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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2153. Drakoen
1:59 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
seems that the mid level spion is moving to the NW that should change when it meet with the trough to a more NE direction. The trough is moving to the north. yesterday it was over the keys and now its in south miami dade county. as the trough moves to the north the upper level winds are expected to relax. i also want to note a new area of heavy convection south of the mid level spin.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
2151. thelmores
1:58 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
If it was my gas monEy, I'd save it for maybe tomorrow! LOL
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2150. nash28
1:58 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
I was asleep. Pain kicked in and I promptly went to bed...
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
2149. IKE
1:57 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
NEW BLOG!
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
2148. Drakoen
1:56 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: TheCaneWhisperer at 1:53 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Looking at the water vapor, it looks like the ULL is heading back west. Any input?

there isn't an upper level low. there is a mid level spin west of cuba. Hurricane RECON is gonna investigate that area to at 2:00pm to see if is at the surface.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
2147. Patrap
1:56 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Tropical Basin WV Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125572
2146. fldoughboy
1:55 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
I was looking at the map below and where the center is totally threw me off. It's just about devoid of clouds as TWC had to hi-light the center for us probably because no one could have found it.
Kind of strange they are sending Recon when most of the clouds are blown to the NE and the center has no clouds. I understand they found some winds but they might be jumping the gun on the Recon flight. There is also a trough digging southward--wouldn't that preclude it's North movement?
2145. thelmores
1:55 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
nash, we had 94L yesterday evening! LOL

where you been! :)
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3788
2144. TheCaneWhisperer
1:53 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Looking at the water vapor, it looks like the ULL is heading back west. Any input?
2143. nash28
1:52 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Thanks Drak. Just woke up, so need my coffee to get going..
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
2142. Drakoen
1:50 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 1:49 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

So Drak did i do good with that

yep
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
2141. Drakoen
1:50 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: nash28 at 1:48 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Hello all. We have 94L?

yes we do. As part of a mid level spin west of Cuba.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
2140. ClearH2OFla
1:49 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
So Drak did i do good with that
2139. nash28
1:48 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Hello all. We have 94L?
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
2138. Drakoen
1:47 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
the GFS have a well defined system indicated by the isolines at 850 mb (low level). The strength of this system will be based on the upper level winds. The current upper level winds are not conducive for tropical cyclone development because of the upper level trough. This trough is over South Florida and is expected to move north. This factor may give way to some develop as the system moves to the NE. As of now i saw Florida should expect a rain maker.

I have update my blog. Please read my tropical outlook for my analysis.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
2137. ClearH2OFla
1:46 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Here is a freeze frame 60 hours out

http://moe.met.fsu.edu/cgi-bin/gfstc2.cgi?time=2007061506&field=850mb+Vorticity&hour=060hr
2136. 4Gaia
1:44 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Daphne, Al.
Member Since: May 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 8
2135. ClearH2OFla
1:42 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Drak

What do you make of this

Link
2132. bjdsrq
1:39 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
As of 9:30am EDT Friday, GFS, CMC, UKMET show *nothing* developing for their entire run duration. Blob also failed to build any significant convection during the night. I'd say recon is cancelled and this one is likely a goner.
Member Since: July 26, 2003 Posts: 3 Comments: 428
2131. ClearH2OFla
1:39 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Drak lol you have to remember im not even close to being able to see things on these maps. I can do ok with the models but to look at a photo just have not been doing this that long.
2130. 4Gaia
1:38 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Off topic, we had a good pop-up thunder storm yesterday. It lasted about an hour. Lots of lightning and some local flooding. all of the ditches were full to overflowing then blue skies and sunshine.
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2128. 4Gaia
1:35 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Good job Stormw.
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2127. Drakoen
1:33 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
taz just because it doesn't look impressive now doens't mean that that can't change. the trough still has to move to the north.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
2126. Tazmanian
1:32 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
94L is a goneer oh bye bye 94L now we wait for 95L
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114050
2124. Drakoen
1:28 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 1:25 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Its Looking like this was a false alarm. Drak you did say two days ago that this wouldnt develope you were right

:). i wouldn't count the system out though. The shear is expected to relax and then the mid level low can work down tot he surface. right you can see the low just west of cuba on the low cloud product. I also want to point out the outflow that extends from cuba to the southern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Sorta of a wraping feature.
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2123. 4Gaia
1:28 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
I don't see it developing. I would like to see a rainmaker however.
Member Since: May 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 8
2122. ClearH2OFla
1:25 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Its Looking like this was a false alarm. Drak you did say two days ago that this wouldnt develope you were right
2121. Drakoen
1:25 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
2120. Skyepony (Mod)
1:24 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
They will overall get a lot hotter as summer progresses. The doldrums are the lack of surface winds which limits evaperation, upwelling & cooling of the SST~ the more doldrums the more depressed & anxcious the gulf people will most likely be.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36074
2119. Drakoen
1:22 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
the new quicksat doesn't show anything at the surface.
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2118. Skyepony (Mod)
1:21 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
MRF
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36074
2117. 4Gaia
1:21 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
I've been in the doldrums too.. perhaps that explains my foul mood of late. Now, will the sst's in the gom level off, increase or what?
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2116. Drakoen
1:21 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
It will be intersting to see what happens once the trough moves back to the north more.
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2114. Skyepony (Mod)
1:16 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
4Gaia~ You can thank the doldrums for the rise in SST in the GOM, the last week.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36074
2113. 4Gaia
1:13 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Yup.
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2112. thelmores
1:12 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
once the shear relaxes, things may get very busy!
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2111. weathermanwannabe
1:06 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Off to work for a few hours, but, if it is historically true that the BH location does not change too much once it sets up in June, then, we are it for a rough season in Florida and the Gulf. BTW, I attended a seminar session by the head of emergency operations for Home Depot three weeks ago (they follow weather conditions and forecasts across the US very carefully) and he advised us that (unlike last year), that HD ordered "a lot" of generators for this year's hurricane season....
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2110. HIEXPRESS
1:01 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
GOM
Road Closed
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2109. ClearH2OFla
1:01 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Drak that i saw but nothing like it had on there yesterday
2108. 4Gaia
12:59 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
I think we should all appreciate the calm before the tropics really heat up! At least one worker was killed when a section of the Bay Saint Louis bridge collapsed during Katrina repairs yesterday. At least ten workers fell into the water.
Member Since: May 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 8
2107. Drakoen
12:59 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 12:55 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

It would appear all is quite in Carib. the CMC has nothing developing now


look at the 850mb. it has a weak low moving across south Florida as of the 0z
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2106. thelmores
12:58 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
00 SPAGHETTI



still waiting on 06
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2105. Drakoen
12:57 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
is the quicksat for the morning up?
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
2104. TexasRiverRat
12:55 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
Ive been around as soon as tropics think about warming up you will find me here, usually just reading not posting
2103. ClearH2OFla
12:55 PM GMT on June 15, 2007
It would appear all is quite in Carib. the CMC has nothing developing now

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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.

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