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"We Got Cows!": Twister's Iconic Flying Cow Scene Isn't Just Movie Magic – It Really Happens

Cows might not even be the strangest thing that tornadoes have picked up.

By James Grebey
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Twister is a beloved disaster movie, but no scene in the 1996 classic is more iconic than the sequence in which a cow that has been picked up by the might of a tornado goes flying by the windshield of Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton’s car, leaving the two storm-chasers absolutely flummoxed. 

It’s a memorable scene, and the upcoming film Twisters, a standalone sequel to the original film, will likely try to pay homage to it — or perhaps even attempt to outdo it. But, airborne livestock is not just the stuff of blockbuster disaster movies. Real tornadoes actually have yeeted bovines before. 

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As Stefen Fangmeier, the visual effects supervisor for Twister, explained in an interview with the VFX magazine Before & Afters, the film’s famous cow moment was inspired by real reports. 

“It was based on actual real occurrences,” Fangmeier said. “Farmers, after a tornado had gone through, were reporting finding their cows miles and miles away from the field where they had last been.

“The thing is,” he continued, “nobody had ever videotaped a cow flying through a tornado. We were shooting this from a moving car. It’s not like we put a cow on a cable and floated it through the air to see what it would do. We just did a guess of what it would look like. How would an animal suspended in the air look? It’s not running, OK. Maybe its legs would be slightly tucked in and it would probably be lost so maybe it’s twisting its neck. There was that element of comedy in there.”

What else can tornadoes pick up?

Cows are not the only strange things that tornadoes have picked up over the years. Here are a few other notable objects (and living beings!) that have been lifted into the air by a powerful storm:

  • In 2006, when a tornado hit Fordland, Missouri, a 19-year-old high school senior named Matt Suter was picked up and carried 1,307 feet by the winds — the record for the farthest anybody has ever been carried by a tornado and survived. Suter, who was wearing only his boxer shorts when this all went down, received only a minor gash on his head and was otherwise remarkably uninjured. 
  • A school bus was lifted onto the top of a building when a tornado hit Caledonia, Mississippi, in January 2008.
  • An oil derrick, which weighed 1.9 million pounds, was tossed more than 90 feet from its original location by the tornado that hit El Reno, Oklahoma, in May 2013. This might be the heaviest confirmed object that’s ever been lifted by a tornado.  
  • A wooden chair was picked up and thrown into stucco drywall in such a way that it got perfectly stuck during the 2011 Joplin, Missouri, tornado.
  • In 2011, a tornado in Smithville, Missouri, picked up an entire SUV and threw it half a mile before it bounced off the top of a water tower, leaving a visible dent in the metal. It traveled another quarter-mile after this. 
  • A 75-year-old woman and the bathtub she was seeking shelter in were plucked from her East Texas home and deposited, unharmed, into the nearby woods when a tornado hit in early 2017.

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The trailer for Twisters shows the massive blade of a wind turbine getting thrown by a tornado, and a sequence in which a tornado hits a rodeo suggests that there should be plenty of opportunities for livestock to take flight. We will see what else Twisters throws at us when the movie hits theaters on July 19.