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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1253. StormJunkie
6:33 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak, you were drawing circles and showing your interest in these areas earlier and now your on the other side of the fence with this system. I am confused...and now you and h23 have been trying to tell everyone all day???

Anywho, it is an interesting area and it does have a chance to develop albeit outside, and it will likely bring rain to much of the SE no matter what it is.


Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16873
1250. scottsvb
6:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak cold core with surface temps at 80dg dont matter..coldcore are up at the 500mb levels..water temps have nothing todo with it.. now they can over many days work their way down to the surface and then develop warm core or tropical characteristics..but takes a long time if they do at all. Water temps dont mean anything to cold core lows.
Also the system is near 19.5N and 86W alot closer to Cozumel..about 50 miles SE..Im out!!
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1249. StormJunkie
6:32 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Taz, I think the Navy updates when they have something to update. Not sure. If they declared an invest I think they would just throw it up there.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16873
1248. WPBHurricane05
2:32 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Maybe no one knows your answer Taz.....
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1247. Drakoen
6:30 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 6:29 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

lol Drakoen

so what if the UKMET doesnt show defined isolines, its only one model, I am looking at the current situation

persistent area of convection in a climatologically favored area for development this time of year, along with model agreement on some sort of development and a weakening ULL which would make conditions more favorable for development

seems like an interesting scenerio to me

first of all the upper level winds are unfavorable for development. Secondly the UKMET is a good model and conditions at best would be marginal for development. That what Hurricane23 and I have been trying to tell you guys. If the NOGAPS spins something up i will start believing but as of now i just see moisture heading int he general direction of South Florida through sATURDAY.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
1245. Tazmanian
11:30 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
i ask a ? when is the next navy site? or do i have to start uesing my caps so evere one can see my post
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1244. StormJunkie
6:29 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak, cold core because the CMC says so. Not my choice...I still don't really understand why it would be that way.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16873
1242. fldoughboy
6:24 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Thanks for the info, now it's time to get ready for work..c u later.
1241. Drakoen
6:23 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: StormJunkie at 6:21 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

That looks to be one strong cold core surface low then...I'm not sure I am understanding the graphical models compared to the phase evolution. The 200-850mb shear shows a strong seemingly symetric system heading towards N Ga.

why would it be cold core when the sea surfaace temperature are above 80 degree.

Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 6:23 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

why very weak Drakoen?

the system does not have defined isolines according to the UKMET. the CMC and the GFS has something more defined. Just observing the UKMET. it will be interesting to see what the NOGAPS solution is.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
1238. StormJunkie
6:19 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
That looks to be one strong cold core surface low then...I'm not sure I am understanding the graphical models compared to the phase evolution. The 200-850mb shear shows a strong seemingly symetric system heading towards N Ga.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16873
1237. Drakoen
6:20 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 6:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

actually Drakoen, the weakening ULL would actually increase the chances of development by lessening the wind shear on the east side of the system

yea very weak one though.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
1235. StormJunkie
6:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
FSU model page

Find that, the phase evolution page, and many other model and imagery pages here. These are the pages most often used when trying to determine what our weather is doing.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16873
1233. fldoughboy
6:16 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I mean waiting for further development. Do you have the link for those models?
1232. StormJunkie
6:16 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Correct Drak, very weak. I was only commenting on the consensus that there will be two areas of energy and the second does not seem to move out to sea.
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1231. StormJunkie
6:11 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
doughboy, all of those models that I just referenced are out...Not sure what you are saying about lets' just wait. I am only commenting on the information that is currently available. Not saying anything will or will not form.

Now, STL, good point. I forgot to check the phase evolution. So that and the 200-850mb CMC shear forecast show this system becoming an upper level feature correct?
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16873
1229. Tazmanian
11:14 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
when is the next navy site update?
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1228. Drakoen
6:12 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the UKMET has something affecting the tampa bay area but it hard to pick out and the system is very weak.
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1227. Drakoen
6:11 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
ah the new UKMET 12z picking up on something at 850mb. very weak though.
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1226. Drakoen
6:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 6:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

actually Drakoen, the weakening ULL would actually increase the chances of development by lessening the wind shear on the east side of the system

I know that. I am saying the current upper level winds are still strong and i don't expect development invest at best.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
1225. fldoughboy
6:07 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Storm Junkie, let's just wait-- as The Weather Channel has other opinions of what it is going to do. Is there any models out yet?
1224. Tazmanian
11:09 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
ok 23 that was post like 3 times so far oh want to be the 4th to post it?
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1223. Drakoen
6:09 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
hurricane23 i think they will get it once this is all done and over with...
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1220. Drakoen
6:08 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
stormjunkie i didn't see anything on the UKMET...
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1219. hurricane23
2:03 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
NHC 2:05PM Discussion...

