storm chasing throughout the Great Plains and Midwest with Tempest Tours for five years, gaining invaluable knowledge for the novel related to storm chasing.

For a full look at Blum's background, check her website, http://jennablum.com/. It includes a blog where she touches on many topics, including writing, storms and whatever might be on her mind, all shared with frequent photos and humor.

Enter Jim Reed. Certainly they met while storm chasing, right?

No. They are very willing to credit Facebook as providing the portal for them to meet, just like thousands of other people. Blum recalled she was quite excited to become "friends" with Jim Reed on the social media network in early 2011. Although they'd never met, they had storm chasing friends in common.

Reed expressed a similar sentiment. He knew Blum had written novels and he wrote her on Facebook to see if she, with her experience, could discuss the needs of a digital book. Could he call her to discuss it? Yes.

They both said, with big smiles, they talked... and talked... and talked. The phone calls became what they endearingly termed "Friday fireside chats," at one point lasting up to nine hours. Last March they started dating. One has to feel the pair will top the "power couple" category in the storm chasing world, although their continuous jokes show they certainly wouldn't take such a title very seriously.

Changing weather

What they do take with the utmost seriousness is weather. Particularly, bad weather. Reed shot Hurricane Katrina as the storm arrived, during it and the destruction after it. He shot Hurricane Irene in New York last year.

Reed was careful to point out, "I'm an extreme weather photographer. Not a tornado hunter." Unlike patrons paying perhaps $2,000 a week for a storm chasing tour, he is not disappointed if he doesn't see a tornado. There will be plenty of other weather to see, including lightning. Reed has amazing lightning shots. Check www.jimreedphoto.com for his photos and other information.

He and Blum have noticed changing weather in recent years with super tornadoes and tornado outbreaks, as well as a Christmas without snow in southeastern Minnesota. Blum said during a late, late fall visit to Caledonia she found parsley still growing in her garden. "The growing season was a month longer," she noted.

Reed likened his role to being a detective and searching for clues as he photographs these changes. He especially noted the energy of low pressure systems that can cause bad storms "keeps getting more and more intense."

He has made grabbed radar loop pictures on computer screens over the past five years and noted some look similar to a hurricane, almost like a tropical event. Blum suggested a new name, a "landicane."

Reed said, "It's disturbing what we saw this year."

Blum was storm chasing and saw the EF-4 tornado that hit Wadena on June 17, 2010, which according to media reports was a quarter-mile wide. She said it just kept reforming with more vortices. "It looked like the Tuscaloosa one," she noted, saying it was the biggest one she'd seen in her numerous years of storm chasing.

In the changing climate, Reed noted he's a "very devoted note-taker."

He said he'd bet the more extreme weather is "cyclical," while pointing out it's the first time it's occurred while humans are able to record it.

Take warnings to heart

People should be able to adjust or take precautions for incoming extreme weather because, Reed said, "The warning system is the best ever. There's no reason not to respond prudently or appropriately."

He and Blum agreed, however, that in Minnesota people - especially farmers - are good at reading the weather and taking precautions because not doing so could radically affect their lives and/or livelihoods.

They also said people shouldn't fall into believing myths and old tales. Blum explained she was at a picnic last summer on a day when the weather forecast was calling for strong storms capable of producing tornadoes. Someone told Blum that a tornadic storm wouldn't ever come to Caledonia, that they always stay south of the Iowa border.

That day also saw Blum go storm chasing in the area, following a tornado close to Hokah until it became wrapped in rain. Another clear myth, that a storm won't cross a river, was obvious when Blum said the tornado stopped about a block short of Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse. That put it over the Mississippi River.

Of course that same day - May 22, 2011 - is when an EF2 tornado tracked from near Lime Springs, Iowa, northeast into Fillmore County, causing a path of destruction, but luckily little in the way of injuries. Joplin, Mo., was not so lucky later that same day, as an EF-5 tornado destroyed much in the city and is reported to be the cause of around 162 deaths.

Past... and future

Blum first became fascinated with tornadoes after seeing one as a child. Reed felt it was a real memory after he heard her share her whole experience. "It's something that's branded in a little kid. You can tell who's really changed by it. Some use it to move in a direction."

Smiling, Blum said she took to science and other pursuits, "I'm a girl geek."

She'll take that drive as she does research for her third book. Also, Blum is trying a new endeavor, co-writing a screenplay for her "Those Who Save Us" novel. She explained a writer has worked on adapting it, but it's a huge task in selecting scenes to keep from the 400+ page novel. Blum will be taking on that task, which she expects to be a lot different from writing a novel.

Both Blum and Reed keep very busy with their projects, but as she stated, they both understand the need to "lock down" when working on a book. And for the fans of their works - and those people everywhere whose lives may be affected by extreme weather - they advise owning a weather radio and taking forecasts quite seriously.