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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53. fldoughboy
3:33 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Thank you, Drak, I didn't see the loop.
50. DocBen
3:31 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
IKE isn't the only one reporting you idiot.
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49. fldoughboy
3:31 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Thank you FLboy as I am in Alachua County and from the looks of the radar there isn't much for now.
48. Drakoen
3:32 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Fldoughboy the blob is moving to the east away from land.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
47. IKE
10:32 AM CDT on June 13, 2007
Probably doesn't mean anything...but winds at Cozumel, Mexico are from the north and have been thru the morning.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
44. 4Gaia
3:25 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Tornadoes scare the crap out of me. At least here on the Gulf Coast we have time to prepare for a hurricane.
Member Since: May 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 8
43. fldoughboy
3:30 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Kman, I don't think that blob will do much and it's too close to land on basically 3 sides.
42. Drakoen
3:29 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
yea kman thats what i was looking at. there is a rotation in there i am guessing mid level.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
40. IKE
10:26 AM CDT on June 13, 2007
I read that earlier statement. Pitiful.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
39. fldoughboy
3:22 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I been stewing on this question for a little while now. Does anyone know why (I am guessing the Navy) calls these storms 93L, why the number 93? Maybe the letter of the alphabet is the location of where it is? 93B is out in the Indian Ocean according to the Naval site.

Thanks in advance!
38. stoormfury
3:25 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
somebody please tell me if there is a problem with the animations on WU?
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36. kmanislander
3:24 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
There appears to be a rotation just NNE of the island of Roatan but if so it is probably in the mid or upper levels of the atmosphere. Lets see how the next 12 hrs unfold


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35. weatherboykris
3:24 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: whirlwind at 1:33 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Thanks.


Whats an "H5" ?


"H5" refers to the 500mb level,about mid-way(in terms of mass,not actual distance) up through the atmosphere.The 500mb level is usually about 5500m up.
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34. Drakoen
3:24 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: aroughleague at 3:22 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

NO. Inactivity SUCKS. THIS QUIETNESS HAS DRIVEN ME OVER THE EDGE!

This is killllllling meee!!!

I love it when TWC goes into StormAlert mode. I LIVE FOR IT!!!

oh find something else to do. This blog isn't the only thing that occupies your time?
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
31. Drakoen
3:20 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
need to see a QuickSat image to see if there is actually a rotation or if its the thunderstorms fooling us. The shear is forecast to become somewhat more favorable over the next few days (according to wunderground shear charts and the shear tendency map.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
29. Drakoen
3:19 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: IKE at 3:18 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

aroughleague...you've been reported. You have serious issues. Find another hobby. God help the hobby.

lol good call.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
28. ClearH2OFla
11:15 AM EDT on June 13, 2007
Thank you drak at work all keep the blog open. As always.
27. Drakoen
3:18 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I hope you are not hoping for something to form in the Caribbean because most likely it would affect the Golf Coast states. This inactivity is actually a good thing!
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
26. HIEXPRESS
2:51 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Miami radar is down:
Message Date: Jun 12 2007 23:27:02 THE KAMX 88-D HAS SUFFERED A HARDWARE FAILURE. PARTS ARE ON ORDER...BUT THE RAD AR WILL NOT BE RETURNED TO SERVICE UNTIL WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON. 70/DD

At: http://www.weathermatrix.net/radar/data/tv/
you can get links to many TV stations "Super/Mega/Colossal/Live/Early Warning/Neighborhood/Pinpoint/Etc.. Doppler radars, although their link to Ch4 (CBS) Miami was broken.
Hope you get the weather you want today! My osprey says we are a go for a thunderstorm this afternoon.
Member Since: October 13, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 2155
25. IKE
10:17 AM CDT on June 13, 2007
aroughleague...you've been reported. You have serious issues. Find another hobby. God help the hobby.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
24. Drakoen
3:17 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
aroughleague you setting to get banned?
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
23. DocBen
3:17 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
aroughleague - GET LOST!
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21. Drakoen
3:10 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 3:10 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Good Morning all any news on the Car. blob

