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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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: 30489
199. Drakoen
7:05 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
When the new model runs come out i think we will have a better idea on what is going to occur, considering the time frame is shorter (based on CMC)
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
197. Drakoen
7:00 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I say that this system will look better than barry but have the same impacts if a low were to develop.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
196. HurricaneFCast
6:59 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Be very careful when reading those maps... here is some information on why (including lots of examples). A 1004 mb low on a model can actually be a Cat 5 (not saying that it really is one, just that you can't say that a 1004 mb low is only a depression).

Thanks, Michael. Well.. Basically.. It can't be a HUGE Cat 5 then.. Because if it was obviously there would be a large area of low pressure, and it would read it as such.. A Small Cat 5 will be seen as just a 1000mb low though.. That's pretty crazy. We can use the Global models to pinpoint Areas of Interest though, correct?
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195. Jedkins
7:00 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: weathers4me at 6:59 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

jed. My rain cup says little under 2".



So pretty much the same deal there as here then.
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194. Drakoen
6:58 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
The isolines on the CMC with the low a pretty compact. it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
193. weathers4me
6:55 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
jed. My rain cup says little under 2".
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192. HurricaneFCast
6:57 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
StormChaser77- That seems like the case, Probably another Barry, but weaker..so probably not named.. Seems appropriate, right?
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190. Drakoen
6:54 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
That GFDl model run is old but i still think a weak low will form. most of the Mositure in the Carribean is upper level diffluence. From an upper level trough. Surface low may form though. I wanna see more model agreement.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
189. kingdomusa
6:55 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
this circ has been off the coast now for 2 weeks. Now it is moving SW and getting close to warmer waters. Anything that comes at it just goes around or gets sucked in. Should we be watching this?
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186. HurricaneFCast
6:56 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Cane- I agree, It is just an Upper Level Low.. and it has no potential for development..
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184. HurricaneFCast
6:54 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I don't think he was talking about the blog Drakoen.. He seemed to have been getting blanks when he was loading animated images such as radar, forecasts, etc.. The blog is loading fine for me, Is there something else wrong???
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183. TheCaneWhisperer
2:51 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
KD I was referring to the far NE as The other side of the Atlantic North East. No reason to watch the area your referring to!
182. Drakoen
6:48 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: stoormfury at 6:27 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

I am asking the question again. Is there a problem with the animations on weather underground.? I have been having great difficulty since mid morning.

i have been having problem too. Can we please not post so many pictures. It makes the page harder to load.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
181. HurricaneFCast
6:53 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Kingdom- That's just an Upper Level Low.. It is influencing weather in the Northeast, however, It isn't influencing weather in the GOM, Caribbean, or Central Atlantic.. It's influencing the North Atlantic.. What's your reasoning for watching it?
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180. HurricaneFCast
6:51 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
kingdom- I only saw you post a question about should we be watching a Blob.. And that's what we've been discussing.. Sorry man if it seemed like we were ignoring you, I don't think anybody was trying to Ignore you. What was your question?
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179. kingdomusa
6:51 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
If you look at the BIG picture. The circ off the NE coast is running the show people!
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177. kingdomusa
6:46 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
OK I am done posting here, because apparemtly everyone here is not even interested in answering my question. If it's not about blobs or fl you don't care.
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176. HurricaneFCast
6:48 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Wow.. MM5 MSLP shows a serious low west of Tampa on Saturday.. Hmm.. InterestingLink
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175. Thundercloud01221991
6:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Old 93L now in Eastern Bahamas looks to be developing some pretty strong convection
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174. HurricaneFCast
6:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
The NAM MSLP @ the ARL shows some sort of broad disturbance, however, it is broad and it shows a more northern system than the CMC.. Link
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173. Jedkins
6:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: weathers4me at 6:36 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Jed. We got our share here across the bridge from you in Terra Ceia last night. It was very beneficial rain but we could use more like you said. GOt up at 3 am. No wind just rain and lightning.



Yep we got no wind either just a lot of rain and a lot of lightning/

How much rain did you get? I got 2 inches here...
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172. HurricaneFCast
6:44 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Yes, Stormchaser, that's the CMC run I viewed.. a 1004-1008mb low.. Maybe a Tropical Depression.. I don't see a storm though.. What other models do you have available?
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171. HurricaneFCast
6:41 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Stormchaser77- Could you give me a link to those models please.. The model runs i'm viewing show nothing of the sort, besides the CMC, which shows a generally weak area of precipitation moving over south florida this weekend.. I'm using this:Link
I'm about to go view the NCEP's GFS Long range model.. Then view some more on the ARL @ NOAA.. Which set of models are you using and can you provide a link please? Thanks.
HurricaneFCast
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169. Comatose
2:39 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
I officially stand corrected on my previous stance with regards to the early posting of the severe thunderstorm watch.

Thank God I'm a designer and not a forcaster LOL
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167. DocBen
6:36 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Blobs blobs blobs ...

Or is that a frontal boundary stretching from the Nicaragua-Honduras border across Cuba way out into the Atlantic?
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166. weathers4me
6:34 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Jed. We got our share here across the bridge from you in Terra Ceia last night. It was very beneficial rain but we could use more like you said. GOt up at 3 am. No wind just rain and lightning.
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165. HurricaneFCast
6:31 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Stoormfury- Do you have Java enabled? Check your internet options and make sure your security level is at Medium at the highest.. this will allow ActiveX controls, cookies, and Java enabled programs to properly function.. If that doesn't work, Try re-booting your computer, or resetting your router if you have one.
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164. stoormfury
6:29 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
when i get into the sites i get blank screens. please advise
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163. HurricaneFCast
6:27 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
stoormfury- Not that I know of man.. I've been looking at Nexrad for the past 30-40 minutes no problems.. What's the issue?
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162. stoormfury
6:23 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I am asking the question again. Is there a problem with the animations on weather underground.? I have been having great difficulty since mid morning.
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161. HurricaneFCast
6:12 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
a

TVS, Mesocyclone now.. Just north of My Parents' house.. :/
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160. BoyntonBeach
6:17 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
FLBoy - i did see a hook echo when you first posted that didnt I ?
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159. Drakoen
6:16 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
storm moving thourgh Vero beach moving to the SSE.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
157. HurricaneFCast
6:05 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
FLBoy- TVS Gone now? That Signature is about 10 miles north of my house, moving south at 20mph.. Wonderful. Lol. I'm in Orange Park, right along the St. Johns River... Hmm.. At least cloud rotation has ceased.. Hail still expected?
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156. Jedkins
6:06 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
storms are getting as intense as advertised after all, was wondering if there would be enough convergance to overcome drier air aloft, but I guess that air is cool enough even though its dry to allow storms to fire nicely.
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155. BoyntonBeach
6:01 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Is that a hook echo ?
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154. kingdomusa
5:57 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
That's what i have been trying to say cane.. this circ has been off the coast now for 2 weeks. Now it is moving SW and getting close to warmer waters. Anything that comes at it just goes around or gets sucked in. Should we be watching this?
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153. PalmBeachWeatherBoy
5:59 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Dangerous looking cell Near Vero Beach
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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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