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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2003. stormpetrol
4:02 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Could someone tell me if I'm seeing 2 different low level spins, one east of the Belize/Mexico border and the other in the Yucatan channel, looking at the infared loop or is that one the ULL in the Yucatan channel and the other one a weak low level spin East of the Belize/Mexican border.
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2002. COHurricanes2007
3:59 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I don't
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2001. Miamiweather
3:58 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
do you think this thing is going to make it
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2000. COHurricanes2007
3:56 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: Miamiweather at 3:26 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.

what does that mean CO hurricanes


Coming Of hurricanes in 2007

(i know)
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1999. Miamiweather
3:51 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
i have a comment i know i don't know anything about these storms but on infared it looks horrible
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1998. hurricane91
3:45 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
np miami
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1997. Miamiweather
3:43 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
got it hurricane thanks
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1996. kmanislander
3:39 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
well thats it for me for tonight. Tomorrow morning should have updated info to chew on.
Nothing going to happen any time soon by the looks of it. The ULL has sheared off all the convection there was.
Remains to be seen if there is enough surface organization to come back tonight.Too bad no hi res QS so far

C U all tomorrow
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1995. hurricane91
3:34 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
where is that station hurricane91 south florida in the gulf side or higher


thats station is in the gulf, it about 55 miles south west of Marco Island
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1993. stormybil
3:33 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
errrrrrrrrrrr did the speaghti model over boil lol
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1992. TheCaneWhisperer
3:33 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
NHC is Biting! Corrected Statement!
1991. Miamiweather
3:32 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
where is that station hurricane91 south florida in the gulf side or higher
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1990. hurricane91
3:29 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Station 42014 - C17 - W. FL Sea-Coos
water temps is currently at 92 and earlier was nearing 94, wow thats boling, hope it doesnt go over that water
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1989. kmanislander
3:29 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
COH

You need to repost the image
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1988. kmanislander
3:28 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
good night Caymanite.C U tomorrow
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1987. Miamiweather
3:25 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
what does that mean CO hurricanes
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1986. COHurricanes2007
3:23 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Spagetti model for 94L
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1985. kmanislander
3:22 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
And rising S of the Caymans

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1984. kmanislander
3:19 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Pressure at the Yucatan buoy has bottomed out
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1983. Miamiweather
3:16 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
thanks kman i am watching the local news here in miami and they say that they don't think it is going to develop but i know that they don't really know what they are talking about
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1982. Caymanite
3:13 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
having looked at the new descending pass of quickscat I think that Its time to go to bed as nothing serious is going on there for now. Maybe tomorrow will be a different story. G'nite all.
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1981. kmanislander
3:12 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Hi Miami

I was hoping to see the hi resolution quikscat pass before drawing any firm conlcusions but that info is not yet available. The 25 kilometer resolution image does not tell me very much other than there does not appear to be much of anything in the way of a low at the surface. Unfortuntely the QS pass does not zero in on the coordinates that the Navy site has chosen as the likely location of the low. I will wait a little longer to see if the hi res image becomes available and then comment further
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1980. ClearH2OFla
11:12 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Drak so whats the latest been watching the UFC.
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1979. Drakoen
3:07 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
i would also like to note the new heavy convection building Due north of honduras on the north side of the low. This convection could build with dinural max.
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1978. Drakoen
3:06 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
looks to be a broad surface low north of honduras.
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1977. Bamatracker
3:05 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
alright..since i dont see a rapid intensifcation about to happen i'm going to call it a night. Talk to yall later!!

NIght all!
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1976. Miamiweather
3:04 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
hey kman i have been reading your blogs for a while i would like to ask you what do you think of this system
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1974. highndry1
3:01 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Hey -



For the board in general: what's the story with QuickScat? I heard it's a total bail-wire-and-bubble-gum patch job at this point and it's one cosmic ray away from being a multi-million dollar Edsel. If this guy fails, how does this affect hurricane prediction? I would hope Dr. Masters addresses this at some point. Anyway, in the meantime anyone have any ideas?
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1973. Bamatracker
3:04 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
here is the latest i hope

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1972. Drakoen
3:03 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: Bamatracker at 3:03 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.

oh....your right...sorry guys. Im a dofus:?

lol. don't worrythe new QuickSat should be up soon.
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1971. kmanislander
3:03 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Ascending pass is from this morning, descending pass not yet available
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1970. Drakoen
3:03 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 3:02 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.

yeah Bama thats the ascending pass from earlier

ah so its not the current quicksat then. damn ahve to wait longer.
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1969. Bamatracker
3:02 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
oh....your right...sorry guys. Im a dofus:?
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1968. Drakoen
3:01 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
the Quicksat not really showing much at the surface perhaps a low north of the island of Roatan
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1966. stormybil
2:59 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
you can see the spin just below the yucatan channel on the visable its there . so far
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1965. TheCaneWhisperer
2:58 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Decending pass is what I was told to look at!
1964. Bamatracker
2:56 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
nothing really there on surface. Could be a couple more days if this thing ever stregthens.
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1963. sporteguy03
2:54 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
just a venture but I think there is a center just off the most eastern tip of the Yucatan difting NE and it is trying to build convection albeit weak at tha, there is a spin there
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1962. Bamatracker
2:53 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
.

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1961. Miamiweather
2:54 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
thank you everybody for your help tonight i live in miami and I hate all this hurricane stuff i just can't wait to move out
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1959. Bamatracker
2:52 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
miamiweather...i'll go out on a limb and say is worse case somebody gets alot of rain. I really can't see this getting to a strong ts. I still have serious doubts that it will be a TD
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1958. Miamiweather
2:52 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
ok when the gfdl comes up please put a link
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1956. stormybil
2:51 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
is it safe to say if this gets its act together later this am it will hold together and not get sheered right away .
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1955. Drakoen
2:51 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: Miamiweather at 2:50 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.

now that everybody is just hanging out waiting for the models to show up what would be worst case scenario for this storm

that is very hard to tell at this point, wait till tommorrow lol.
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1954. Miamiweather
2:49 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
now that everybody is just hanging out waiting for the models to show up what would be worst case scenario for this storm
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1953. Drakoen
2:45 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: Bamatracker at 2:41 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.

I've been doing the same kman....i'm probably reloading that dang page once a minute.

same here.need to know whats happening at the surface.
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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.