not much changes except for the absolute location of the convection.There might be a slight rotation, but there upper level winds should tear apart anything that tries to form.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
20. Drakoen
3:09 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
the upper level winds are high though running about 20 kts over the system according tot he latest winds shear map.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
19. ClearH2OFla
11:09 AM EDT on June 13, 2007
Good Morning all any news on the Car. blob
18. sporteguy03
3:07 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Dr.Masters have you been in a F5 tornado?
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17. Drakoen
3:02 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
actually now that i am looking at it a little closer i see a bit of a rotation with that blob in the northwest Caribbean.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
16. fldoughboy
2:57 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Good morning, Yes, I think the tropics will be a snoozer for a little while. Mid June is usually quiet anyways.

~Joel~
15. seminolesfan
2:51 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
wirlwind-H5 is shorthand for the 500mb height/pressure level
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14. seflagamma
10:24 AM AST on June 13, 2007
Dr Masters,
Thanks for the update and the book review!
Glad nothing is developing out there for awhile!
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12. melwerle
2:20 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Morning y'all - looking kind of iffy here outside of Savannah - we are finally getting rain in the evenings and my grass is coming back. Long time since I've heard t-storms - VERY welcome.
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11. lightning10
7:11 AM PDT on June 13, 2007
The only thing we have to worrie about in So Cal for likely the next 15 is how much Marine layer there will be in the morning. The more the cooler. It has been quite potent this season making it will into the valleys.

Long term (saturday-tuesday)...marine layer may scour some over
the weekend as weak cold front slides down the coast on Saturday
night through Sunday night. Weak cold advection taking place
behind the front should bring clearing to the valleys and possibly
the coastal areas. For persistence and consistency...marine layer
has been mentioned for coasts and valleys throughout the weekend
as clearing could occur on Saturday or Monday depending on the
fronts timing.


Increasing marine layer depth should occur late in the
forecast period. Strengthening northwest flow over the outer
waters should redevelop an eddy circulation keeping the typical
June gloom in place.

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10. MisterPerfect
2:13 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Severe weather possible later Wednesday

BY MARTIN MERZER
MiamiHerald.com

The pending collision of a weak cool front from the north with South Florida's juicy atmosphere could produce severe thunderstorms, hail and even an isolated tornado by Wednesday afternoon or evening, forecasters said.

Heavy rainfall could flood some roads and low-lying areas, and 60-mph gusts could down some tree branches and power lines.

''While hail and damaging winds are the main threats, isolated tornadoes will be possible with the stronger storms today,'' the National Weather Service said Wednesday in a hazardous weather advisory.

Forecasters advised South Floridians to remain alert and take shelter if dangerous weather threatens.
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9. 900MB
2:05 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
My low pressure continues to swirl off of the Jersey coast...it has been hanging off the coast for 6 days. We are totally stagnant. The weather pattern seems to be in absolute stall here and we haven't seen a front move through in a week.
Also seeing a low pressure moving off of SC, warmer waters down there.
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8. Drakoen
2:11 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
circulation. Doesn't look that way to me... Oh Dr. Master is probably right about nothing forming into next week.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
7. cchsweatherman
1:58 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
It looks like that massive blob down in the Caribbean has some circulation to it. Looking impressive.
Link
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5. IKE
8:50 AM CDT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: thelmores at 8:49 AM CDT on June 13, 2007.
"The tropics are quiet, and the models are forecasting conditions will remain quiet into next week.- Jeff Masters"

Hey Dr. Masters, did you look at the CMC? LOL


I was gonna say that, but...what's the use...I doubt he'll answer back.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
4. thelmores
1:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
"The tropics are quiet, and the models are forecasting conditions will remain quiet into next week.- Jeff Masters"

Hey Dr. Masters, did you look at the CMC? LOL
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3788
3. hurricane23
9:33 AM EDT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: whirlwind at 9:33 AM EDT on June 13, 2007. (hide)
Thanks.


Whats an "H5" ?

Anyone have a radar link in south FL. The miami one is down for maint?

On my site i have radar links to south florida radars.See here
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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.