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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1403. StormJunkie
8:44 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
77, the CMC is saying the same thing as the GFS. Two areas of energy. One quickly moves across S Fla, the other moves a little slower and a little further N. This one actually becomes fairly well defined once entering the Atl.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 15655
1401. Drakoen
8:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 8:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

lmao Drakoen

are you serious?

most of the rain and wind are on the north side because that is the side of driving motion

unless a system is moving south, the strongest winds will be on the north side, because the speed of movement is added to the winds speed in that direction

no you are getting that mixed up with atlantic storms. Altanitc storm that come of Africa and hit South Florida have their heaviest rain and winds to the North. Wilma affected Browards County that recieved that Southern eye wall where the worst winds and rain are.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29902
1400. Tazmanian
1:43 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
and i say oh cares whats wait and and what it dos what wait in tell they fly out there then may be will have a little more to work with
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1398. Bamatracker
8:41 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
JP and drakeon i think you are talking about two differnt things. Drakeon you are talking about the most intense area of a storm. Jp you are talking about which side the most moisture is on. Congrats...your both right
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1397. Littleninjagrl
8:42 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
oh gee! If i know how to read a compass right I will say the rain was mostly North. LOL
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1395. Drakoen
8:42 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
hurricane23 can please tell who got the heaviest rain and winds from wilma? and who got the heaviest rain from Jeane?
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29902
1394. Drakoen
8:41 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
i am not going to bother discussing this cause its getting nowhere. I just can't be bothered to discuss basic meteorology.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29902
1391. hurricane23
4:38 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Hey JP and everybody whats going on?

Ive been watching some charley footage sent to me from a friend of mine which chases hurricane's for a living and to be honest iam still trying to catch my breath after watching it.What s a storm.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13629
1389. Drakoen
8:39 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 8:37 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

lol Drakoen

Wilma was symmetrical

we got rain here in Orlando from her

if she had most of her rain to the south, we wouldnt have seen a drop

the cold front that was with her up here was dry


symetrical systems have rain on all sides but the heaviest winds and the heaviest rain are on the South Side of the system.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29902
1387. PBG00
8:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Great Link!
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1385. Bamatracker
8:37 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Link


here is wilma making landfall. Which side has more rain on it. North or south. You all be the judges.
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1384. PBG00
8:38 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Jupiter got ALOT of rain from Barry too..and I think everyone got slammes by wilma
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1383. Drakoen
8:37 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 8:36 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

if the moisture was on the south side with Barry, it wouldnt have rained in Central Florida on that Friday Night

LOL. you are getting mixing up look over what you posted. Here in south Florida West Palm Beach recieved rain totals upwards of 7 inches.Barry Made landfall around the tampa bay area and the moisture was being lifted from South to Central Florida.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29902
1381. kmanislander
8:37 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Both buoys in the NW Caribbean have the same pressure at the same time of report. This means that the low is still very broad because if it was tightening up one would expect to have a lower reading at the buoy nearest to Cozumel which is not the case. Seems like the message here is that development, if it happens at all, will be slow or very slow
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1379. Drakoen
8:36 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: kmanislander at 8:34 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Sorry to repeat. Have a lot going on today and too many posts to review. Will the surface low just sit as the ULL goes by overhead ?. What about shear ?.

models forecasting for the shear to relax somewhat and have the upper level low dissapping or moving to the NE.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29902
1378. Littleninjagrl
8:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 8:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

um Drakoen

systems that come from the Gulf generally have most of its rain on the North and East sides

been that way for years

Alberto, Barry, Earl, all the moisture was on the North and East side, not the south


Ok, that's what I thought but since I'm new at all of this i didn't know.
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1376. Drakoen
8:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 8:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

um Drakoen

systems that come from the Gulf generally have most of its rain on the North and East sides

been that way for years

Alberto, Barry, Earl, all the moisture was on the North and East side, not the south

not it does not. You are getting confused. Wilma has most of the moisture on the South side and barry did as well. A system coming from the Atlantic will have its strongest rains on its north side.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29902
1375. Thundercloud01221991
8:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Waves are large



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1374. Thundercloud01221991
8:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
not very strong of a surface low but one developing nevertheless

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1373. 4Gaia
8:33 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
How many days have we been watching this thing?
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1371. kmanislander
8:32 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Sorry to repeat. Have a lot going on today and too many posts to review. Will the surface low just sit as the ULL goes by overhead ?. What about shear ?.
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1370. Littleninjagrl
8:34 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
thanks Drakoen
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1369. Drakoen
8:33 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 8:32 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

kman

the ULL is substantially weaker than it was yesterday, I wouldnt be surprised to see it fizzle out or at least weaken to a point where it wont be a factor

thats what the models are showing. the upper level low disappating giving a short window of oppurtunity.
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1367. Drakoen
8:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Littleninjagrl at 8:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Does any one think Tampa will get any of this rain coming towrds florida?

yes but just remember that a system coming form the GOM into Florida the bulk of the moisture is on the South Side. Like Wilma for example.
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1365. 4Gaia
8:27 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Will it develop? Definately.... i think....maybe...
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1364. Bamatracker
8:29 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
i usually try to wait to tell others until the bloggers on here start arguing over where its going to hit instead of will it or will it not form.
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1363. Drakoen
8:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
i know Kman i said that last page that there is a surface low...
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1362. StormJunkie
8:29 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
lol drak...Just wondered why you were referencing the 6z GFS. Seems a lot changed since then.

moisture could be moving through south Fla in the 42hr time frame, but the later portion of this area should develop a little more then the first part and move a little further N in the 5 8to 70hr time frame.

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1361. Drakoen
8:30 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
heh sammy save your money
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1360. Littleninjagrl
8:30 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Does any one think Tampa will get any of this rain coming towards florida?
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1359. kmanislander
8:27 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak

I have been too busy today to post regularly but if you run the vis loop you will see the surface low immediately SE of Cozumel pop up and depicted in red just as the last frame loads. With the ULL now about to cut right across the top of it I have absolutely no idea how this will play out. On the WV loop attached you can see the ULL closing in on Cozumel. Actually the last frame of this loop shows the low as well just before it animatesLink
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1357. Miamiweather
8:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
thanks drakoen
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1356. Drakoen
8:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: sammywammybamy at 8:27 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

I really Want To thank Drakeon For the Blog he Did,Also i have learned alot from Jp,23,StormW,Sj,Of course Others too.

So this will form right should i Alert my friends and family because of it

not necessarily. All i can say is heavy thunderstorm activty going Saturday in Central-South Florida
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29902
1355. Bamatracker
8:27 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
*excuse my spelling and grammer today. apparently ive had too much kool-aid
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1353. StormJunkie
8:26 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Bt, when we get to this point is when folks need to start forking out the money ☺ and hey you could win.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 15655

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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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