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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1603. Tazmanian
4:45 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
so oh wants to e mail the nhc ????
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1602. Patrap
6:43 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Thunderstorms kills here yesterday. On way to Funeral....Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129814
1601. IKE
6:41 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 6:39 PM CDT on June 14, 2007.
1005.9mb IKE


Hmm...that 8:05 pm tropical discussion stated 1009mb. I guess that's wrong.
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1600. Thundercloud01221991
11:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Visit my new blog I have changed URL and I have changed from PHPBB to IP board

Link

Tell me what you think
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1599. Tazmanian
4:40 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
like whats going on down there?
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1597. IKE
6:37 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
What's the MB's on 29.70?
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1596. IKE
6:36 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Agree...saying development not expected at this time, leaves a window of development open....another Friday storm developing?
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1595. Patrap
6:35 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Cozumel in now 29.75..Nwest of the Buoy..Broad low..wunderground site thereLink EnE winds too
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129814
1593. TheCaneWhisperer
11:34 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
A little more loose in discounting the system in the 8:05! Could also be the forcaster too.
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1592. Patrap
6:34 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
The buoy graph..falling to 29.70 as you mentioned
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129814
1591. IKE
6:30 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Check out the latest numbers from buoy 42056 at the Yucatan basin....

"5-day plot - Wind Direction Wind Direction (WDIR): SE ( 130 deg true )
5-day plot - Wind Speed Wind Speed (WSPD): 11.7 kts
5-day plot - Wind Gust Wind Gust (GST): 11.7 kts
5-day plot - Wave Height Wave Height (WVHT): 2.6 ft
5-day plot - Dominant Wave Period Dominant Wave Period (DPD): 5 sec
5-day plot - Average Period Average Period (APD): 4.3 sec
5-day plot - Mean Wave Direction Mean Wave Direction (MWD): SE ( 139 deg true )
5-day plot - Atmospheric Pressure Atmospheric Pressure (PRES): 29.70 in
5-day plot - Pressure Tendency Pressure Tendency (PTDY): -0.09 in ( Falling Rapidly )
5-day plot - Air Temperature Air Temperature (ATMP): 76.5 F
5-day plot - Water Temperature Water Temperature (WTMP): 83.3 F
5-day plot - Dew Point Dew Point (DEWP): 73.8 F"..........

Pressure 29.70 and falling rapidly!
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1590. thelmores
11:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
"THERE ARE A FEW SMALL
MID/LOW LEVEL CIRCULATIONS EMBEDDED WITHIN THE AREA BUT TROPICAL
DEVELOPMENT IS NOT EXPECTED AT THIS TIME. "

thanks for that! :)

I feel much better now! LOL
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1589. bayoubrotha
11:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
OK, well on that note, here is the NHC 8p Tropical Weather Discussion regarding the activity off the Yucatan.

CARIBBEAN SEA...
THE MOST ACTIVE WEATHER AGAIN THIS AFTERNOON IS OVER THE W
CARIBBEAN WHERE CLUSTERS OF SCATTERED MODERATE/ISOLATED STRONG
CONVECTION ARE GENERALLY N OF 15N W OF 80W TO OVER CUBA AND TO
THE COAST OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA. THIS ACTIVITY APPEARS TO BE
INDUCED BY SEVERAL FACTORS. THE MOST PERSISTENT HAS BEEN
DIFFLUENCE ALOFT BETWEEN A SMALL UPPER LOW SPINNING OVER THE NE
YUCATAN PENINSULA AND A BROAD UPPER RIDGE THAT EXTENDS FROM
COLOMBIA TO OVER W CUBA. A SURFACE TROUGH EXTENDS FROM THE
HONDURAS COAST NEAR 15N88W THROUGH A WEAK 1009 MB LOW NEAR
18N87W TO THE W TIP OF CUBA NEAR 22N83W. THERE ARE A FEW SMALL
MID/LOW LEVEL CIRCULATIONS EMBEDDED WITHIN THE AREA BUT TROPICAL
DEVELOPMENT IS NOT EXPECTED AT THIS TIME.
THE E CARIBBEAN IS
DOMINATED BY AN UPPER TROUGH THAT EXTENDS FROM THE E ATLC
THROUGH THE CENTRAL ATLC. E OF 80W IS FREE OF SIGNIFICANT
MOISTURE WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE SHOWERS ASSOCIATED WITH THE
THE TROPICAL WAVE OVER THE LESSER ANTILLES. MODERATE/STRONG
EASTERLY TRADE WINDS ARE OVER THE S/CENTRAL CARIBBEAN.

