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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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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1152. scottsvb
5:27 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
LOL we dont use the NAM model at the NWS service for tropcial systems. We use to for Continental Precip and Genosis along with the GFS.

For tropical systems...we go inline with the GFS and GFDL UNLESS we feel another model has a good handle on the situation down there.

The ECMWF is decent for long range.
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1151. thelmores
5:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
us Mets??

is that New York Mets? LOL
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1150. Drakoen
5:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: seminolesfan at 5:25 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Posted By: Drakoen at 5:02 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.
at this point a don't see a RECON flight happening, although this could change overnight.even though the shear tendency indicated decreasing upper level winds the winds are still strong out of the west.


This sounds almost like a direct quote from May 31st when we were talkin about what would become Barry...LOL

LOL maybe so. system that form in the Caribbean have a tendency of being "weird" with their development.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1148. seminolesfan
5:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Drakoen at 5:02 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.
at this point a don't see a RECON flight happening, although this could change overnight.even though the shear tendency indicated decreasing upper level winds the winds are still strong out of the west.



This sounds almost like a direct quote from May 31st when we were talkin about what would become Barry...LOL
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1147. ClearH2OFla
1:17 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
cool party time
1146. scottsvb
5:23 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the NWS not the NHC..the NWS dont use the NAM for tropical systems...but really the NHC dont consider them also.
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1145. Drakoen
5:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
if this becomes an invest we can rely on the GFDL to help us out with the forecasting. That area north of Roatan is most intersting at this point. THe CMC and the GFS pickup on this area.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1144. Drakoen
5:21 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1142. scottsvb
5:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The GFS does have a hard time picking up on tropical systems...but its what us Mets use at the NWS with the NAM at times.
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1140. WPBHurricane05
1:15 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Thats what I saw ClearH20Fla.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1139. Drakoen
5:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 5:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drak i see two blobs crossing am i reading this right

yes but one is stronger than the other the one that you can sea using the sea level pressure is the strongest. its the one that crosses over Lake O.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1138. marlinsfan1
1:14 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
The rain has begun in my neck of the woods. I live in Pinecrest.
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1137. Drakoen
5:12 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
HurricaneFcast i saw those. I meant i wish the other models were picking up on the low so we ahve a better idea on where it is going as well as the intensity of the system.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1136. ClearH2OFla
1:09 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Drak i see two blobs crossing am i reading this right
1135. HurricaneFCast
5:12 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
NOGAPS and UKMET show nothing developing at the moment..
Member Since: April 20, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 1482
1134. Drakoen
5:11 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
the upper level low near the Caribbean is forecast to move to the northeast into the GOM pulling the moisture with it.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1133. WPBHurricane05
1:11 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1132. HurricaneFCast
5:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Drakoen at 5:08 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Link
CMC and other models. I just wish that we had models suck as the UKMET and the NOGAPS so we could have a better idea on what this system is doing.


Drakoen, I've got a present for you:
NOGAPS
UKMET
Member Since: April 20, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 1482
1131. Drakoen
5:09 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: SWFLdrob at 5:09 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Posted By: Drakoen at 5:05 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

clearH20FLA look at the 850 mb vorticy it changed its projected path. Now it has the low moving through central-south Florida.

I thought for tropical systems one was supposed to look at the sea level pressure models? I suppose the others would be good for guidance/track, though.

850mb is at the lower levels.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1130. Drakoen
5:08 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
yes Kmanislander and it seems that the CMC is picking up on it. With a defined low pressure system. Look at the 12z Run it shows a low coming out of the general area north of Roatan.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1129. SWFLdrob
5:06 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Drakoen at 5:05 PM GMT on June 14, 2007.

clearH20FLA look at the 850 mb vorticy it changed its projected path. Now it has the low moving through central-south Florida.

I thought for tropical systems one was supposed to look at the sea level pressure models? I suppose the others would be good for guidance/track, though.
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1128. Drakoen
5:07 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Link
CMC and other models. I just wish that we had models suck as the UKMET and the NOGAPS so we could have a better idea on what this system is doing.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1127. WPBHurricane05
1:04 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
You have to remember that global models don't properly represent tropical cyclones. Link
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1126. ClearH2OFla
1:06 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Thanks
1125. kmanislander
5:05 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
This seems to be the area of greatest interest at the moment ( just near Roatan island )

Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15748
1124. stormybil
5:05 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
anyone have a link for the cmc thanks
1123. Drakoen
5:04 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
clearH20FLA look at the 850 mb vorticy it changed its projected path. Now it has the low moving through central-south Florida.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1122. ClearH2OFla
1:01 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Ok i just took a quick peek at the CMc and its not showing anything Am i looking at it wrong
1121. Drakoen
5:00 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
at this point a don't see a RECON flight happening, although this could change overnight.even though the shear tendency indicated decreasing upper level winds the winds are still strong out of the west.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1120. scottsvb
4:53 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
CMC did a good job with IVAN..with most models saying he would go to florida..but CMC kept it further south before the turn into the gulf. We (as Mets) look at consistancy in the model runs and which models perform the best overall. We prefer the GFS in the short term and ECWMF in the long...and with tropical systems and branch between the GFS and the GFDL...but other models do catch on from time to time.. but its consistancy.
Even with the disturbed weather in the NW carribean right now. There are convergence troughs with vortexs. There is no main surface low as of this time. But it dont mean 1 wont develop. Probably be closer to the area 50-100 miles ESE of Cozumel right now drifting N. As you already seen..the CMC showed a moderate TS going into SW florida yesterday..then 0z runs had to going to N.O. now the current 12Z run has it a TD or tropical low going back thru SW florida. Consistancy. CMC is "most of the time" all over the place.
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1119. Drakoen
4:58 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
seems that the upper level winds a riping apart the system Similar to what happened yesterday.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29918
1117. StormJunkie
4:57 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Guess it is only updating every 3hrs...
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1116. stormybil
4:54 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
will this thing move thru the yucatan channel or cut acroos the cuba .

and i agree the gfsx was the best on barrys path even with 7 days out .
1115. StormJunkie
4:56 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
It's over 2hrs old on the data? That isn't normal is it?
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1114. Patrap
11:55 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
The QUIKscat data on the Buoy...is good.Link
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1113. Patrap
11:54 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Nothing..they just moved it SE..a lil SJ.
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1112. StormJunkie
4:53 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
lmao pat :~)
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1111. WPBHurricane05
12:52 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
do you seem a bit more interested today? lol

After I saw that spin this morning, and since RECON is going out.....
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1110. StormJunkie
4:50 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
I agree the cmc had a pretty good handle on Barry and as far as track, it seemed like the middle of the road between the GFS and the CMC did very well.

What happened to 42057?
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1109. Patrap
11:52 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
GOES WV Loop of Tropical Basin
Link
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1108. Patrap
11:49 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
I had /have lower pressure in my FEMA trailer bathroom than Barry. It was a puff and a shower and goodbye. It wasnt a challenge for anyone ..or any model.Any Dell in Aruba could have forecasted BArry and its motion..
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1106. WPBHurricane05
12:48 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Remember Beryl last year? She formed from the tail end of a front.
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1105. scottsvb
4:48 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
The GFS had it going thru Sarasota...about 50 miles off and it made landfall near TampaBay..
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1103. TheCaneWhisperer
12:37 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
There is definatly a surface low trying to get going there. You can see the low level cloud field starting to focus on that area.
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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.