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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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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852. philliesrock
1:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hey melwerle, are you talking about me? LOL.
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850. Skyfeather59
1:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Well, I am off to bed. Will check back as always later on. Thank you for the warm welcome and keep that blob watching going!
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849. WPBHurricane05
9:43 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Oh great there he goes saying that he can communicate with the storms. Well than why don't you tell this blob to develop into a cat. 5 hurricane if you think your so great??
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848. hurricane23
9:42 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Just incase it was missed...

Posted By: hurricane23 at 9:38 AM EDT on June 14, 2007.

Posted By: Aroughleague209 at 9:33 AM EDT on June 14, 2007. (hide)
hopefully it'll be an invest by this evening but it might get ripped up by the ull

as for school...school is overrated.

We'll with that thinking your are not going to get very far in life and remember those who sacrifice in life get rewards later.Youre life is what you make of it and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to the key is setting goals for yourself.Adrian
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846. catastropheadjuster
1:34 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Good Morning everyone. It's been really quite in the tropics. Does anyone know where the Bermuda High is going to set up? I don't know if it's to early to know i was just wondering. Tropics are quite right know.
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845. thelmores
1:39 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
"school" is not overrated! in this day and age of a global economy, school is a necessity if you want to compete!

a high school diploma may get you into flippin burgers! Not that there is anything wrong with that! :D
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844. melwerle
1:38 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
ZERO problem with the younger ones being here - as long as they are not on the ATTACK. One here (i forget his name) who really seems to know his stuff and is respectful and polite.
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843. Skyfeather59
1:36 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Caymanite
Welcome Skyfeather, you have already accurately assessd at least half of the knowledgeable posters here. IMO you should add 23 and Patrap.

Again, my apologies, they certainly ARE on my list. :) along with Turtle and others I'm sure I've forgotten to list lol. But I know who you are, know who to listen to and who to watch out for, Aroughleague ;)
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840. thelmores
1:34 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
nice burst of convection occuring where i drew my circle.
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839. WPBHurricane05
9:38 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Ok, cool aroughleague, and as you can see not all the factors are there.
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838. hurricane23
9:34 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Aroughleague209 at 9:33 AM EDT on June 14, 2007. (hide)
hopefully it'll be an invest by this evening but it might get ripped up by the ull

as for school...school is overrated.

We'll with that thinking your are not going to get very far in life and remember those who sacrifice in life get rewards later.Youre life is what you make of it and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to the key is setting goals for yourself.Adrian
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837. Drakoen
1:34 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Aroughleague unfortunately for you Hurricane23 is absolutely correct witht the present situation over the Caribbean. Steve Lyons is a good meteorologist. When everyone is saying something will develop, Steve will just make an observation of the upper level winds and say "the upper level winds are unfavorable for development". Most of the time hes right.
I remember last something like this happened. Think it was near the end of the season or something, everyone in the blog was watching a tropical wave, everyone thought shear would relax but Steve just said the upper level winds were unfavorable for development and of course nothing happened with the blob.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
836. WPBHurricane05
9:37 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
I still say that the blob is associated with that ULL.
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834. WPBHurricane05
9:35 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Well at least there sitting in front of the computer instead of going out and doing crime, drugs etc....
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833. StormJunkie
1:30 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Quickscat

Not sure what to make of the latest quickscat pass...

Find that page, models, imagery and more from here.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 15472
831. melwerle
1:33 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Just report it, guys. I'm tired of fooling around with folks who are on the attack...was here last year and I don't recall it being this bad. Maybe it's gotten this way recently cause school is out...
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830. thelmores
1:32 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
with tropical weather, NEVER say never! oops, did twice! DOH!
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829. WPBHurricane05
9:33 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Aroughleague-You have never been through a hurricane, you don't know what its like. You also don't know the factors that go into tropical formations.
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828. StormHype
1:30 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I would have to agree with Drakoen on *any* possible center position of low being in that vicinity and not way off to the NE where that pretty thunderhead and shadow is.
Member Since: May 31, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1189
827. Drakoen
1:33 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: thelmores at 1:32 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

stormhype, I guess this thunderhead and clear air are married, cause they have been "together" for the last 12 hours! LOL

Drak, I sorta see what you are talking about, but with the dense overcast, makes it hard to see. guess we'll give it into the afternoon and see what transpires! :)

Is fun to observe though! :)

yea really fun. only thing to observe as of now. Unless that Upper level low moves away tropical cyclone development is not expect.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
825. WPBHurricane05
9:30 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Aroughleague-Steve Lyons actually went to school, which it still looks like your completing kindergarten. You are so immature!!!!!!!!
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824. hurricane23
9:29 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Aroughleague209 at 9:28 AM EDT on June 14, 2007. (hide)
hurricane23 is like Steve Lyons and always predicts quietness..don't add him to your most knowledgable list.

