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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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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802. stoormfury
1:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The area of unsettled weather in the caribbean is not showing signs of immediate organisation and if there were to be ,it will be slow to occur.wind shear is high, 25knots and pressures are high. even with neccessary ingredients lacking the area still needs watching.
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801. Cregnebaa
1:19 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Under that blob at the moment and it's pretty dark and gloomy
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800. jamnkats
1:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I'm no meterologist, but here on the Yucatan penninsula; specifically, about 15km south of Playa del Carmen, we've had about 3 days of rain. Normally this time of year we get afternoon showers, but these past few days have been wearying.
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799. Drakoen
1:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Thelmores i see a different spin about the center of the blob. Look at the animated satellitle loop and look to see if you see what i mean.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
798. Caymanite
1:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hi SJ nice to see you again I am on Firefox and your blog was very fast. No delays whatsoever.
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797. Skyfeather59
1:12 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hey everyone! Long time lurker, first time poster. Just wanted to say thank you to all you regulars who keep the information (and education, lol) coming.(you know who you are) PLEASE don't let the bickering and arguing run yall off!
Thel, I really enjoy your illustrations-- Helps me figure out whats going on!
StormW-I refer to your blog regularly for updates, thank you!
SJ-I've had your site bookmarked since last year lol.
I feel like I know you all, and have learned soooo much about the tropics. I live in Lehigh Acres, Fl so have been following this blog faithfully for the last year.

Kudos to you all~
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796. Drakoen
1:15 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: leftovers at 1:15 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Thats a bold statement 23 with all those clouds over a climatology favored area.

he may be right. Read my blog to see my tropical outlook!
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
795. StormJunkie
1:06 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
That's cool Drak. Was not saying you were. I wasn't even around. I just think we all sometimes forget that ultimately we are here to learn and most of us are at different levels of understanding the various data that is available. Therefore if some one is not buying your theory you often have to explain what has lead to that conclusion. I have also found that many of the "ignorant" statements made over and over by some, like "it is going W and then turning SW and coming to me" are more based upon a lack of knowledge then anything else. The more they learn usually the more productive they become in the conversation.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16872
793. Drakoen
1:13 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I just updated my blob. Look for my tropical outlook in it.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
792. hurricane23
9:10 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Dont see any tropical cyclone formation threw atleast the begining of next week.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
791. weathers4me
1:07 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The only thing I do know is that the GFS is and has been very unreliable so far this season. I don't take anything it says seriously. Until it starts correcting.
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790. hurricane23
9:06 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Good morning...

Looks like alot of moisture will be working its way up into south florida threw sunday so look for a increase in rain to 70-80 percent chance tommorow and a 60 percent both saturday and sunday.

This afteroon looks rather wet...Watch out for the lighting.Adrian
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
789. StormJunkie
1:01 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Good point thel. Did not think about the ULL. Will look at all of it before I leave this afternoon. Headed back out to Folly Beach for a couple of days. Apparently a water spout came on shore near the pier. Had some relatives that saw it just off the beach. Have added a short animated gif of a lightening strike to my blog. Going to add the video to the site before I leave today. Please let me know how bad the load times are for the blog it is a pretty big gif.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16872
788. thelmores
1:04 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
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786. thelmores
1:00 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak, did you see my circle in the last visible image I posted??

I think this is the area we should watch..... hard to tell from such few visible shots, but the NE movement of the area almost seems to have shifted NNE.
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785. Drakoen
1:04 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
784. nash28
12:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Shear is still pretty high in the GOMEX. The blob is currently under about 20kts, but it gets worse as it moves further to the north.
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783. nolesjeff
12:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
When using Dr. Masters' blog, please refrain from posting material not relevant to the discussion of tropical weather, or the topic of the blog entry itself. Please do not engage in personal attacks or bickering. Material not conforming to these standards should be flagged as Spam and ignored
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782. thelmores
12:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
"I mean from St Pete to New Orleans??? That is one hell of a track shift."

I agree, thats quite a shift! Especially with that ULL!
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781. Drakoen
12:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I was trying to convvince, i wasn't telling anyone. I was just discussing it and people are taking my opinions personal. I am not talking down to anyone in here.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
780. StormJunkie
12:57 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hey underthunder, nice to meet ya.

Great point!~)
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779. thelmores
12:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
underthunder, my "interesting" comment was simply due to the CMC showing a "blob" possible heading towards the big easy..... i guess "interesting" is a subjective term! ;)
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778. nolesjeff
12:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
morning all, the carribean blob is forecast to move through west coast fla? we are still in severe drought conditions sw fla, these past few days while rest of state getting crazy storms, we still havent gotten a drop?
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777. Drakoen
12:57 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
It seems that the blob has a swirl somewhere in the middle of it unless i am looking at the Sat image wrong.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
776. StormJunkie
12:49 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Morning all ☺

Posted By: thelmores at 12:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.
nelly, kiss my grits! LOL

Did notice the CMC has a storm heading for La. Get on it Pat! Somebody call in Stormtop! LOL


You are on a roll this morning thel ☺

Drak, you have to convince, not tell. Most folks stop listening when they feel like they are being talked down to or "told".

