F5: a book review

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:28 PM GMT on June 13, 2007

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F5: Devastation, Survival, and the Most Violent Tornado Outbreak of the 20th Century tells a story from the world's most violent tornado outbreak on record--the April 4, 1974 Super Outbreak. The Super Outbreak featured the most tornadoes ever recorded in a single day, 148, and also had an unprecedented number of violent F4 and F5 tornadoes--six F5 tornadoes and 24 F4 tornadoes (for comparison, the past five years have had one F5 tornado and 15 F4 tornadoes.)

The book has some excellent material discussing the "how" of tornado formation, plus an entire chapter on the life and pioneering research done by tornado researcher Dr. Theodore Fujita (Dr. Tornado). Author Mark Levine definitely did his homework, talking to many of the leading tornado researchers while writing the book. However, F5 is primarily focused on the people who lived in Limestone County, Alabama--a rural area 20 miles west of Huntsville. We get an in-depth portrayal of the lives of about 30 residents affected by the tornado before, during, and after the storm. Many chapters are spent building up to the tornadoes, painting a detailed picture of what life was like in rural Alabama for these people in the early 1970s. Levine is a gifted writer, and for those interested in the human dimensions of this great tornado disaster, this book is for you. Also, readers who appreciate poetry (the author has written three books of poems, will enjoy Levine's flowery, wordy descriptions:

The fear instilled by tornadoes, and the fascination with them, is beyond rational accounting; they are the weather watcher's equivalent of charismatic megafauna. Their aura is not difficult to fathom. Descending suddenly, menacingly, and without reliable warning, the tornado serves as a near-primal expression of the mysterious and fraught relationship between individuals and the skies above them.

The book has some rather astounding "truth is stranger than fiction" passages. The eyewitness descriptions by the survivors of their horrifying moments flying through the roaring debris-filled air as a monstrous F-5 tornado rips through their homes are particularly riveting. The most amazing part about the events in Limestone County that night was that TWO violent tornadoes--an F4 and an F5--ripped through several hours apart, hitting some of the exact same places. Levine paints a harrowing and unforgettable picture of what it was like to live through the terror of the two tornadoes. Another excerpt:

What Jerry saw was strange and wondrous. Clouds were riding across open fields to the west, moving just like clouds do across the sky. As the clouds passed a steel TVA tower, it snapped out of the ground, and began rolling across the field. A moment later, a second tower was toppled. To Jerry, the scene resembled something out of a cartoon, with the 120-foot high girders skipping like tumbleweeds.


What I didn't like about the book
While F5 is well written and absolutely fascinating in sections, I thought the book was too verbose and took too long to get to the action. I found myself skipping over some sections. The book also introduced too many characters to follow, and I got confused about who was whom. One of my many character flaws is a disinterest in poetry, and I found that the dense, flowery, poetic language of Levine interfered with my desire to see the story moved forward and straightforward science to be presented. The tornadoes don't start their rampage through Limestone County until page 119 of this long, 276-page book, which was too long to wait for my impatient blood. If you want to read a fast-paced true-life tornado drama, pick up a copy of Nancy Mathis' excellent book Storm Warning, about the May 3, 1999 Oklahoma City tornado, which I reviewed earlier this year.

Overall, I give F5 2.5 stars out of 4. If you're a poetry fan, this book deserves a higher rating. F5 was published in May 2007, and is $17.13 at amazon.com.

I'll be back Friday with my bi-monthly 2-week outlook for hurricane season. The tropics are quiet, and the models are forecasting conditions will remain quiet into next week.

Jeff Masters

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1303. Bamatracker
7:45 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
hey sj...Lucky. I still havent made it to the beach this year. Im going to be stuck at work all weekend. Hate that I cant blob watch
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1301. StormJunkie
7:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Afternoon BT ☺

Got to run soon. Headed out to the beach for the weekend ☺
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1300. Drakoen
7:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I am impressed at the broad cyclonic flow with the system considering the upper level winds.

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1299. Bamatracker
7:42 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
drakeon i think they just want us to visit that sight
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1298. Drakoen
7:39 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
HCW what are you talking about?
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1297. HCW
7:36 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hello invest 94L. Recon is set for tomorrow . Kind of weird that the NHC tagged it before the navy

Link
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1296. StormJunkie
7:36 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Thanks pat, you reminded me to finally get that on the Quick Links page.
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1295. Drakoen
7:36 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: stormchaser77 at 7:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

994 mb System would be strong Tropical Storm
or Possibly Weak Hurricane.

interesting GFS. Looks like something Wilma did.
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1292. WPBHurricane05
3:27 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Hurricane 'Cone of Danger' Under Fire
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1291. Drakoen
7:23 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Yes i did say the present shear but it seems that all the model think that the shear will lower to allow for marginal development.
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1289. stormpetrol
7:13 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The weather here is Grand Cayman is rainy and gloomy looking. One thing with the area of disturbed weather in the Western Caribbean it is persistent, although it has been waxing & waning for days it is hanging on , though the convection is not as strong as it was earlier it looks more organized on sat imagery.
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1288. Patrap
2:16 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Tune in ,listen and chat tonight at 8pm EST..to the BarometerBob Show. He has another great guest, Dr. David Stooksbury the Georgia State Climotologist. He will talk about Georgia weather, and past hurricanes that have affected the state. Hurricane hollow is the site that interviewed Dr. Masters a few weeks ago. Its a good informative 2 hours of interacting and blogging.

