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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353. Stormchaser2007
11:06 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
163..............

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352. HurricaneFCast
11:08 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
a
a
a

Top 2 are 84 Hours out, Last only goes out to 72 hours. They are NAM, GFS, and MM5 respectively.
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351. Drakoen
11:06 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: HurricaneFCast at 11:06 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Take a look at this link. Loop of the past 10 days SST's in the GOM. They have risen anywhere from 1-4 degrees in the past 10 days.

yes they have which is very impressive and can support tropical cyclogenesis better now.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30491
349. Drakoen
11:01 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 11:01 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Ok Drak what is the forcast.

lol wait and see game. I will sum everything up. Currently four models are showing develop. They are : CMC, GFS, GFDL (from yesterday),and the NAM. While the GFDL has a broad low pressure i feel that this is only because the model run was from yesterday and given a run today if there was an invest would show a more defined low pressure system. The other models show i tight compact and defined low pressure system moving in the general direction of south Florida. Except for the GFS which kinda has the low neadering and exiting back into the GOM. I would wait for the next model run with the GFS before beleiving its forecast track.
Currently most of the mosture in the Caribbean is from upper level diffluence from an upper level trough., whether things spin up at the surface remains to be seen.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30491
348. HurricaneFCast
11:04 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Take a look at this link. Loop of the past 10 days SST's in the GOM. They have risen anywhere from 1-4 degrees in the past 10 days.
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347. KoritheMan
11:03 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Interesting... Very interesting.

I knew the quiet period wouldn't last.
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346. Stormchaser2007
11:02 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Hey Guys I hear we have some model cyclone genisis going on here!!!
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344. homegirl
10:59 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Oh yeah, I have twenty people coming to my house (near Fort Myers) on Saturday for my son's first bday party. With my luck:

50% chance TD
35% chance TS
15% chance H1
3% chance H2 or bigger

Heading right towards the west coast of FL

LOL
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343. hurricane23
19:00 EDT le 13 juin 2007
Posted By: HurricaneFCast at 18:48 EDT le 13 juin 2007. (hide)
Hurricane23- Did you catch any good lightning?

I uploaded a video to youtube put its currently uploading i'll post it as soon as its done.
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342. Drakoen
11:00 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Notice that the models that are showing development have the system tight compact with well defined isolines.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30491
341. ClearH2OFla
6:59 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Ok Drak what is the forcast.
340. Drakoen
10:59 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
sry if the GFS is hard to see but as you can see it does spin something up. The CMC and the NMA have the system moving in the general direction ofSouth Florida. Although i don't like to talk about the model mechanics ona system that does not exist, the model agreement is interesting me greatly.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30491
339. Drakoen
10:58 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 10:57 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

I say invest by tomorrow night

Hmm i say overnight into into friday :).
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30491
338. Drakoen
10:57 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
GFS
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30491
336. Drakoen
10:56 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
sam time frame as the CMC stromchaser. We definately ahve to watch the Carribean over the next day or so.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30491
334. Drakoen
10:53 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: StormW at 10:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

I'll have a new synopsis up in he morning...did a quick look at all the model runs...the CMC is the only model that brings something out of the Caribbean and over Fla. in 72 hrs.

and the NAM and the GFS
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30491
333. Drakoen
10:52 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
hello everyone (i'm back).wow the NAM keep it over water which is better for it development.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30491
331. HurricaneFCast
10:48 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
stormchaser77- ?? What's new about that run? If you expand it to 72-120hours it does show a Low in the GOM.. Hmm..
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330. Tazmanian
3:47 PM PDT on June 13, 2007
so when could we see 94L or 95L?
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115121
329. HurricaneFCast
10:47 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Hurricane23- Did you catch any good lightning?
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327. HurricaneFCast
10:46 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
JP- Lol.. Haha. Can we have the results, please? :)
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324. Dyce
10:33 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Here in the Orlando area (Conway) we had some bad hail about an hour ago.
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322. SCwxwatch
10:27 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I finally Got some Local action!!

An Airport weather warning has been issued for the Columbia
Metropolitan Airport. Expect wind gusts near 40 knots between
540 PM and 615 PM.

Effective this Wednesday afternoon and evening from 230 PM until
1000 PM EDT.

Hail to 2 inches in diameter... thunderstorm wind gusts to 70
mph... and dangerous lightning are possible in these areas.


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319. Patrap
5:21 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
Lotsa wind in these storms round New Orleans..Link
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318. PensacolaDoug
10:20 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
3 mice were found playing in the box!


Blind?
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316. hurricane23
18:12 EDT le 13 juin 2007
Guys i recorded a short video of the lighting over my house iam currently uploading to youtube.I'll post it when its done.Adrian
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315. PensacolaDoug
10:13 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Back up now...PC was down due to problems with my cable modem



Don't ya hate that?
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313. Chicklit
10:07 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
...Here we go again. Strong storm along the coast south of Daytona again today.
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312. Patrap
5:00 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
The outflow gust front hit us without knowing it was a coming.And shook us in the trailer here like the worst in 17th months. Musta been 40mph..Wow.
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311. Patrap
5:00 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
Large Thunderstorms approaching South Shore..Link
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310. weathermanwannabe
5:54 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Hey All...Back from work after checking in this morning. While not addressed by any of the models (perhaps too close to/over land?), any thoughts on possible development the low stradling GA/FL...It certainly appears better on visual than the blobs awaiting development in the Caribbean...
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309. ClearH2OFla
5:53 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Storm is that 72 hours from today. ?

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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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