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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253. mrpuertorico
4:07 PM AST on June 13, 2007
6.8 magnitude earthquake near guatemala city
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252. Drakoen
8:06 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: stormchaser77 at 7:55 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

I agree with SKYEPONY that The CMC Has Performed
Well With The Early Detection Of Weak Systems.
But The Model Saying a Tropical Storm Will Develop
When I See Nothing on RAMDIS Makes Me Skeptical.

I would Guess at Another Barry Like System
That Get's a Name When It Shouldnt. lol

But Still The Tropics are Heating Up So It's
Time To Start Watching Closely Every Blob and
Model Movement. We Floridians Know The Drill.


Its not necessarily a tropical storm could be a strong tropical depression or borderline (in term of winds) tropical storm.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
250. Drakoen
7:56 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
the convection just east of the bahamas is an elongated upper trough supporting a 1009mb low. The convection is the diffluence of the upper level trough.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
248. marlinsfan1
3:53 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
What about all that convection just east of the bahamas?
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247. 4Gaia
7:50 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Good thunderstorm popping up here.
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244. Patrap
2:48 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
North Atlantic Views ...Link
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243. rwdobson
7:47 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Pretty distinct ULL there in the Bay of Campeche moving south towards the Yucatan...
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242. Patrap
2:46 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
Meteosat-8 split window SAL
Link
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241. Drakoen
7:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Less discuss the current factors in the Caribbean:
20kts of shear
Disorganized/disappating convection (upper level diffluence from an upper level trough)
No apparent low pressure
Favorable Sea Surface Temperatures
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
240. rwdobson
7:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
"This weekend would be just beyond the 48hrs stated here!"

but by this weekend, it's already supposed to be making landfall...
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239. Patrap
2:44 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
GOES WV Loop of Tropical Basin
Link
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238. rwdobson
7:43 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Interesting that CPC is also talking about dry conditions in the Sahel of Africa...wonder if that will have impact on the amount of dust coming off the continent this summer? Or on the strength and number of waves rolling off?
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237. Drakoen
7:43 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: rwdobson at 7:42 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Preparedness does save lives but...you don't wanna cry wolf.

And if this thing is progged to be making "landfall" by Saturday--only 3 days from now--it had better get its act together pretty quickly if it even wants to be a TD.

yes thats a good call. If we consider something actually forming we want it to form now so that people can be alert rather than when it form in South of Cuba/GOM. the preparedness time is less.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
236. Patrap
2:44 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
GOES IR Loop of Gulf of Mexico
Link
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235. TheCaneWhisperer
3:38 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: rwdobson at 3:28 PM EDT on June 13, 2007.
"Tropical cyclone formation is not expected during the next 48 hours."

This weekend would be just beyond the 48hrs stated here!
234. Drakoen
7:41 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Michael the confidence is low but is there. i guess they are taking into consideration the model runs.As well as the current conditions in the North and West area of the Caribbean.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
233. rwdobson
7:39 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Preparedness does save lives but...you don't wanna cry wolf.

And if this thing is progged to be making "landfall" by Saturday--only 3 days from now--it had better get its act together pretty quickly if it even wants to be a TD.
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230. Drakoen
7:39 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
when are the next runs coming out? (heh been here so long and i still don't know that)
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
227. Drakoen
7:35 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: Skyepony at 7:35 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

I figured ya'll be picking up on the last CMC run. Right now, like 2005 I'm giving it more respect than the others as far as early formation since it has been by far doing best in that area compared to the others. MLB NWS mentions the low in their 2:30 discussion as well. Though it's a bit uncertain & should be considering it's only showed this last run & 1 run on the gfdl yesterday.


the GFS is also showing something as well. but it is weaker. The CMC has a sorta compact tight system. Should be interesting to see the next model runs.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
226. Drakoen
7:34 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
wind shearLink
i also see decreasing wind shear on the shear tendency map.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
224. Skyepony (Mod)
7:30 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I figured ya'll be picking up on the last CMC run. Right now, like 2005 I'm giving it more respect than the others as far as early formation since it has been by far doing best in that area compared to the others. MLB NWS mentions the low in their 2:30 discussion as well. Though it's a bit uncertain & should be considering it's only showed this last run & 1 run on the gfdl yesterday.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 225 Comments: 39380
223. rwdobson
7:33 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
A good cooler but not a good hype man...
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222. 4Gaia
7:32 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
What is the foreast wind shear?
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220. emagirl
7:30 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
thanks drakoen i got behind on the conversation
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219. Drakoen
7:30 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: WPBHurricane05 at 7:29 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Katrina was a hurricane before hitting S. Florida.