Link
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1287. Drakoen
7:16 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: StormJunkie at 7:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak, the GFS and CMC show the area E of Cuzmel heading towards the central Fla area. How can you so easily say no

lol. i am not saying it easily. I think Central Florida will get impacted too. if you look at the GFS 850mb it shows something near Fort Myers. The CMC has something north of that. The NOGAPS is in between. The UKMET is still uncertain but along side with the CMC.
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1286. StormJunkie
7:13 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak, the GFS and CMC show the area E of ...my bad, E of Belize, heading towards the central Fla area. How can you so easily say no?
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1285. Drakoen
7:12 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the CMC show something a little more north acossing over central-southern Florida.
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1284. Patrap
2:10 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
GOES WV Loop of Tropical Basin
Link
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1283. Drakoen
7:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 7:08 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

It appears the GFS has something heading toward tampa is this accurate

no its father south near fort myers.
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1282. ustropics
7:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
either way looks like potential rain for the west coast of Florida...we need it :)
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1281. Drakoen
7:08 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I also juts wanna to say that it sounds like i think the system will develop because i am discussing that models that agreeing with development. i don't think much of this system, to be frank.
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1280. StormJunkie
7:09 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Still up in the air H2O
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1279. ustropics
7:06 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
http://moe.met.fsu.edu/cyclonephase/cmc/fcst/archive/07061412/104.html
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1278. ClearH2OFla
3:06 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
It appears the GFS has something heading toward tampa is this accurate
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1277. Patrap
2:07 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
UNISYS 10day GFSx Link
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1276. StormJunkie
7:05 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Skye, what is the CMC showing on the Atlantic side of Fla?
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1275. Drakoen
7:03 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Chicklit at 7:02 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

I wonder what will happen to this system if it goes slightly west and over the Gulf waters...Does that mean it could strength and cross Florida further north?

i think 2-3 models having it going past the Western tip of Cuba not going over land untill it curves into South Florida.
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1274. BoyntonBeach
7:00 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Patrap can you please throw up one of those Unisys developement maps for this system in the Caribbean..i dont have Java at work..thanks
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1273. Skyepony (Mod)
7:01 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
It could go either way if it develops though. CMC has it in the symetric & asymetric warm core ~ at no time cold core, with the presentation pretty round til FL.
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1272. Tazmanian
12:03 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
yes it could
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1271. Drakoen
7:02 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
yes i am talking about a low pressure system at the surface before it gets picked up by the upper level trough.
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1270. Chicklit
7:01 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I wonder what will happen to this system if it goes slightly west and over the Gulf waters...Does that mean it could strength and cross Florida further north?
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1269. Skyepony (Mod)
6:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
MRF isn't bullish like lastnight. 12ZCMC would be fun, weak & right over me.

It really doesn't matter how warm the waters are, if it gets smaked by a front~ that's gonna bring on the cold core properties.
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1268. Drakoen
6:57 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Chicklit at 6:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

the NOGAPS 12z shows a weak system crossing over South Florida. Drak
When?

54 hours you have to look at the 850mb Vorticy.
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1267. Drakoen
6:56 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: scottsvb at 6:33 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak cold core with surface temps at 80dg dont matter..coldcore are up at the 500mb levels..water temps have nothing todo with it.. now they can over many days work their way down to the surface and then develop warm core or tropical characteristics..but takes a long time if they do at all. Water temps dont mean anything to cold core lows.
Also the system is near 19.5N and 86W alot closer to Cozumel..about 50 miles SE..Im out!!


yes and i am talking about a surface low not a mid level low.
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1266. Drakoen
6:53 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 6:37 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

great point SJ, why the such sudden change of heart Drakoen?

I was merely discussing the models and the current situation.I don't side with anyone. I discuss the good and the bad.What i say is what it think at the present time. We are talking about a weak system that is still disorganzied and being supported by upper level diffluence along with unfavorable upper level winds.
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1265. Chicklit
6:54 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the NOGAPS 12z shows a weak system crossing over South Florida. Drak
When?
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1264. Patrap
1:55 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
GOM 60 hour SST's model and other...Link
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1263. Drakoen
6:52 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the NOGAPS 12z shows a weak system crossing over South Florida.
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1262. HurricaneFCast
6:51 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Yep.. Thundercloud. Thanks for posting those, I was pointing that out yesterday as well as this morning. It's very intriguing isn't it?
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1261. Thundercloud01221991
6:51 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Yes but that could be bad for the first storm that moves into the gulf
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1260. Drakoen
6:49 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: StormJunkie at 6:36 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak, you were drawing circles and showing your interest in these areas earlier and now your on the other side of the fence with this system. I am confused...and now you and h23 have been trying to tell everyone all day???

Anywho, it is an interesting area and it does have a chance to develop albeit outside, and it will likely bring rain to much of the SE no matter what it is.

I Was just discussing the cyclogenesis potential and the forecast of the low.
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1259. Patrap
1:49 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
WAVETRAK.....Link
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1258. Tazmanian
11:44 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
1200
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1256. Thundercloud01221991
6:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
June 13, 2005



June 14, 2005




June 13, 2007



June 14, 2007

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1253. StormJunkie
6:33 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak, you were drawing circles and showing your interest in these areas earlier and now your on the other side of the fence with this system. I am confused...and now you and h23 have been trying to tell everyone all day???

Anywho, it is an interesting area and it does have a chance to develop albeit outside, and it will likely bring rain to much of the SE no matter what it is.


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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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