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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1653. Tazmanian
5:23 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
ok when could we see 95L LOL
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5096 Comments: 116605
1652. hurricane23
8:23 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
LOL Bamatracker...
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13856
1651. TheCaneWhisperer
12:23 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
LOL Bama!
1650. Bamatracker
12:22 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
23...your info is 3 minutes old LOL!! We are already making evacuation plans!!
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1649. hurricane23
8:19 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Invest 94L up...Lets see what the models do with it.

Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13856
1648. Bamatracker
12:18 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
so what...do i run to home depot yet?!
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1646. kmanislander
12:17 AM GMT on June 15, 2007

navy site says mb N/A
Does that mean they have no precise reading as yet or that they have a pressure for the area itself but the low is too diffuse ?
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 16272
1645. TheCaneWhisperer
12:18 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Thinking that ULL may finally make some noise.
1644. Bamatracker
12:17 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
94L.....woohoo. Going to put the coffee on could be a long night!!
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1643. WPBHurricane05
8:17 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Winds are only 20 knots, located at 18.8 N/86.4 W
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1642. Tazmanian
5:16 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
ya ya ya ya ya ya ya we have 94L at last
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5096 Comments: 116605
1641. ClearH2OFla
8:16 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Sky we need rain but 16 in pinellas county might as well be 16 ft. LOL
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1640. TheCaneWhisperer
12:16 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
94L! Somethings a Brewin~
1639. Bamatracker
12:15 AM GMT on June 15, 2007

Rainfall can be found by selecting rainfall under field.

Guess i knew where to look just hadn't :/
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1638. WPBHurricane05
8:16 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Infrared of 94L

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1637. Inyo
12:15 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
what are they spending that $4 million on? I hope they're buying me beer, at least. I'd rather have accurate storm forecasts than free beer, but hey, i'd rather have free beer than nothing, especially if i'm going to be victimized by an unpredicted storm.
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1635. kmanislander
12:11 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Quikscat is now half way across the Atl. and pressure is near 1006 at the Yucatan buoy and 1008.5 at the buoy S of the Caymans. The data from S of us is one hour earlier than the other so the current pressure S of the Caymans may be lower. I am curious to see just how much of a surface low there is. Low pressure can still be quite broad and ill defined but we will see shortly
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 16272
1634. Skyepony (Mod)
12:14 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
CMC is nearly always way bullish on rainfall. It's not a reliable tool for that.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 308 Comments: 41411
1633. thelmores
12:14 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
doh, forget in was in the models! LOL
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3832
1632. Bamatracker
12:14 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
To be honest i dont know where to look at for rainfall estimates...LOL! I haven't gotten too model savvy yet!
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1631. WPBHurricane05
8:14 PM EDT on June 14, 2007

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1630. thelmores
12:11 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Dang, I know central Florida needs a little rain, but geez, 16 inches! LOL

Clear you got a link for that stat??
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3832
1629. sporteguy03
12:12 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Wouldn't the pressure falling over the Yucatan sugguest a low deepening? It was dropping 0.09- 0.06?
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1628. sporteguy03
12:08 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Pressures continue to fall off the Yucatan
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1627. ClearH2OFla
8:08 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Bama have you checked out the cmc rainfall total over the next 6 days for Central Floirda. 40 Cm thats 16 in
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1626. WPBHurricane05
8:09 PM EDT on June 14, 2007

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1625. Bamatracker
12:07 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
floater 3 was put there last week when a little low was there. About the same time 93L was makin' noise.
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1623. Thundercloud01221991
12:04 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Floater 3 is pretty close to the center maybe on purpose
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1622. ClearH2OFla
7:59 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Ok any new news on the two areas supposedly brewing up and passing over Florida in the next 6 days
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1621. Hellsniper223
12:06 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Thanks Bama. :)
Member Since: March 28, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 16
1620. Bamatracker
12:03 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
hellsniper....still just waitin' and seein' what happens.

the nhc is in denial and wont give us a floater
the low possibly is forming a new llc further out at see.
the UUL is slowly dissipating making the whole thing more interesting.
The models are still crazy but hint at a weak system;
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1619. WPBHurricane05
8:04 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
I know Bama, should stop paying attention to the GPS since its broken.......
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1618. thelmores
11:54 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
hey TAZ...... when you get done emailing the NHC.....how bout dropping a line to Fidel and tell him to get his cuban radar updated to real time!
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3832
1617. Hellsniper223
12:01 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I'm feeling lazy, so I'm not going to read the back to see whats going on.

Anyone care to inform me on the carrib situation?
Member Since: March 28, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 16
1616. Bamatracker
12:00 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
wpb...you wrecked your car again?!!
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1615. WPBHurricane05
7:57 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Thats just hype. The satellite is just having a few problems.

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1614. Rlennon
11:54 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
and our QuickStat bird is about to die with no replacement till 2016.
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1613. thelmores
11:49 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
NOAA plans to spend as much as $4 million on a 200-year anniversary celebration. Meanwhile, he says the agency has shortchanged hurricane research by about $700,000.