THE CARIBBEAN SEA...
INTERESTING FEATURE OF THE DAY IS A LARGE AREA OF CLOUDINESS AND
SHOWERS OVER THE NW CARIBBEAN ASSOCIATED WITH A BROAD AREA OF
LOW PRESSURE AND SFC TROUGH EXTENDING FROM EXTREME W CUBA TO THE
GULF OF HONDURAS. A DIFFLUENT PATTERN ALOFT ASSOCIATED WITH A
RIDGE/ANTICYCLONE CENTERED NEAR 15N85W IS ENHANCING THIS
CONVECTIVE ACTIVITY THAT IS SPREADING OVER THE CAYMAN ISLANDS
AND E-CENTRAL CUBA. A NEAR 60 NM WIDE BAND OF MODERATE TO
ISOLATED STRONG CONVECTION IS ALSO EAST OF THE SFC LOW/TROUGH
AND EXTENDS FROM THE ATLC COAST OF NICARAGUA ALL THE WAY N TO
20N83W. A 1009 MB SFC LOW IS ANALYZED ON THE 1200 UTC SURFACE
MAP NEAR 19N86W. THIS LOW IS FORECAST TO SLOWLY DRIFT NORTHWARD.
UPPER-LEVEL WINDS ARE NOT FAVORABLE FOR DEVELOPMENT.
A PLUME OF
MID-HIGH LEVEL CLOUDINESS AND POSSIBLE SHOWERS IS STREAMING BY
WSW UPPER LEVEL WINDS ACROSS THE NW CARIBBEAN AND CUBA INTO THE
W ATLC. THE TYPICAL LOW OVER NORTHERN COLOMBIA IS PRODUCING SOME
SHOWERS AND ISOLATED TSTMS JUST OFF THE COLOMBIA COAST. COSTA
RICA AND PANAMA ARE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE EPAC ITCZ. TRADE
WIND SHOWERS ARE POSSIBLE ACROSS THE REMAINDER OF THE BASIN. TWO
TROPICAL WAVES ARE ALONG 60W AND 70W. SEE TROPICAL WAVE SECTION
FOR DETAILS.
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1218. Drakoen
6:06 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
hmm JP you may be right i was just looking at the satellite imagery. Upper level winds still strong across the area development is unlikely.
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1217. StormJunkie
6:03 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
fldoughboy, the CMC, GFS, and Ukmet are hinting at two areas of energy and the northern one will get swept across S Fla and out to sea, but it seems the second one may get some slightly better conditions and it also does not look like it is headed out to sea. Ukmet, GFS, and CMC all move it up Fla or just off the E coast of Fla and up in to the Carolinas. The CMC actually develops a decent TS in the Atlantic from it.
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1216. Drakoen
6:04 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
heres the updated shear tendency.
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1215. Tazmanian
11:03 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
if we can get a closed low and when they fly out there we may have TD 3 and i will give it a %10 ch of be comeing a name storm
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1214. Drakoen
6:01 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I still think that we will jsut get alot of rain from this sytem an no real development. I need the NOGAPS or the UKMET to show me something before i by into it.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30563
1212. StormJunkie
6:02 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
jp, maybe that is what the CMC is picking up on that lets the sw area develop a little more as it moves N and E....
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1211. hurricane23
2:02 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Raining here across miami but the severe threat to me is not there today for us.Adrian
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1210. WPBHurricane05
2:02 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
It needs a closed low, moderate convection, and winds around 30 MPH.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1209. fldoughboy
6:01 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The disturbed area in the Carribean Sea more than likely won't develop as it's going to get caught in an upper level trough and make it's way to Bermuda. So I doubt there will be a 94 L.
1208. stormybil
5:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
1009 mb what does it have to be to be called a td
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1206. StormJunkie
6:00 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hey littlefish :~) I missed you coming in... Great to see you
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1205. scottsvb
6:01 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
jp I sent ya a email
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1203. scottsvb
5:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
stormybil people call a thunderstorm a invest..haha
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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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