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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653. sporteguy03
4:03 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hi JP,
Has there ever been an F5 tornado in FL?
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652. VilleWatch
4:05 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
We only got .14 inch here in Gainesville today. Thought it was closer to .25 but it moved through pretty quickly. Had 2 lightning strikes within about 1000 feet of the house within 2 minutes of each other--it was a decent cell.
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650. fldoughboy
3:29 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Another day of rain, but hardly enough to make a dent in the drought.

Yesterday the 12th: .15 inch
Today the 13th .08 inch

Pretty pathetic. We had severe thunderstorms all around us, but hardly any rain.
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647. Jedkins
3:45 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
why is somone from my state of Florida excited about horrible flooding in the plains, thats kind of odd.
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646. Hellsniper223
3:44 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Holy cow Adrian! LOL!

Almost got fried..?
Or is that a video glitch of some kind?
There was no immediate thunder afterward.
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645. Jedkins
3:36 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
what the crap dost bowl? Who the heck would have forecasted a dust bowl 2 months ago, the areas now with floodinf were already getting too much rain 2 months ago.


Folks this isn't just "increased rainfall and some flooding" in those areas, we're talkin major river flooding, many rivers are nearing all time record high levels, this is a serious flood situation for kansas, oklahoma, missouri and nebraska.

Esspecially eastern oklahoma, eastern kansas, and western missouri. Those are the worst areas.
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644. Skyepony (Mod)
3:33 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
FlBoy~ That dust bowl article must have been old. Been evident in the hay crops out that way. They went after the neighboring states hay during that drought. Then we've had that blocking pattern the last few months. From farmers the word has been never before seen so much hay chewed up by twisters & beaten to death by hail. But none to be found out of the deep SE til just a few weeks ago & then not much. Hay farmers in NFL & GA had never seen so much of their crop burn. Saw some articles last week about the corn crop gonna be short, speculation futures may double on it. They planted way extra cause of the new biofuel demand, but the weather is wrecking the crops.
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643. seminolesfan
3:32 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Did you notice that in 'real time' or just find it on the video?
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642. seminolesfan
3:30 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Damn Adrian...

good thing that was just a leader...

close call either way;

Glad your still here to blog w/ us!!!
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641. kmanislander
3:10 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Good night Caymanite
CU tomorrow
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15905
640. Caymanite
3:08 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Nite all,check back tomorrow AM
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639. stormwatcher247
2:50 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Good night wammybammy
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636. marlinsfan1
10:41 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
All I gotta say is:

GO MARLINS!!!!!
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635. kmanislander
2:40 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I'm starting to. Must be the weather LOL
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634. Caymanite
2:32 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hey Kman, you understand yet why I dont post often?
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632. hurricane23
10:34 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Guys go up in the blog and pause my youtube video at 2:12 and look at how close lighting came to hitting me!
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13840
631. DocBen
2:33 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Yep
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626. DocBen
2:25 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
FLBoy - and guess who is IN that system! Wichita, KS.
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625. Patrap
9:25 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
They the ones with the wavcis link Skyepony.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
624. Patrap
9:08 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
LSU Earth Scan Lab

Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
623. Skyepony (Mod)
2:21 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
That weather in OK comes with tornado reports. More damage in the east the last 3 hrs as well.

Nice link Patrap.

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622. kmanislander
2:22 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
get a life
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618. kmanislander
2:11 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
And incidentally we are only 180 miles from Jamaica, not a " few hundred miles "
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617. Patrap
9:10 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
All the GOM WAVCIS 60 hr model runs..wind,waves,SSt's..Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
616. kmanislander
2:07 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: StormHype at 2:04 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.

kman... so what do you imply by one wind barb from SE and another wind barb a few hundred miles away from ENE? That's two reports telling you ????. Is the sea turning a strange color for you again there also? You ready to give this a name yet?


Why are you so worked up ?
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15905
615. Patrap
9:06 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
All sweet links Skyepony.Somebody may get wet.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
613. StormHype
1:57 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
kman... so what do you imply by one wind barb from SE and another wind barb a few hundred miles away from ENE? That's two reports telling you ????. Is the sea turning a strange color for you again there also? You ready to give this a name yet?
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612. Skyepony (Mod)
1:45 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Just looking around..

canadian gem (runs through FRI)

MRF

ECMWF

shear model comparision

doldrums~ there's the culprite of the quick rise this week in the GOM SST..

MJO forecast (blue being more condusive of tropical activity)
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611. Patrap
9:03 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
PO.DAAC's Satellite Data Catalog

Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
610. CaneAddict17
2:03 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hey 23, severe storm from the NW coming into Broward. Lots of lightning. You look like your getting some rain in Dade right now too.
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608. kmanislander
1:59 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Anyone know when the next QS pass is for the Caribbean ?
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15905
606. Patrap
8:58 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
The vid of the tropical downpour here today..Binocular Cam,..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
604. hurricane23
9:56 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: Patrap at 9:54 PM EDT on June 13, 2007. (hide)
A trough like Feb almost..Link

Thats correct patrap...Very unusual for this time of the year.If this pattern were to continue the U.S. may get lucky again this year with hurricane tracks similar to 2006.Adrian
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13840
603. kmanislander
1:57 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
good night storm
CU tomorrow
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15905

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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.