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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953. hurricane23
10:58 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
This is the area to watch...

fff
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13719
952. WPBHurricane05
10:59 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
When they take this big boy out than I start paying attention.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
951. WPBHurricane05
10:58 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
I agree Drakoen.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
950. Drakoen
2:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: hurricane23 at 2:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Low pressure to develope in the NW carribean in the next day or two.Will be looked at by recon tommorow

do you see the spin in the Caribbean that i see?
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30181
949. southbeachdude
2:57 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Thanks 23 for the update. We did not get our power back until nearly 1:00am in coral gables.....pretty bad storms yesterday....
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948. WPBHurricane05
10:57 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Does this mean we have an invest??
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
947. Drakoen
2:57 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: quakeman55 at 2:56 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

The CMC model is picking up on that thing in the W Caribbean and develops it as it heads N into the GOM...we'll have to see if this indeed pans out. Most of the models are reducing the shear in the Gulf a few days out from now.

the GFS takes it into South Florida which is the favored track consider that there is an upper level trough over the Southeast.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30181
946. hurricane23
10:56 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Low pressure to develope in the NW carribean in the next day or two.Will be looked at by recon tommorow.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13719
945. Drakoen
2:56 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
lol we all post at the same time XD. Ironic
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944. quakeman55
2:47 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The CMC model is picking up on that thing in the W Caribbean and develops it as it heads N into the GOM...we'll have to see if this indeed pans out. Most of the models are reducing the shear in the Gulf a few days out from now.
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943. hurricane23
10:39 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
399
NOUS42 KNHC 141400
WEATHER RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHTS
CARCAH, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER, MIAMI, FL.
1000 AM EDT THU 14 JUN 2007
SUBJECT: TROPICAL CYCLONE PLAN OF THE DAY (TCPOD)
VALID 15/1100Z TO 16/1100Z JUNE 2007
TCPOD NUMBER.....07-022

I. ATLANTIC REQUIREMENTS
1. SUSPECT AREA (GULF OF MEXICO)
A. 15/1800Z
B. AFXXX 01DDA INVEST
C. 15/1600Z
D. 24.0N 84.0W
E. 15/1530Z TO 15/2300Z
F. SFC TO 10,000 FT
2. OUTLOOK FOR SUCCEEDING DAY.....NEGATIVE.

II. PACIFIC REQUIREMENTS
1. NEGATIVE RECONNAISSANCE REQUIREMENTS.
2. SUCCEEDING DAY OUTLOOK.....NEGATIVE.
JWP
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13719
942. MisterPerfect
2:53 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
PAt, I stayed at a real dingy motel in Jefferson Parish in 2002. Even bought a Saints cap at some two story mall by two canals that split a busy street... went bowling somewhere in the parrish too. Sure it was all messed up.
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941. WestCoastRich
2:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
opps, Recon info just posted before mine...
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940. Drakoen
2:53 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
did anyone see this???

000
NOUS42 KNHC 141400
WEATHER RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHTS
CARCAH, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER, MIAMI, FL.
1000 AM EDT THU 14 JUN 2007
SUBJECT: TROPICAL CYCLONE PLAN OF THE DAY (TCPOD)
VALID 15/1100Z TO 16/1100Z JUNE 2007
TCPOD NUMBER.....07-022

I. ATLANTIC REQUIREMENTS
1. SUSPECT AREA (GULF OF MEXICO)
A. 15/1800Z
B. AFXXX 01DDA INVEST
C. 15/1600Z
D. 24.0N 84.0W
E. 15/1530Z TO 15/2300Z
F. SFC TO 10,000 FT
2. OUTLOOK FOR SUCCEEDING DAY.....NEGATIVE.

II. PACIFIC REQUIREMENTS
1. NEGATIVE RECONNAISSANCE REQUIREMENTS.
2. SUCCEEDING DAY OUTLOOK.....NEGATIVE.
JWP



Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30181
939. Patrap
9:51 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
We all going to be fine.But hey..we aint Baghdad. So..we aint front page News..we used to it.
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938. Ldog74
2:46 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Patrap, ill never forget driving through gulfport and thinking, how could it get any worse than this, then i entered New Orleans and i realized just how bad she was.
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937. IKE
9:48 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: underthunder at 9:40 AM CDT on June 14, 2007.
well...does anyone see an end to this god forsaken drought that we in southeast alabama are under...


