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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1203. scottsvb
5:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
stormybil people call a thunderstorm a invest..haha
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1202. Tazmanian
11:00 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
so we have 94L?
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1201. WPBHurricane05
1:59 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
I mean there is always one person saying one "blob" will develop.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1200. Drakoen
5:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
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.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30813
1199. kmanislander
5:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hi Littlefish

Sorry for not replying to you but I was away from my computer
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15948
1198. StormJunkie
5:57 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Maybe wpb, but a consensus of the folks who do have a fair knowledge level on here usually end up at least heading in the right direction.

The bottom line is one thing that makes these systems so interesting to watch is that they are fairly unpredictable.
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1196. kmanislander
5:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
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.

from the 2:05 discussion
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1195. DocBen
5:56 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
WPB - you mean we correctly predicted 147 of the last 2 hurricanes?
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1194. Tazmanian
10:57 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
no 94L yet
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1193. Drakoen
5:57 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: WPBHurricane05 at 5:56 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

The reason why the blog is always right about calling invest and storms is because some people call even a thunderstorm the next hurricane.........

lol. true...
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30813
1192. Drakoen
5:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 5:52 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

anybody want to comment on the ULL weakening and moving SSW?

still look strong to me. the SSW motion should change to a more northerly motion, bringing the upper level diffluence along with it.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30813
1191. WPBHurricane05
1:55 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
The reason why the blog is always right about calling invest and storms is because some people call even a thunderstorm the next hurricane.........
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1190. stormybil
5:51 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
me too love it and besides scott these guys call invest or systems
before its up at the navy site or the nhc site its great first hand info with these guys they work hard calling the systems and are ussally right . keep up the great work everyone .
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1188. K8eCane
5:50 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: scottsvb at 5:48 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

I feel these forums are for people who can post up things like..new data recieved from recons...posting links to model runs...showing sat data or posting bulletins on watches and warnings on all types of weather and finally getting information released by the NWS and the NHC so people dont have to surf the web (if they dont know all the links of where to go). I would say its not a good place to educate someone cause there are alot of posers who hype up things or say this and that and really dont know what in the world they are talking about...and they are just wishcasting. The best for education is reading offical books or getting info from real Mets.




the key word in my statement was educated GUESSES
i think anyone with any sense in the time of crisis will listen to LOCAL forecasters


HEY SJ!!!
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1187. sporteguy03
5:48 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
This a great site for information and tropical talk thats why I like it.
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1186. Drakoen
5:46 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Low product cloud field notice the area Near the Yucantan Peninsula just north of Roatan.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30813
1185. scottsvb
5:42 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I feel these forums are for people who can post up things like..new data recieved from recons...posting links to model runs...showing sat data or posting bulletins on watches and warnings on all types of weather and finally getting information released by the NWS and the NHC so people dont have to surf the web (if they dont know all the links of where to go). I would say its not a good place to educate someone cause there are alot of posers who hype up things or say this and that and really dont know what in the world they are talking about...and they are just wishcasting. The best for education is reading offical books or getting info from real Mets.
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1184. StormJunkie
5:47 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hey K8e, great to see ya ☺
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1183. K8eCane
5:41 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: scottsvb at 5:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

NWS hasnt had a good handle on what? OK THIS IS WHY METEOROLOGIST DONT POST ON FORUMS THAT OFTEN...first off the NWS dont forcast tropcial systems.. the NHC does. The NHC Has had a great record. Unless you want a system to hit your house..you might bash the NHC for it.
If people want to disregard the NHC or the NWS and take what people say in the forums...they are greatly mistaken.




hey scott
if it helps
i for one listen to VERY LITTLE of what i read here as far as planning
but i do come here for the educated guesses
and you can usually tell which guesses are educated
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1182. Drakoen
5:45 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: DocBen at 5:44 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drakoan - that one near Belize - think it will develop?


its the favored area at this point. With the heaviest newest convection.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30813
1181. StormJunkie
5:39 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
CMC also shows the shear being very low after/if it makes it across Fla. Develops a pretty significant circulation as it makes landfall near Savannah Ga.