I said similar to what Katrina did...

Posted By: rwdobson at 7:28 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

"Tropical cyclone formation is not expected during the next 48 hours."

And as we learned from a recent blog, this statement from NHC is accurate about 98% of the time. So there is very little chance of anything developing into anything tropical. A "surface low" does not necessarily mean a tropical low.

It mostly likely would be because of the area thats it in where watere temperature are above 80 degrees.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
218. Drakoen
7:28 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: stormchaser77 at 7:27 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

I Said CLOSE To Tampa Drakoen. That Was The Only
Reason I Took Note. The Area Is Broad On The Model
So It's Hard To Tell. Besides I Wouldnt Expect it
To Be Accurate although I find It Interesting.
Mostly Because I see Nothing Of Interest Right
Now In That Area of The Carribean To Worry about.

if you are looking at the CMC model it is not broad look at the inner most circle adn it shows "landfall" near Fort Myers. The GFDL model run was from yesterdayso that could change. The outer isolines are the outflow boundary.
I don't really want to get into the mechanics of the models on something that does exist.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
217. WPBHurricane05
3:28 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Katrina was a hurricane before hitting S. Florida.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
216. rwdobson
7:27 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
"Tropical cyclone formation is not expected during the next 48 hours."

And as we learned from a recent blog, this statement from NHC is accurate about 98% of the time. So there is very little chance of anything developing into anything tropical. A "surface low" does not necessarily mean a tropical low.
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214. Drakoen
7:26 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
the NOGAPS is the only model i see hinting no development whatsoever. Interesting...
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
213. Drakoen
7:24 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I wouldn't go as far as saying a hurricane i will sitck to a tropical depression intensify to a good tropical storm before landfall. Like what Katrina did (S. Florida)
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
212. franck
7:18 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Well, yesterday evening on I-85 about 10:00pm just south of Atlanta the biggest thunder bumper I ever saw blew up right in front of me. I had a piece of furniture on the back of my truck so I parked beneath an underpass and waited for it to blow over. The biggest bolt of lightning I ever experienced struck not very far away, though it was some hundred or couple hundred yards from me over a rise. It was loud and concusive, and if anyone was near it they are dead now. Scared the living.... out of me! Rocked my world.
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211. Drakoen
7:23 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: stormchaser77 at 7:21 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

I'm Only a Model Fan When Theres Some General
Agreement Between atleast 2 Of The More Reliable
Models.

Otherwise I Play Wait and See With The GFDL.


AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MIAMI FL
243 PM EDT WED JUN 13 2007

GFS IS DEVELOPING A WEAK
SURFACE LOW AND MOVING IN NE OUT OF THE GULF AND ACROSS CENTRAL
FLORIDA ON SATURDAY. THE CANADIAN MODEL IS DEFINITELY THE OUTLIER
AS IT BRINGS A LOW INTO SOUTH FLORIDA FRIDAY NIGHT. WHILE THESE
SOLUTION MAY BE DUBIOUS...THE CONSENSUS OF THE GLOBAL MODELS KEEP
S/SW LOW LEVEL FLOW ACROSS SOUTH FLORIDA THROUGH THE WEEKEND. AS A
RESULT...EXPECT GOOD CHANCE TO LIKELY POPS SATURDAY AND SUNDAY.

i think thats more than 2....




Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
208. Drakoen
7:18 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
emagirl we are disccusing the possiblilty of a low to form most of the model are suggesting something. Right now there is anything in the Caribbean, just upper diffluence from an upper level trough.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
207. emagirl
7:16 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
just got back in..had to go to a fire...what have i missed...is a TD going to form
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205. Drakoen
7:14 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
If something does spin up they will run the GFDL to get a better idea on the storm.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
204. Drakoen
7:12 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
The CMC has the system making "landfall" somewhere near fort myers stormchaser
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
203. Drakoen
7:11 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
yes Michael. Also remember that the GFDL model run is from yesterday.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825

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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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