That said, it is still only the GFS and CMC that make much of this and the CMC had a major leap left in the last run. I mean from St Pete to New Orleans??? That is one hell of a track shift.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16872
775. emagirl
12:54 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
good morning everyone...well i see the bickering has gotten off to an early start
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773. Drakoen
12:53 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Caribbean Blob
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
772. underthunder
12:45 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
for those of us who sit back quietly and try to understand this weather stuff..when ya'll post a map of something and say "interesting"...could you just add a note for us as to what it is that's interesting...thanks..
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771. thelmores
12:51 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
well, I better get some work done, or my next post may be from the unemployment line! LOL

BBL! :)
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770. WPBHurricane05
8:51 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Just report
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769. IKE
7:48 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
apocalyps...you and Aroughleague-209 and DollyStorm Geeks should go to a different blog. You 3 might get along with each other real good.
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767. PBG00
12:46 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
How annoying
Member Since: October 20, 2005 Posts: 14 Comments: 6650
766. Drakoen
12:46 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: thelmores at 12:45 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak, thats not a new blow, its the same ole blob! Tried to point out the swirl last nite.


okay.


Posted By: nash28 at 12:45 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Whatever forms from this will probably be weak in nature. Not all of the mechanisms are there to allow for significant strengthening.

not necessarily ui just depends on the forecast track.
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765. nash28
12:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Whatever forms from this will probably be weak in nature. Not all of the mechanisms are there to allow for significant strengthening.
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764. thelmores
12:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak, thats not a new blow, its the same ole blob! Tried to point out the swirl last nite.
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763. IKE
7:44 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
As I was saying.
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762. thelmores
12:42 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Nelly, grow up!
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760. IKE
7:40 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
NellyStormGeeks...every post that person makes on here is a pitiful attempt to antagonize someone. That's all he/she ever does.

I never see a mature post about the tropics from it.

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759. Drakoen
12:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I have seen the CMC forecast track but this is very unlikely considering that there is a trough of low pressure over the south east which would favor a turn toward south FLorida like the GFS shows.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
758. WPBHurricane05
8:41 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Still thinking the blob is associated with that ULL. Link
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756. FloorManBroward
8:41 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION FOR THE FLORIDA KEYS
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE KEY WEST FL
415 AM EDT THU JUN 14 2007

FORECASTS -- BASIC PROGNOSTIC REASONING REMAINS UNCHANGED FROM THE
LAST FEW FORECAST CYCLES. AS THE DEEP EAST COAST TROUGH LIFTS
NORTHWARD...A DEEP SUBTROPICAL RIDGE WILL BUILD WEST...WITH LOWER-
TROPOSPHERIC FLOW BECOMING SOUTHERLY. THIS SETUP WILL TRANSPORT DEEP
TROPICAL MOISTURE NORTHWARD INTO THE KEYS BEGINNING LATE TONIGHT.
THIS IS A FAIRLY WET PATTERN...AND WE ARE MAINTAINING HIGH POPS.
HOWEVER...WE BELIEVE THE GFS IS TOO AGGRESSIVE WITH ASCENT ASSOCIATED
WITH GRID-SCALE CONVECTIVE FEEDBACK AND UNREPRESENTATIVE DEEP-
TROPOSPHERIC FORCING. SO...WE ARE NOT GOING NEAR AS HIGH WITH RAIN
CHANCES OR CLOUD COVER. BY EARLY NEXT WEEK...THE LOW-LEVEL RIDGE
SHOULD BE NORTH OF THE KEYS...WITH SLIGHTLY DRIER AIR MOVING IN FROM
THE CARIBBEAN...BEHIND THE MOIST SURGE.
&&

It looks like it could be a wet fishing trip this weekend for me west of Key West.
I hope they're right about the GFS
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755. apocalyps
02:37 PM CEST op 14 Juni, 2007
if we can not say this blob could develop then we should never say it.
It is pretty clear this blob could develop so it must be said.
Maybe it will or not.No one can tell this moment.But it could.
And it has much more potentiol then yesterday.
But it could disappear quick or develop slow.
For this moment i go for slow development.
I think shear is low enough.
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754. Drakoen
12:39 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
hello everyone. I see we have a new blob in the Caribbean. This is expected due to the model consensus. I am really. i tried to reason with some of you yesterday but i got too tired.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
753. nash28
12:37 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Jesus. I see Nelly is back throwing the Bush/NeoCon slam YET AGAIN with absolutely NO REASON to do it.

Sounds like someone should move to the Moveon.org site if they choose to come here and NOT discuss tropics.
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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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