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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2103. ClearH2OFla
8:55 AM EDT on June 15, 2007
It would appear all is quite in Carib. the CMC has nothing developing now
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2102. 4Gaia
12:53 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Do we have any idea on when the trough might move?
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2101. thelmores
12:52 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
looking at things, looks like the low south of Cozumel will slowly drift northward today....

BAMM's fom 00 show NW! LOL
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2100. weathermanwannabe
7:46 AM CDT on June 15, 2007
Hey All....All of the convection that was trying to form around the low yesterday (looked impressive yesterday) is getting blown to bits by shear off to the NE so I do not think that there will a flight this afternoon to invest....In accordance with the NHC outlook, we should not expect anything until next week (Seems like Dr. M was right on when he took his family vacation advising us that nothing significant would develop for a few weeks based upon sheer and other conditions)..
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2099. 4Gaia
12:52 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Welcome back Rat! I havent seen your posts since last year.
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2098. Drakoen
12:50 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
the shear is still high because the trough has yet to move north. When it does we could see some organization. TWC say there is a mid level spin just west of cuba. Thats what they are watching to see if something can come down to the surface.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29922
2097. TexasRiverRat
12:51 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Or where do you get the Spag Models??
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2096. thelmores
12:50 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
have not seen the 1506 CMC yet....... only see the 1500 CMC......
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2095. 4Gaia
12:50 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Ican't get over the increase in sst's the past week or so.
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2094. TexasRiverRat
12:51 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Whats the link to Sketobite or whatever its called????
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2093. thelmores
12:47 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
looks like there is still a low south of cozumel, but little convection!
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2092. 4Gaia
12:44 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
I agree Cayman, I think 94L was premature. Which is not to say it wont become a much needed rainmaker. That having been said, what is going to happen after these areas of shear dissapate. It may be an interesting August for the Carib. and Gulf.
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2091. Drakoen
12:46 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
thelmores the CMC take it though south Florida.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29922
2090. Drakoen
12:45 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: kmanislander at 12:29 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Koritheman and Drak

The WV loop shows nothing but hostile winds streaming W to E from the Gomex across the NW Caribbean. I know Barry defied high shear but it won't happen like that often LOL
Anyway got to get ready for the day. Will check in later

yea which is what i said over and over yesterday about the strong upper level winds.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29922
2089. thelmores
12:39 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
morning all! :)

GFS still shows a Pensacola storm in 6 days! LOL

UKMET shows notta!

and the FSU site has no GFDL, and the PSU site won't let me see the GFDL (forbidden! LOL)

from the looks of things, the models are not doing well on 94L.
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2088. Caymanite
12:39 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Morning all, as I said last nite. nothing going on with 94L. Now we need a new blob. LOL
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2087. apocalyps
02:25 PM CEST op 15 Juni, 2007
If we have the high there a month from now it means big trouble.
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2086. kmanislander
12:27 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Koritheman and Drak

The WV loop shows nothing but hostile winds streaming W to E from the Gomex across the NW Caribbean. I know Barry defied high shear but it won't happen like that often LOL
Anyway got to get ready for the day. Will check in later

Link
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15749
2085. KoritheMan
12:26 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
I want to update my tropical weather blog today, but should I, given the current unfavorable upper-level winds over the system, as well as its lack of organization? The ULL seems to be choking off all of the convection that 94L tries to build.

Should I really update?
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2084. Drakoen
12:25 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: kmanislander at 12:25 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Drak

I should have said low pressure even though it has risen 4 mb from the lowest point. In any event you will recall that I had my doubts as to the actual strength and organization of 94L and those doubts have verified

hehe i doubt anythhing will work to the surface.
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2083. KoritheMan
12:25 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Yeah kman, I'm beginning to wonder if 94L will hold up for another 6 hours. It may die off very quickly.
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2082. kmanislander
12:22 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Drak

I should have said low pressure even though it has risen 4 mb from the lowest point. In any event you will recall that I had my doubts as to the actual strength and organization of 94L and those doubts have verified
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15749
2081. KoritheMan
12:24 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
WOW, STL. That really IS bad. If this stays in place throughout the season, pray and prepare. LOL!
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2080. Drakoen
12:22 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
looks like the models have changed their mind and have the system going thorugh Central-South Florida.
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2078. Drakoen
12:20 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
kman that low near cuba is an upper level low.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29922
2077. kmanislander
12:13 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
good morning all