A good chance of the NW Caribbean moisture moving north and bringing some drought relief to SE Alabama by the first of next week.
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936. kmanislander
2:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak

Hope this page contains the info as to when the passes will occur. The trend seems to be a pass in the morning and one in the evening for the NW Caribbean
Link
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935. underthunder
2:02 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
well...does anyone see an end to this god forsaken drought that we in southeast alabama are under...
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934. Patrap
9:32 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Foe all those who think they have seen devastation..or want to compare Non-existent future storms to Katrina.I suggest you find a week to drive from Mobile Bay..to Houma La..near DocNDswamp here. Thats a 3 hour drive thru the impact Zone. Where else in history..Storms that is..does it takes 3 hours to drive thru a CAne Impact Zone? Lotsa folks still suffering along the Gulf Coast. Use a lil restraint when dealing with talk of calamity and use a lil tact when posting . It goes a long way.
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933. Drakoen
2:34 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
kmaislander when is the next pass, tonight?
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932. WPBHurricane05
10:34 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Patrap-no
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931. Drakoen
2:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Intersting i was looking an the upper level vorticy and the CMC and the GFS has the upper level low moving on land and weakening.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30181
930. Patrap
9:32 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
You ever been here WPB?..Since the storm in 05?
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928. Drakoen
2:30 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
ah okies sry.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30181
927. WPBHurricane05
10:29 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
WPB..I live in Jefferson..not Orleans Parish. He dont have anything to do here.

Sorry, just thought I would show you a man with a plan..........
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
926. seminolesfan
2:25 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
SJ-Unfortunatly, I'm having a hard time getting my mind around any kind of a democratic-dictatorship.

The two don't seem to co-exist in any form or fashion.

Either way, this is obviously waaaaaay off topic for this blog. :)

I'll just finish with an 'enjoy you day' and we'll both walk away smiling.
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925. fldoughboy
2:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Wow, Patrap, that's quite an ironic turn of events.
924. Patrap
9:27 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
WPB..I live in Jefferson..not Orleans Parish. He dont have anything to do here.
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923. kmanislander
2:26 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Here is the 11:44 quikscat pass.
There are some strong winds but no surface low in the NW Caribbean at this time

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922. Patrap
9:26 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
The DOc ask that we Link those Large animations Drak.Slows down the dial-up customers.Please use a link for them..Pat
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921. Patrap
9:25 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Tragedy strikes here during a Thunderstorm yesterday...5
Link
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920. Drakoen
2:24 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
you can see a rotation there.
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919. StormJunkie
2:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Good point SF, that said there is likely some blend of communism, democracy, and dictatorship that leads us to be a more productive species.

See ya
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16314
918. fldoughboy
2:19 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I can't believe that they got an "invest" still on TD-3E, it's nothing but a low cloud swirl mass. ~shakes head~
917. WPBHurricane05
10:23 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Don't worry Pat, he has it taken care of:

Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
916. hurricane23
10:20 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: MisterPerfect at 10:10 AM EDT on June 14, 2007. (hide)
Attention South Floridians:

More of the same this afternoon. Good chance for Thunderstorms in the early afternoon, potentially severe in some areas. Hail, 60 MPH Wind, and dangerous cloud to ground lightning possible. Stay safe, drive carefully.

Looks rather stormy today...But iam watching on water vapor imagery some dry air moving down the state we'll see what that does for us later this afternoon.

fff

BUT FOR TODAY, STRONG TO SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS WITH DAMAGING WINDS
AND PENNY SIZE HAIL WILL AGAIN BE A POSSIBILITY. H5 TEMPS WILL BE
AROUND -8 C, WET BULB ZERO HEIGHTS WILL BE 11K TO 12K AND WE STILL
WILL BE IN THE RIGHT REAR QUADRANT OF A 90 KT JET AT 250 MB. WITH
STEERING FLOW TO THE EAST, ACTIVITY WILL START UP OVER THE SEA
BREEZE`S AND EVENTUALLY MOVE TO THE EAST COAST AND ATLANTIC WATERS.
POPS ARE SIMILAR TO YESTERDAY IN THE NUMEROUS CATEGORY INTERIOR
AND EAST. AS THE MEAN FLOW BECOMES MORE SOUTHERLY THIS WEEKEND,
ACTIVITY WILL CONTINUE NUMEROUS LATE MORNING THROUGH EARLY
AFTERNOON EACH DAY.
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915. Patrap
9:20 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
As we lean toward JUly..Things will get busier.
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913. Patrap
9:19 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
I seen it...OMG!..LOL
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911. IKE
9:18 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
There does seem to be a rotation down there....about 16N, 83.5W.
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910. Patrap
9:18 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
GOES WV Loop of Tropical Basin
Link
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909. StormJunkie
2:17 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
It is a new tropical wave.

Love this surface map, it is a 3mb pdf.

Find that link and much more here.

Got to run. See y'all later
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16314
908. thelmores
2:17 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
hey Pat, you see the latest CMC? lol
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907. WPBHurricane05
10:18 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
LOL Patrap!!
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906. Patrap
9:17 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Buried Treasure,,Arrrgh!..LOL
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905. Drakoen
2:15 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: thelmores at 2:13 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak, you can definitely see some rotation in the area you pointed out......

yea the satellite imagery shows it best.
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904. WPBHurricane05
10:13 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Link Whats the big X in the Caribbean??
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903. Patrap
9:15 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Todays invest ,from the last Hour here...Link
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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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