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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903. Patrap
9:15 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Todays invest ,from the last Hour here...Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
902. rwdobson
2:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
well, that blobby area of clouds is still there. guess that gives the blobbers something to talk about...still doesn't look like much to me, though.
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901. hcubed
2:15 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Aroughleague209 at 1:45 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

You remember me, I'm the remnants of HurriAndrewFury.


So let's see if I've got this right:

HurriAndrewFury = banned
Aroughleague = banned
Aroughleague209 = ????

See a trend yet?
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900. Drakoen
2:15 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
low cloud product
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
899. stlrzrule
2:12 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
WOW Stormjunkie I completely agree with you on that one. I would have never thought of something like that and to put it that way.
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898. thelmores
1:50 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak, you can definitely see some rotation in the area you pointed out......
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897. fldoughboy
2:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Sure I think I get it.

The rains in Gainesville were a total disappointment, quarter of an inch in the last 2 days.
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896. Drakoen
2:11 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Barry was never symetric with its convection ever.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
895. StormJunkie
1:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
By moving the low pressure to the left.....

Well now that gets the understatement of the year award..lol Morning wpb ☺

Drak, that is true, but that was due to the shear which eventually caused Barry to become asymetric.

23, my point is that once we get away from confining ourselves to one way of learning and teaching the more folks we will have that are highly educated in their field. Case and point. Take a 15yr old kid and start training them to perform triple by-pass surgery. Train them on nothing else for the next six years except what directly relates to this surgery both in the field and the book knowledge that is needed. Now take a 18yr old send them to college for 8yrs to become a Dr and get their medical degree. They graduate at 27.

Now we have a 27 yr old and a 21yr old and you need tripple by-pass surgery. I am going with the specialist, Don't care that they are 21 and have less years of "schooling"
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 15472
894. MisterPerfect
2:07 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
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.
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893. seminolesfan
2:07 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
fldough-hopefully we will still be 'blobbing' in Aug; blobbing isn't nearly as dangerous as when we're all 'stormin' if ya catch my drift...
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892. fldoughboy
2:04 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Good morning guys, I see from the previous blogs it's been a rough go in here, hopefully everything will smooth over from now on. ~fingers crossed~
Gainesville this morning had a low of 63, just a couple degrees from a record low for the date in June. Tropically, it looks like there may be something in the Carribean from those past blogs, but isn't wind shear a problem right now or not that area of the sea? If we are "blobbin'" this much now, I am afraid to see July and August. lol
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891. Drakoen
2:05 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
hehe i didn't get to see that advisory adrian was watching the weather channel.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
890. hurricane23
10:04 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
WPBHurricane05 we got lucky my friend with wilma cause if she would not have gotten stuck down there we could had easily had major hurricane conditions all threw south florida.I will never forget that night on the PC montering the NHC advisories.When recon reported that pressure drop to 882mb i freaked out to be honest thinking this storm is now more intence then gilbert.What a night.

Here is that famous NHC advisory...

ZCZC MIATCDAT4 ALL CCA
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM
HURRICANE WILMA DISCUSSION NUMBER 16 CORRECTED
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
5 AM EDT WED OCT 19 2005

...TO USE THE PROPER WORD...RELAYED...

IN ADDITION TO THE SPECTACULAR CLOUD PATTERN OBSERVED ON SATELLITE
...AN AIR FORCE RECONNAISSANCE PLANE MEASURED 168 KNOTS AT 700 MB
AND ESTIMATED A MINIMUM PRESSURE OF 884 MB EXTRAPOLATED FROM 700MB.
UNOFFICIALLY...THE METEOROLOGIST ON BOARD THE PLANE RELAYED AN
EXTRAPOLATED 881 MB PRESSURE AND MEASURED 884 MB WITH A DROPSONDE.
THIS IS ALL IN ASSOCIATION WITH A VERY SMALL EYE THAT HAS BEEN
OSCILLATING BETWEEN 2 AND 4 N MI DURING EYE PENETRATIONS. THIS IS
PROBABLY THE LOWEST MINIMUM PRESSURE EVER OBSERVED IN THE ATLANTIC
BASIN AND IS FOLLOWED BY THE 888 MB MINIMUM PRESSURE ASSOCIATED
WITH HURRICANE GILBERT IN 1988. HOWEVER...ONE MUST BE VERY CAREFUL
BEFORE IT IS DECLARED A RECORD MINIMUM PRESSURE UNTIL A FULL AND
DETAILED CALIBRATION OF THE INSTRUMENTS AND CALCULATIONS IS
PERFORMED. SO PLEASE DO NOT JUMP INTO CONCLUSIONS YET...BE PATIENT
.
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889. Hellsniper223
2:02 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
lol... There will be something for sure next month. Maybe alot of something. That Jet has been finally making its move to the north (As seen by the Nil Windshear in the BOC). But then again, I s'pose it could come back at any given time.
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888. Drakoen
1:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
887. seminolesfan
1:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
thnx mel :D
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886. WPBHurricane05
9:59 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
I think that the Caribbean blob is associated with the ULL.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
885. Hellsniper223
1:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
No problem Taz. :)
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884. melwerle
1:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
giggling, sf
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882. seminolesfan
1:53 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
flag...ignore...breathe;
flat...ignore...breathe;
*repeat as needed*
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881. Tazmanian
6:56 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
thanks : Hellsniper223 i was this going to post that
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114054
880. WPBHurricane05
9:55 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
How did the CMC change its track?