It is questionable whether Navy should have even classified this as 94L in the first place. Perhaps if they had waited for the quikscat pass last night they would not have. I was sceptical from late yesterday afternoon as to whether the "spin" everyone was attributing to a surface low was not in fact more related to the ULL that was passing overhead at the time and the QS pass now shows that there is no closed low even though there was and still is a low near Cozumel. Whether or not it can develop with the ULL having moved away is still in doubt given overall upper level wind conditions
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15749
2076. emagirl
12:11 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
good morning everyone it seems i missed alot last night so do i understand right that we have an invest
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2075. watchingnva
12:09 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Its funny how so many think the spin thats moving ENE near cuba is 94L...lol...it is not...thats the ULL pulling convection and just about everything else from 94L with it...its gonna be at least a few (4-6) hours before this thing can even hold convection near its center...and by that time theres some lovely dry filling in behind the ULL. This dry air is gonna give 94L a run for its money as it drifts northward...20% chance this thing developes at all unless it gets alot of convection with it before moving up into the gulf...Work time...Ill check back in with you guys later....

Chris.
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2074. apocalyps
02:12 PM CEST op 15 Juni, 2007
it is not because its not moving NW at the moment that it could not go NW tomorrow or two days from now.
Have to wait and see.
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2073. SCwxwatch
12:10 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
I just dont see anything Moving NNW.

Loop has me dizzy now..lol
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2072. MahFL
7:59 AM EDT on June 15, 2007
Oh I did not realise we had some actual action in the Caribbean....
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2071. SavannahStorm
12:00 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
I can't get the loops to work in IE, I have to switch over the Firefox.
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2070. SCwxwatch
11:57 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Link

Link
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2069. TexasRiverRat
11:53 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Is anyone elses Atlantic Loops not working?
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2068. cajunkid
6:44 AM CDT on June 15, 2007
G35,
that's shear, and you see the cloud tops rotating as they blow off. It may reform farther east, lets see what happens later when new convection starts
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2067. WPBHurricane05
7:45 AM EDT on June 15, 2007
The ULL is moving ENE bringing convection from 94L with it.
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2065. Thundercloud01221991
11:39 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
This is now a whole new ball game with it this far East does it still look like the West side of Florida
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2064. G35Wayne
11:36 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Why does the NHC say this thing is moving NW???? Thats not even close! its getting pushed off to the ENE and it looks like the center is reforming way farth to the east.
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2063. BahaHurican
7:21 AM EDT on June 15, 2007
Anyway, I'm out. I gotta go to work this a. m.
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2062. BahaHurican
7:17 AM EDT on June 15, 2007
Yeah, that's just about right LOL.

The reason why this high interests me right now is that, as someone indicated earlier this week, the location of the Atlantic high at the end of June is often the general area where high pressure will hang out for much of the summer. The location of that high last year saved us in the Caribbean and the US from the worst of last years' hurricanes, almost all of which recurved harmlessly long before approaching the Eastern seaboard.

Here's hoping it retreats north and east. Then we can enjoy the thrill without being on the hot seat . . .
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2061. SCwxwatch
11:20 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Looks to me as if its not even going to make it to the GOM , Looks to be blowing East toward the Atlantic.
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2060. moonlightcowboy
11:11 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
...lol, D O U B L E T R O U B L E ! ! !
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2059. moonlightcowboy
11:14 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
...sonofagunn, nice answer! T R O U B L E, it would be!
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2057. sonofagunn
11:08 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I'm one of the dumb people who normally just listen, but I believe the significance of the high later in the season is that any storms that form off of Africa (which start forming later in the season) would be funneled down the South side of the ridge of high pressure and all of them would be aimed right at us.
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2056. apocalyps
01:00 PM CEST op 15 Juni, 2007
i go for the NNW track.
Shear is low enough.
It will develop.
Not rapidly but this all could change once it reaches the GOM.
So Mississippi is a possibility.
TS very likely,hurricane unlikely but if it does follow that track and shear would fall in GOM coming days we have a hurricane.
sst is warm enough in GOM to give it strenght.
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2055. cajunkid
5:59 AM CDT on June 15, 2007
Morning everyone, looks like I haven't missed too much
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2054. TheNeighbor
7:04 AM EDT on June 15, 2007
BaHa

For us dumb people that just lurk here to listen and learn ... could you explain the significance of the high now and if it was later in the season.

Thanks
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2053. moonlightcowboy
10:55 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
...yep, Baha...a really rough spot for that high. If this were later in the season, we'd all be in a bind I'm sure!
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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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