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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1552. TheCaneWhisperer
10:38 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The surface low remained mostly stationary until early on October 15 as it merged with the upper-level low and deepened while north of the Bahamas and east of the coast of Florida. On the morning of October 15, the system gained enough tropical characteristics and became organized enough to be classified as a subtropical depression.[1]

FULL STORY HERE!

Interesting to note that they can merge together! I was curious.
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1551. Patrap
5:34 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Quikscat imagery...Link
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1550. Bamatracker
10:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
drunk pilot..



just a joke I know its a satellite
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1549. Patrap
5:30 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Scroll down this link to see QUIKscat paths...recent passes

Link
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1548. HCW
10:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Cause quick sat is on it's last leg :(
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1547. Patrap
5:30 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Orbital Mechanics...
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1546. WPBHurricane05
6:28 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Why does it do that???!!!???
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1545. Bamatracker
10:25 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
quickstat missed this area....looks like we have to wait.

Link
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1544. thelmores
10:19 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I just spent the last half hour reading the blog to catch up...... I THINK MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE! LOL

I am somewhat confused by the area near cozumel.... we have a surface low and an ULL???

Hmmm......

I have noticed during the day, that there are several vortices in this large area.....

will be interesting to see how things progress....

when is the next quickscat due???
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1543. nash28
10:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drusier-

See my blog. That'll explain the surgery.
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1542. WPBHurricane05
6:21 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Darn Bama you caught me.
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1541. TheRingo
6:20 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: drusierDMD at 6:16 PM EDT on June 14, 2007.
what does convergence tell us? i would guess it means "clouds coming together forming larger systems" am i close?


no it's where a low's center is drawing in air at the surface. winds converge at it's center.
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1540. Bamatracker
10:20 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
LOL...i figured that....thats why you have to a source. Thats how you were gettin all those answers the other night for the hurricane questions. Wait i got it...your work for google ....even worse!!
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1539. drusierDMD
10:19 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
did you get your wisdom teeth removed?
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1538. HCW
10:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Allan Seals is also a great teacher at the University of South AL. I wonder how soon untill the navy jumps on this weak surface low and calls it an invest . I hope that you feel better soon Nash :)


Free Weatherunderground accounts
Link
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1537. Drakoen
10:19 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: drusierDMD at 10:16 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

what does convergence tell us? i would guess it means "clouds coming together forming larger systems" am i close?


things are coming together at the lower levels of the atmostphere.
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1536. WPBHurricane05
6:19 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
lol Bama, I don't even work for the government.....
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1535. Bamatracker
10:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
you and your government secrets.....i'll find your source!!!
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1534. WPBHurricane05
6:15 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
WPB...where to you get that close of an image with that quality. I only have the NOAA sight and you can't get that close

Can't tell you government secret.

Just kidding, here you go link. Just click on the area you want zoomed.
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1532. KoritheMan
10:15 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
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.


10-20 knot shear is HARDLY unfavorable.... Maybe a few pockets of 25-30 knot shear, but this is much more favorable than it was for Barry.
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1531. Drakoen
10:15 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: nash28 at 10:15 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Hi all. Anything going on with the Carribean disturbance?

Just got home from the oral surgeon. I have surgery tomorrow. Drinking lots of beer tonight since I can't eat anyways.

we are look at the many vortcies associate with the system. We are notcing rotation in an area of lower level convergency.
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1530. drusierDMD
10:11 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
what does convergence tell us? i would guess it means "clouds coming together forming larger systems" am i close?
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1529. Drakoen
10:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
yes that is possible it has a defined circulation and is more evident on the Satellite loop. At any rate we knwo fro sure that if the rotation was there it would cross of the cuba.
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1528. nash28
10:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hi all. Anything going on with the Carribean disturbance?

Just got home from the oral surgeon. I have surgery tomorrow. Drinking lots of beer tonight since I can't eat anyways....
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1527. ClearH2OFla
6:10 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Thanks Drak, Whats up adrian, Just looked at the CMC rainfall and its showing a possiblity of 40 cm or 16 in in central florida. I dont see how that would even be possible
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1525. Bamatracker
10:13 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
WPB...where to you get that close of an image with that quality. I only have the NOAA sight and you can't get that close
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1524. Drakoen
10:12 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
that could be a secondary vortex but that does not mean that it is at the surface.
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1523. stormpetrol
10:09 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
WPB, That is the same thing I was looking at, it clearly has a spin to it don't know if its down to the surface or not.
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1521. WPBHurricane05
6:11 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Thats where I saw circulation, will re-evaluate.
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1520. COHurricanes2007
10:11 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
They are soooooo conservative
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1519. Drakoen
10:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
wpb that not the low. the low is near Cozumel east of it near the upper level low. Look at the 850 mb vorticy.
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1518. Drakoen
10:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
lol hurricane23 we know.
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1517. Drakoen
10:08 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 10:07 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak What is the Possiblility of both of these areas on the CMC passing over Florida, Either one south and the other central

the upper level low should follow the moisture as it works its way to South Florida. The a secondary section of the same low will "drop of" and cross over an area a little more to the north than the first one. Everything moving north should be moving in the general direction of Florida because of the upper level trough.
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1516. hurricane23
6:09 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
000
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.

$$
FORECASTER BEVEN
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1515. WPBHurricane05
6:08 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Think I found the circulation.....

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1514. TheRingo
6:05 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
look at the convergence.
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1513. ClearH2OFla
6:05 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Drak What is the Possiblility of both of these areas on the CMC passing over Florida, Either one south and the other central
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1512. Drakoen
10:01 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
look at the 850 mb you will see something near Cozumel. everyone jsut showing where the low is. All of the moisture is associate with borad area of low pressure. The next QuickSat should show us the low.
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1511. TexasRiverRat
10:02 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Daisetta, Liberty County.

Funnel cloud, reported by law enforcement.


Liberty co sheriff reports funnel cloud off FM 770 moving
northeast.
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1510. kmanislander
10:00 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Anyway I will wait for the QS pass this evening
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1509. SWFLdrob
9:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
anyone have a zoomed in visible loop of the system in the NW Caribbean? can't seem to find one that clearly shows the low-level feature, but most of the things I'm looking at are not overly zoomed in. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.
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1508. kmanislander
9:57 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
yes I understand that but most everyone is looking at the vis and IR sat images and drawing conclusions that what they are seeing is due to the surface low. I do not believe the surface low ( such as it is ) is nearly as robust as the images would otherwise lead one to believe
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1507. Drakoen
9:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: TheRingo at 9:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

I see the circulation just to the west of the caymans.


yes thats the upper level low.... the upper level low is extremely close to the SFC Low.
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1506. TheRingo
5:56 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
I see the circulation just to the west of the caymans.
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1505. Drakoen
9:56 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: sammywammybamy at 9:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

I am confused the Low level circulation is over the water, right and the upper level Low is over land?

yes thats correct.

Posted By: kmanislander at 9:56 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak,

Look at the WV loop. The ULL already extends beyond the Yucatan into the Caribbean in so far as to coverage of its circulation goes


something has to give...
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1504. Drakoen
9:54 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
a SFC is affected by what happens in the upper levels of the atmosphere as far as the convection associated with the SFC low. You can tell the difference between them by looking at the 850mb and compare it too the 500mb. the 850mb will show the SFC low and the 500 mb will show the upper level low. as you can see our system is still being affected by shear.
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1503. kmanislander
9:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak,

Look at the WV loop. The ULL already extends beyond the Yucatan into the Caribbean in so far as the coverage of its circulation goes
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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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