By moving the low pressure to the left.....
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
879. Drakoen
1:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Aroughleague209 at 1:54 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

How did the CMC change its track?

its a model it can do what ever it wants.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
878. Hellsniper223
1:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2007


Current wind Shear
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877. WPBHurricane05
9:54 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
I only lost power for 5 days with Wilma, 2 weeks from Frances and lost my screen because of her Drakoen.....
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
876. Drakoen
1:54 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: StormJunkie at 1:52 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak, Barry was not asymetric when it was named. It had a very well defined closed low. That did not last too long, but for about 6-12hrs Barry was a fairly typical tropical storm imho.

i am talking about the convective activity all on its east side. Dry condition on the west side.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
875. Tazmanian
6:52 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
WPBHurricane05 i no what you mean well i drop aron a note in his blog about it see you all later
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114054
874. hurricane23
9:49 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: StormJunkie at 9:49 AM EDT on June 14, 2007. (hide)
Morning mel and well said ☺

23, school is a little over rated. Now it is the social standard. Learning is not over rated though. I think we just get to locked down on how folks "should learn". With ever more knowledge becoming available I think I would rather see a more direct line of study available and utilized with in fields. I don't need my meteorologist to have a great understanding of poetry or psychology, or or phys ed, or the many other side course that are often forced in our current schooling method. I would rather see my met concentrate on the sciences from about 10th grade on. Just my 2 cent though.

Everybody is not made out to be a doctor but graduating from highschool and going to collage will open alot of doors for your future.There are so many things one can do but as is stated before its all about setting goals for yourself.Adrian
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872. Drakoen
1:50 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
underthunder i don't think he knwo what people go through after a hurricane.
I had no power for 2 weeks ate can food for breakfast and dinner. Wait in long gas lines to get 25 dollars worth of gas. Having to take everything out of the screen enclosure in the back.
Although Wilma was no Katrina when she made landfall she still lowered the living conditions.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
871. obsessedwweather
1:53 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Good Morning-

Do I see something in the Caribbean?
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870. WPBHurricane05
9:52 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
C'mon, guys! Give "arookieleague" a break. It's quite obvious that getting a third grade education is really difficult these days!

Its the dang Public School system....
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
868. melwerle
1:51 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
ooooo underthunder...I'm from the south - i know what a "bless yer heart" means... ;)

We're off to a good start this morning.

So anyway - besides the bickering - what's up with the tropics. I see the cmc changed the track in a huge way.
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867. StormJunkie
1:49 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak, Barry was not asymetric when it was named. It had a very well defined closed low. That did not last too long, but for about 6-12hrs Barry was a fairly typical tropical storm imho.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 15472
866. WPBHurricane05
9:50 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
He lives in Dallas, TX, unless he goes to the coast he is safe from hurricanes.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
865. moonlightcowboy
1:46 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
C'mon, guys! Give "arookieleague" a break. It's quite obvious that getting a third grade education is really difficult these days!
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864. nash28
1:50 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Aroughleague is just trying to be the biggest assclown next to Nelly.

Ignore it.
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863. philliesrock
1:51 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Just leave aroughleague, or at least stop being a troll.
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861. WPBHurricane05
9:49 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
i think he is aroughleague that got ban from her then he came back on with Aroughleague209


but 1st he started out with HurriAndrewFury then that name got ban

this spam and move on!!!


You are absolutely correct Taz!! But he will never leave.............
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
860. underthunder
1:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
aroughleague...bless yer heart...is it safe to assume then that you have never paid for homeowners insurance?
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858. thelmores
1:46 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Steve Lyons has earned no criticism. he has paid his dues, is trustworthy and reliable, and certainly credible, I just don't see what information is being used to criticize him.
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857. StormJunkie
1:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Morning mel and well said ☺

23, school is a little over rated. Now it is the social standard. Learning is not over rated though. I think we just get to locked down on how folks "should learn". With ever more knowledge becoming available I think I would rather see a more direct line of study available and utilized with in fields. I don't need my meteorologist to have a great understanding of poetry or psychology, or or phys ed, or the many other side course that are often forced in our current schooling method. I would rather see my met concentrate on the sciences from about 10th grade on. Just my 2 cent though.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 15472
856. Tazmanian
6:45 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
i think he is aroughleague that got ban from her then he came back on with Aroughleague209


but 1st he started out with HurriAndrewFury then that name got ban

this spam and move on!!!
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114054
855. Drakoen
1:46 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
storm Junkie that QuickSat maybe indicating something trying to work its was down to the surface. We will ahve to wait for the next Pass if there is a closed low at the surface.

At the present time it has the upper level low against which would create unfavorable atomspheric conditions.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
854. Drakoen
1:42 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Aroughleague209 at 1:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

are you kidding? drugs = gay

Steve Lyons also predicted that nothing would develop out of the last NW caribbean blob, and it did develop into Barry.

i don't know if you noticed the present astmosphereic conditions as well as the organization of Barry but It was asymetric and not someones conventional type of tropical storm. I was 50/50 with Barry. Most people expected everything to die of because of the unfavorable conditions. Steve Lyons cannot predict the weather 100% but he can very well make an accurate forecast.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
853. nash28
1:44 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Oh boy. I see someone opened the assclown gates this morning....

*rolls eyes*
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About JeffMasters

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