CMC 144hr windshear

And no shear anywhere near the system in this 144hr forecast. I know that is a long way out, but should something even similar to this pan out it could get interstesting for Sav to the Obx. Sure wish we had the 12z GFS on the FSU page...
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1180. DocBen
5:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drakoan - that one near Belize - think it will develop?
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1178. Drakoen
5:41 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
one thing you have to give the CMC credit for is its consistency with development as well as the GFS. The GFS being the favored model in term of immediate forecasting.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30813
1176. Drakoen
5:39 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: StormJunkie at 5:38 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak, I think that upper low is what will eventually recurve the southern piece of energy to the N and NNW for a period of time. after it crosses Fla. Still want to see a few more model runs, with the understanding that the time frame would be much slower on the southern portion it will be interesting to watch.

yes the CMC indicates a turning into Georgia after crossing FL. Just remember guys the SST temperature near the shoreline are way above average so i could develop more as it approaches land.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30813
1175. scottsvb
5:36 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
NWS hasnt had a good handle on what? OK THIS IS WHY METEOROLOGIST DONT POST ON FORUMS THAT OFTEN...first off the NWS dont forcast tropcial systems.. the NHC does. The NHC Has had a great record. Unless you want a system to hit your house..you might bash the NHC for it.
If people want to disregard the NHC or the NWS and take what people say in the forums...they are greatly mistaken.
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1174. Drakoen
5:36 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
i think the convection area north of the island of roatan will be most interesting as it moves into the Low pressure. Then again, this convection could just be upper level diffluence form the upper level low. Hard to tell at this point too much moisture.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30813
1173. StormJunkie
5:36 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak, I think that upper low is what will eventually recurve the southern piece of energy to the N and NNW for a period of time. after it crosses Fla. Still want to see a few more model runs, with the understanding that the time frame would be much slower on the southern portion it will be interesting to watch.
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1172. littlefish
5:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Any chance for the blobby comet-looking thing squeezing between L Antilles and S Amer surviving into the mid Caribb where ULH is? Not an area to develop this time of year I suppose. But it is a semi-blob coming out of the ITCZ LOL.
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1171. stormybil
5:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
if that hold true stormjunkie. that means so fla. will get a 1/2 punch out of these two blobs am i correct
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1170. sporteguy03
5:35 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I think the NHC must know something that we don't see.
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1169. VilleWatch
5:32 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
looks like a good guess Drak.
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1168. Drakoen
5:33 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The CMC shear forecast shows lowering shear in the Southern Gulf and the system following the low shear guided by the upper level trough. I want to emphasize system because it could just be an area of moisture or a TD.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30813
1167. StormJunkie
5:34 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
lmao jp thel and Drak....


Umm, yea I was saying what you can see in Draks drawing.

The 12z GFS is not nearly as aggressive as the CMC with the second piece of surface energy.
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1166. Tazmanian
10:32 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
for now on evere one make sure you say what state you are from so way we no where you are from if you say like Pinecrest i was not sure what state you where talking about like Pinecrest ca or Pinecrest FL so for now on make sure you say what state that is in so we dont get mix up with the same town
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1165. StormHype
5:29 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
scott... NWS hasn't had a good handle on anything in the last 18 months regarding forecast... that includes SPC and NHC. That's why so many in desparation have turned to the self-proclaimed pros on this blog.
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1164. StormJunkie
5:30 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Wow, 12z CMC is interesting. It has not been consistent with this system, so I can not give it too much credit, but the CMC seems to show the area to the NE of the area to the SE along that trough will get pulled across S Fla, but that a second system will develop with slightly better conditions as time goes on. I think that these are the two areas that thel and Drak were debating earlier. The 12z GFS also seems to show something similar, but I have a hard time telling when the 12z does not come out on the FSU page.
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1163. stormybil
5:32 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
i agree drak if it does form thats where it will be going .
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1161. Drakoen
5:32 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: thelmores at 5:32 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak, you may be on to something in your last image.

:)
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1160. thelmores
5:29 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Drak, you may be on to something in your last image.
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1159. WPBHurricane05
1:30 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
LOL Taz, I think he means Pinecrest, Florida in southern Dade county.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1158. Drakoen
5:30 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
ok. i'm bring out my drawings based on the current situation and model analysis.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30813
1157. littlefish
5:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
kman, I'm watching the blob of convection almost due east of the area you mentioned in your pic, it's right along the right edge of the pic. You can see a little rotation with it but it might just be from the convection flare it just had that is dying down. do you see it? It is a small area so I'm not expecting anything but it is closer to the mid-Caribb ULH than the area you're talking about so might be more favorable to develop if shear can die down.
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1156. TheCaneWhisperer
1:30 PM EDT on June 14, 2007



Mesoscale Discussion 1144
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1155. Tazmanian
10:29 AM PDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: marlinsfan1 at 10:15 AM PDT on June 14, 2007.

The rain has begun in my neck of the woods. I live in Pinecrest


Pinecrest ca????



i sure dont see any rain her today
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1154. stormybil
5:27 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the gfs has this crosing over so. fla in 48 hours or so . alittle south of barrys track . so it doesent seem it has much time to develope .but than again anything can happen with it .
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1153. 0741
5:25 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
their have plane plan for friday to check that area when it get into southern gulf
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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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