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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1753. Bamatracker
1:09 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
yea i know 23....just being dramatic.... :?

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1752. hurricane23
9:06 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Bama keep in mind this is the first set of models running but in my opinion a NE-NNE tracks seems very possible to me.Things can change.
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1751. kingstaggi
1:08 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
bama- try re-installing java.
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1749. WPBHurricane05
9:07 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Winds between 30-49 MPH.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1748. WPBHurricane05
9:07 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Should post the key to the wind swath map.....Link
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1746. WPBHurricane05
9:05 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Wind Swath Link
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1745. melwerle
1:04 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
ok h23, what the heck was THAT
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 12 Comments: 1837
1744. Drakoen
1:04 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
according to hurricane23 forecast path it seems that the high wins oh well. Should bring some nice rain to north Florida. Lets hope its just rain and not much winds.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30670
1742. Bamatracker
1:04 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
23....hell now im awake. Thats interesting that its that far west since the trend has been so far to the east.
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1741. WPBHurricane05
9:04 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Link Rainfall......
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1740. WPBHurricane05
9:03 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Link If ULL goes east and 94L stays put there will be some dry air......
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1739. hurricane23
9:02 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
ggg
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1738. WPBHurricane05
9:01 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
It is going to be a battle between a trough and a high, who will win?? Find out tonight when the GFDL releases its forecast.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1737. Bamatracker
1:01 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Link

more models
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1736. MichaelSTL
8:01 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
LOL Taz... And it will have a pinhole eye!
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1735. JFLORIDA
1:01 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Oh Wow – the Navy already marked it????? That was fast.
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1734. Bamatracker
1:01 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Link

here is one
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1733. IKE
8:00 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Tazmanian at 7:59 PM CDT on June 14, 2007.
i think we could see a cat 5 hurricane with a 882mb by tommorow afternoon

Jeez. It's just a mass of clouds so far. I know you're teasing, but....
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1732. louisianaboy444
12:58 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
can i have a link to the models for this invest thanks!
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1731. Tazmanian
5:57 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
i think we could see a cat 5 hurricane with a 882mb by tommorow afternoon
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115430
1730. JFLORIDA
12:58 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
ok sorry, you guys are already on it. surface winds are the next thing to watch.
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1729. IKE
7:58 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Drakoen at 7:57 PM CDT on June 14, 2007.
Posted By: IKE at 12:56 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.

From reading some of the Florida discussions earlier this afternoon...high pressure is suppose to build in over peninsula Florida by Sunday...should help force it north...then a trough from out west inTexas, is suppose to move east...should move it toward the northern GOM.

by Sunday??? isn't that a bit late?


Depends on how fast it's moving...it's already almost Friday.
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1728. Drakoen
12:58 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I wonder when they are going to do the GFDL run.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30670
1727. Bamatracker
12:57 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
need some help.

Can anybody tell me why I can't view any loops on the NOAA sight? Suddenly started yesterday not letting me.
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1726. Drakoen
12:56 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: IKE at 12:56 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.

From reading some of the Florida discussions earlier this afternoon...high pressure is suppose to build in over peninsula Florida by Sunday...should help force it north...then a trough from out west inTexas, is suppose to move east...should move it toward the northern GOM.

by Sunday??? isn't that a bit late?
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30670
1725. JFLORIDA
12:55 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I wouldn’t say anything, because the models don’t show anything really forming there but there seems to be a significant pressure drop in the system to the SW of Cuba.


Station 42056 - Yucatan Basin



GRAPH
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1724. WPBHurricane05
8:55 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
94L is forming in the same area as Arlene (dare I say the year) and it may move along the same track.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1723. IKE
7:53 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
From reading some of the Florida discussions earlier this afternoon...high pressure is suppose to build in over peninsula Florida by Sunday...should help force it north...then a trough from out west in Texas, is suppose to move east...should move it toward the northern GOM.
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1722. MichaelSTL
7:54 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
This script should be referenced with a METHOD of POST. If you don't understand this, see this forms overview.

HurricaneFCast, you can't directly link to those loops...
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1721. HurricaneFCast
12:54 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Well, I've got to go for the night, I'll be on tomorrow at some point.. =D
Hang in there and keep predicting!! It works well to have several different Points of view on a subject.. Great work Everyone!!
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1720. WPBHurricane05
8:54 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
The Navy has it at 18.8/86.4 which is over water.
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1719. Bamatracker
12:53 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
AHHHHH!! WPB quit pointing those storms at me!
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1718. WPBHurricane05
8:53 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
If you view that link, speed it up, and watch the left side, you'll notice the Center of Circulation appears to actually be over land.....

I think that is the ULL...
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1717. HurricaneFCast
12:52 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Kori: Yes it definitely would, but also, another thing, Remember the GOM SST's and how warm they are compared to 2005, 2006, and pretty much any other year on record, These are the warmest June 14th SST's we've had almost ever..... :/
There are some areas of the GOM with 90 degree waters right now, most areas have SST's around the Mid 80s..
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1716. bappit
12:50 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I don't know Taz. Looks like the low shear area right now is over land.

Question is what will the shear be like tomorrow. I noticed on the QuikScat earlier that there are easterly winds in the Carribean and westerlies on the Pacific side.
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1715. WPBHurricane05
8:52 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Deja vu??? Link
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1714. louisianaboy444
12:52 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
lol we dont want a storm here in louisiana....yes i know its interesting to watch the hurricanes but this will most likely just be a rain maker if it does develop and florida needs the rain terribly
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1713. leftovers
12:52 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
KMan just a guess. Gulf of Mexico anything can happen
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1712. IKE
7:52 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Yeah...thanks Adrian for the info.
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1710. KoritheMan
12:51 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
HurricaneFCast: That'll definitely limit intensification. Still, a depression by tommorow afternoon isn't impossible.
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1709. HurricaneFCast
12:50 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
If you view that link, speed it up, and watch the left side, you'll notice the Center of Circulation appears to actually be over land.....
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1708. HurricaneFCast
12:49 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
1707. KoritheMan
12:48 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
HurricaneFCast: True, look at Ernesto. Hit east coast and not the Gulf Coast.

leftovers: Category 1 status (weak Cat 1 status) isn't an impossibility, if shear is low when this thing goes into the Gulf. I know one thing. If this thing forms, it's going to be stronger than any 40-50 mph. 60-65 is most likely.
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1706. IKE
7:49 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 7:48 PM CDT on June 14, 2007.
well Koritheman

based on the post from Adrian some of the models are forecasting it to move N and NNW

am I reading that right Adrian?


Yes you are!
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1704. thelmores
12:47 AM GMT on June 15, 2007


If you made me guess (and you did) I'd say this is where the lowest pressure may be.....
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1703. Drakoen
12:47 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
i still want to wait for the GFDL run before i believe this system will bypass the upper level trough.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30670

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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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