If I was in charge of NOAA..... I would fire somebody's @$$!
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3832
1612. IKE
6:52 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
It's just surprising that's there's no invest on the Navy site/94L.
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1611. Bamatracker
11:51 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the HH's have a plan for tomarrow already. I dont think they will execute it.
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1610. IKE
6:50 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
"my question, will the HH's task tomorrow??"....

I didn't think they would with Barry...I was wrong...

I don't know...I'll say yes.
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1609. Bamatracker
11:49 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
welcome to the addiction all new people!!!!
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1608. thelmores
11:42 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Thats they key term at the moment..... "broad area of low pressue".......

climatologically, everybody, including the NHC knows this is a prime location this time of year.

after watching Barry, I predict a similar event.

my question, will the HH's task tomorrow??
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3832
1607. peterj
11:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Im new but I read this today. Thought I might share...

Bureaucrats mar storm preparations
On the eve of what could be a disastrous hurricane season, a bureaucratic war has broken out which could undermine our nation's disaster preparedness. Both the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service are part of a larger government agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But both have their own directors, their own staffs and their own budgets.

People have come to depend on the hurricane center for timely storm-related information and on the weather service for weather information that's not tropical. Both agencies have earned the public's trust through years of competence and professionalism. They are two areas of federal disaster preparedness that work well.

In an example of bureaucrats attempting to break something that is not broken, NOAA is now trying to ''re-brand'' storm and weather information the public receives as coming from NOAA. NOAA is attempting to raise its own prominence, which implies that the hurricane center is of lesser importance. This is a mistake.

Demoting the hurricane center in this manner undermines its well-established credibility with the public. It risks creating confusion in the run-up to disasters. Confusion is something that responsible emergency preparedness officials should always want to avoid.

There is more at work here than a few inflated egos at NOAA.

Research vs. image

The new director of the National Hurricane Center, Bill Proenza, created a firestorm of controversy recently when he lashed out at his superiors at NOAA, saying the agency is more concerned with image-building than bolstering storm forecasting. Proenza is upset because he says NOAA plans to spend as much as $4 million on a 200-year anniversary celebration. Meanwhile, he says the agency has shortchanged hurricane research by about $700,000.

Proenza also indicated that it is disingenuous for NOAA to be throwing a 200th anniversary celebration for itself because the agency was created in 1970. A NOAA spokesman said one of the agency's predecessors, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, dates from 1807. The NOAA spokesman also said that $1.5 million, not $4 million, is the amount being spent for NOAA's anniversary.

After this dispute started playing out, NOAA announced that it has slashed the flight time of ''hurricane hunter'' flights to 354 hours in 2007, down from 707 hours in 2005. It is not known if NOAA's move to cut the flight time by the forecasting aircraft is related to the fact that Proenza went public with his criticisms of NOAA. One would hope not.

Proenza said there is a broader NOAA agenda at work to publicize its name and diminish the profile of the weather service and the hurricane center. He said emergency managers have complained that this would create a credibility problem, hampering the effectiveness of severe weather warnings.

Just look at what happened to the Federal Emergency Management Agency after it got gobbled up by the Department of Homeland Security to see why NOAA's actions are ill-conceived. FEMA was transformed from an excellent agency serving a critical public need into an ineffective organization after Katrina, failing to respond appropriately to that disaster.

Not related to this, but still ominous to people living in the path of hurricanes, was the news that FEMA will miss the congressionally mandated June 1 deadline for updates to its national disaster plan. After informing Congress that the update would not be ready, FEMA Director R. David Paulison told a conference of emergency managers in Florida, ``don't believe the stories that you've heard that FEMA and the federal government are not ready.''

Hurricane readiness

This is no way to prepare for a hurricane season. Small wonder that a recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that only three in 10 Americans believe the federal government is prepared for a disaster.

Congress needs to put an end to NOAA's counterproductive efforts. There is absolutely no excuse for spending any taxpayer dollars -- be it $4 million or $1.5 million -- to ''celebrate'' NOAA's 200th anniversary, or its 37th anniversary, whichever it is. In addition, NOAA should be bolstering the National Hurricane Center, not trying to take credit for its excellent work.

Two years ago, the country witnessed the people of New Orleans suffer the massive destruction that a killer hurricane can cause. To prepare for the next hurricanes, we don't need an expensive ''celebration'' paid for with millions of taxpayer dollars. We need research to improve the accuracy of hurricane forecasts.

A clear message must be sent to NOAA: Knock it off!

Ted Besesparis is vice president of communications of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents.

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1606. yamil20
11:43 PM GMT on Junio 14, 2007
hello am new on here.i like this informative and interesting topic about the weather,notice the buoy at 42056 are falling rapidlyLink
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1605. bayoubrotha
11:46 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
It's a typo. The NHC just left off the 5. .
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1604. Patrap
6:46 PM CDT on June 14, 2007

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 437 Comments: 134747
1603. Tazmanian
4:45 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
so oh wants to e mail the nhc ????
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5096 Comments: 116605

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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