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1588. thelmores
11:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
you know it's a slow nite in the blog when you get Barry Manillow jokes! LOL

So let me get this straight, the swirl in the channel is simply the ULL...... nothing at the surface.

the low is south, but is broad in nature, with convection surrounding save the NW and W quads.

hows that with my beer goggles! LOL
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1587. SWFLdrob
11:26 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Tazmanian at 11:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

i dont give care about the TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK so Please dont show it to me at this time the nhc is this falling a sleep and dont care about it at this time

sorry if i was rude

The NHC puts the official label on TDs and TSs, so IMO their opinion matters at least a little bit and should be considered. Not 100% relied upon, but considered.
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1585. nash28
11:25 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Geez Taz!! I don't think I have ever seen that kind of raw emotion from you before....

No problem buddy. However, don't completely dismiss the NHC. Not a good idea...
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1584. Patrap
6:24 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
The Lil low seems to be due west of Cozumel here...Link
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1583. Tazmanian
4:21 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
i dont give care about the TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK so Please dont show it to me at this time the nhc is this falling a sleep and dont care about it at this time


sorry if i was rude
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1582. nash28
11:20 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
All I hear is Barry Manillow.... Barry developed under much worse shear than this is under....

Not saying it will come to fruition, but I think we all know nature can throw a curveball and spit in the face of upper level conditions from time to time...
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1581. Patrap
6:21 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Tune in ,listen and chat tonight at 8pm EST..to the BarometerBob Show. He has another great guest, Dr. David Stooksbury the Georgia State Climotologist. He will talk about Georgia weather, and past hurricanes that have affected the state. Hurricane hollow is the site that interviewed Dr. Masters a few weeks ago. Its a good informative 2 hours of interacting and blogging.

Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129814
1580. Bamatracker
11:19 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
how come the time on quikstat is the same on ascending and decending pass? thats....not....possible.
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1579. SWFLdrob
11:17 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Tazmanian at 11:12 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

could we have a TD or TS right now or geting there?

could get there, but it seems people here are more excited about it than those at the NHC at this point.

ABNT20 KNHC 142122
TWOAT
TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
530 PM EDT THU JUN 14 2007

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

A LARGE AREA OF CLOUDINESS AND SHOWERS OVER THE NORTHWESTERN
CARIBBEAN SEA IS ASSOCIATED WITH A BROAD AREA OF LOW PRESSURE.
UPPER-LEVEL WINDS REMAIN UNFAVORABLE FOR DEVELOPMENT.

TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.
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1577. Bamatracker
11:16 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
can we atleast get a floater on this area?!!

Quick WPB use your connections and make a call.
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1576. nolesjeff
11:13 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Link Barometerbob link
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1575. Tazmanian
4:11 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
could we have a TD or TS right now or geting there?
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1573. stormwatcher247
11:05 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Where's Wammybammy?
1571. WPBHurricane05
7:03 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
I tasted the liquid in my lucky eight-ball when I was a kid.

Thats not smart.....
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1569. WPBHurricane05
7:00 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
well yeah WPB, considering the next invest will be 94L lol

At least we know it works........
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1568. 4Gaia
10:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I tasted the liquid in my lucky eight-ball when I was a kid.
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1566. WPBHurricane05
6:58 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
I asked it 30 times and it gave me: Very doubt full, ask again, it is certain....
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1565. 4Gaia
10:54 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
A battle of wills, wind vs. sst.
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1564. WPBHurricane05
6:57 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Good catch....

Will we have 94L out of Caribbean disturbance?
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1563. ClearH2OFla
6:55 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
WPB it would be 94L LOL
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1561. WPBHurricane05
6:53 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
It wasn't me it was the Magic 8 Ball.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1559. WPBHurricane05
6:52 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Will we have 93L out of Caribbean disturbance?

Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1558. Bamatracker
10:50 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
you can have a low at the surface and a low at the upper levels for a system to get some tropical characteristics. Now if it ever wants to intensify and get a named the UUL has to move on out so a Upper level high pressure can develop.
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1557. thelmores
10:44 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I thought you would want a surface low with high pressure aloft??? not a surface low and ULL......

my head hurts! where in my brewski! ;D
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1556. nash28
10:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Great link Cane!!! It makes sense. If the two lows merge, you would have the energy from both becoming one.

Jesus. I sound like the screenwriter from the Highlander movie!!!!
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1555. TheCaneWhisperer
10:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
No! Just curious if it was possible is all. Figured I would share since the ULL is so close to the area.
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1554. nash28
10:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Now bear with me guys, as my wits are almost not about me anymore. It appears as though there are indeed more than one circulation, with one of them at the surface. Given its position and the last CMC run, at least for now, I think the CMC has to be looked at closely. Remember how it nailed Barry days before there was even a Low pressure system there? With the GFS spazzing and the NAM somewhat back and forth, the CMC so far has done a pretty good job.

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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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