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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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
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15948
1501. Drakoen
9:53 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the upper level low is over the yucatan the SFC low is due east of cozumel.
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1499. kmanislander
9:49 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I am not convinced that what appears to be the surface low forming up is in fact all due to the surface low. With the ULL in virtually the same place the WV loop shows moisture also wrapping around that feature. How do you distinguish one from the other for the purposes of saying that the low at the surface is developing certain features ?. Would the surface low not be masked by what is going on in the upper levels of the atmosphere over it from the ULL ??

The quickscat pass this evening should hopefully put a lot of this in perspective
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15948
1498. hurricane91
9:50 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
im kinda confuse, the low is over the yuctan right now, but it about to enter the carribean or is already in the carrbiean?
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1497. Tazmanian
2:46 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
what the nhc find when they fly in to 94L on friday



sorry but i am call this 94L
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115453
1496. KoritheMan
9:45 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I don't think it's 94L yet, Taz, but it's close. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. Given the organization of the system in spite of the upper-level low producing 10-20 knot shear, 94L by late tonight seems reasonable, and a possible (I said possible) tropical depression by tommorow morning is possible.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302
1495. Tazmanian
2:43 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
oh this will be come 94L it is 94L the nhc this dos not want to call it 94L but we all no it is 94L
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115453
1494. Drakoen
9:44 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the upper level low is near the low pressure area should that should inhibit any immmediate development.
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1493. kmanislander
9:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The ULL and the surface low are about to collide ( or perhaps I should say one will pass over the other ) LOL

Link
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1492. TheRingo
5:40 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Patrap at 5:40 PM EDT on June 14, 2007.
The GOM IR shows the low forming well...Link


It's starting to curve nicely now. The low level circulation is almost noticable right in the middle of that mass.
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1491. Patrap
4:40 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Due west of Cozumel..
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1490. Drakoen
9:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
if this becomes 94L we are in for a very very active season.
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1489. SWFLdrob
9:37 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
anyone have a link to a zoomed in visible loop of the current area of interest? thx in advance.
1488. Patrap
4:39 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
The GOM IR shows the low forming well...Link
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1487. Tazmanian
2:38 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
where is 94L is 94L hiding for us


what this call it 94L ok we all no that this is are 94L
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1486. Drakoen
9:38 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the movement of the low looks more NNE.
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1485. IKE
4:36 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Crossing Cuba?

It's just east of the Yucatan..it doesn't appear to be moving east.
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1484. Patrap
4:36 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
The Low pressure is over the Yucatan..peninsula//at 22n and 88 west..
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1483. Drakoen
9:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the NHC is being conservative. There is a low pressure area. some of the models have it missing Cuba some have it touch the tip or forming immediately aftyer crossing Cuba.
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1482. hurricane91
9:33 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
water temps in the south central gulf are at 88 degrees,wow thats 5 degrees warmer than a few days ago
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1481. hurricanenerd
9:33 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
what????????? that's all they could say, when it is getting better organized
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1480. weathermanwannabe
4:29 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Hey All....Back from work since this morning....If I read the blog correctly, has the "blob" we were looking at this AM formed into a low pressure area?....Also, based in where it appears to be going (NW), I would think that the mountains over Cuba, if it gets that far, would also inhibit development (in addition to the shear alluded to by NHC)..
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1479. Drakoen
9:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
clearer on here
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1478. Tazmanian
2:32 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
Long Valley Daily Update issued Jun 14, 2007 09:58 PDT Volcanic-Alert Level NORMAL - Aviation Color Code GREEN
Aftershock activity to the M=4.6 earthquake at 12:22 AM June 12 continues to gradually slow. As of 9:30 AM this morning, the sequence has included 20 earthquakes of M=1.0 or greater, but only one was greater than 2.0 (M=2.3). All of the activity continues to be concentrated in the Sierra Nevada just east of Lake Dorothy (2 miles SE of Mount Morrison and 9 miles SE of Mammoth Lakes). We see no evidence for any increased activity within Long Valley caldera associated with this earthquake sequence. Elsewhere in the region, the realtime system detected a magnitude M=2.7 earthquake located midway between the town of Bridgeport and Lee Vining.
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1477. Drakoen
9:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
you can see the low clearly on this
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1476. Tazmanian
2:28 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
oh for get the nhc and there TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK for now they dont no what they are talking about
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115453
1475. Tazmanian
2:28 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
we could have are C storm be the end of the day friday
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1473. Drakoen
9:27 PM GMT 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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1472. Drakoen
9:26 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
everthing is moving to the E i would have expected a more NNE movement from the LOW by now,
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1471. Patrap
4:25 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
The GOM IR..Link
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1470. Drakoen
9:25 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
this could become an invest soon.
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1469. Thundercloud01221991
9:24 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
maybe the 5:30 AM update
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1468. Drakoen
9:24 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
something is definately happening at the surface.
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1466. IKE
4:22 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Pressures are falling off at buoy 42056 at the Yucatan Basin...down to 29.77...

Link
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1465. Drakoen
9:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
waiting to see what the NHC says.
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1464. Drakoen
9:21 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the upper level low seems to be moving to the NNE now...
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1463. Patrap
4:19 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
a low seems to be near 22N and 85W
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1462. Drakoen
9:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
ok. now that wer done with that lets tlak about the persistent convection in the Caribbean and the Low pressure associated with it.
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1461. Patrap
4:16 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
That confirms the WV view..Cozumel winds bearing Ene..its closing off here. Link
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1460. Patrap
4:16 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Cozumel winds are up some..from earlier..Link
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1459. Drakoen
9:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 9:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

lol thundercloud its cool

so put N and E together

so we were both right lol

but with Barry it was different because he was disorganized

yes. i think we are confusig each other.
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1456. stormpetrol
9:09 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Pressures are falling here in Grand Cayman.
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1455. Drakoen
9:11 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: IKE at 9:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Where do you live Drakoen?

I'll guess south Florida?

yes i do.
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1454. Drakoen
9:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Thundercloud01221991 at 9:09 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

RIGHT FRONT QUADRANT just that

N - NW
S - SE
E - SW
W - NW

get it now

exactly that proves what i said about Wilma and Barry. and cross refrencign with jean that had the strongest winds and rain on the N and east side.
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1453. IKE
4:09 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Where do you live Drakoen?

I'll guess south Florida?
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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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