Do you realize what your saying Steve lyons is a great mind when it comes to tropical cyclones from his forcasting days in the national hurricane center with max to now at the weather channel.

I like stateing facts that all sorry if you dont like them.You sould like you enjoy tropical systems have you ever been threw a major hurricane?
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823. thelmores
1:25 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
stormhype, I guess this thunderhead and clear air are married, cause they have been "together" for the last 12 hours! LOL

Drak, I sorta see what you are talking about, but with the dense overcast, makes it hard to see. guess we'll give it into the afternoon and see what transpires! :)

Is fun to observe though! :)
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822. Drakoen
1:30 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
aroughleague the observation by Adrian is a good one and is most likely correct at the present time.
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820. moonlightcowboy
1:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Aroughleague209 at 1:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.
hurricane23 is like Steve Lyons and always predicts quietness..don't add him to your most knowledgable list


...let's see, how many ways to say S P A M ! ! !
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819. Drakoen
1:29 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
heres where i have indicated the low. There is a rotation there visible by the satellite loop.
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818. melwerle
1:27 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Morning SJ, morning everyone...
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817. WPBHurricane05
9:28 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Aroughleague-He is more knowledgeable than you.
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815. StormJunkie
1:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hey cayman and sky ☺ Thanks! Good to see y'all

Welcome jamn. That is because of this surface disturbance that is down that way. Should move out sometime in the next day or two.

sometimes I do, sometimes I don't! But I enjoy it in either case! :)
I second that ☺ Sometimes I know what I am talking about...lol
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814. Caymanite
1:23 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Welcome Skyfeather, you have already accurately assessd at least half of the knowledgeable posters here. IMO you should add 23 and Patrap.
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813. hurricane23
9:18 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: leftovers at 9:15 AM EDT on June 14, 2007. (hide)
Thats a bold statement 23 with all those clouds over a climatology favored area.

This is just my opinion which iam entitled to.

Basically as long as that ULL is in the vicinity i dont see anything siginificant developing but some thunderstorms moving threw florida.As far as climatology thats correct as this area is monitered for tropical cyclone formation in any typical year in june.If atmospheric conditions dont favor development nothing is going to develope in this region and in the gulf of mexico.Adrian
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811. thelmores
1:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
there is no "eye" per say..... and we have all observed with these weaker systems that there can be a couple or more vortices's. I specifically remember that with Barry, a very similar situation.

So it is very possible we could have a couple here. Will have to watch and see which becomes more dominant. I do agree however, that any organization will be relatively slow to occur, and may depend heavily on the track of the ULL.
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810. StormHype
1:23 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
oooooooh!

In reality... a thunderhead on visible sat with sun in east casting a shadow to the west side of thunderhead. Also some clear sky to the west of this thunderhead.
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809. Skyfeather59
1:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Thel, it helps ME know what you are doing!
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808. Caffinehog
1:23 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Yep. We've got an ULL moving in. That means shear and no tropical development. At worst, this will be another Barry, which I still say WASN'T a tropical storm. Barry was a baroclinic system with a lot of tropical moisture, deriving most of its energy from the frontal zone. This thing is the same.
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807. Drakoen
1:20 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the coordinates are 18.09 N 84.09W. I am almost sure there is a spin in the about the center of the blob.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
806. Skyfeather59
1:21 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
er...yes Moonlight, you too LOL..so many to try to remember "at my age".
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805. thelmores
1:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Skyfeather, you are very welcome! I believe the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words! I throw in the circles and squiggly lines just to make it look like I know what I am doing! :D

sometimes I do, sometimes I don't! But I enjoy it in either case! :)
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803. moonlightcowboy
1:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
...what? Skyfeather59, no "moonlight" kudos?

....LOL

Seriously, you're right! And, I tend to agree completely. And, Adrian is usually right on target, too. But, there are many on here! Many that post good, reliable information. Me? I'm only novice! Have a GR8 day, everyone! Play nice!
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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.

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