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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2053. moonlightcowboy
10:55 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
...yep, Baha...a really rough spot for that high. If this were later in the season, we'd all be in a bind I'm sure!
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2052. BahaHurican
6:52 AM EDT on June 15, 2007
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2051. BahaHurican
6:47 AM EDT on June 15, 2007
Morning all,

I have to admit nothing much looks impressive this morning.

Except, perhaps, that ridge of high pressure that looks to be setting up across the Central Atlantic. Whoo-ee boy, I sure do hope that's not where we get a permenant high feature. That would spell disaster for practically the entire region, but especially the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas, and Florida.
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2050. moonlightcowboy
10:40 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
.....uuuuummm, when is it going to cross over into the GOM?

....and uuuuummm, good morning! Getting a soaker here this morning...I'd almost forgotten what rain looked, sounds, smells and feels like! It's nice!
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2049. KoritheMan
10:27 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
It seems to me that the thunderstorms by central Cuba is what is absorbing the convection that tries to fire up near 94L's center. Is this part of the upper-level low?
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2048. underthunder
10:22 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
have a lovely day...and pray for rain in south alabama if you are'nt busy....
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2045. underthunder
10:08 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I was referring to mr. doublevisions senseless comment...sorry to interrupt...just had to be said....
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2043. underthunder
9:58 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
as for doublevision....it's obvious which head you're thinking with sweetie...
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2041. bjdsrq
9:27 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Stormpetrol said: Convection has died down for now as it usually does this time of night, I suspect by tomorrow morning everything will be in full bloom again, it also appears to have a ENE movement to me.


Nada. Convection looks like total crapola as I see it now at 5:30am Friday. However, NHC has now given this a glimpse of hope for development, which probably means it's dead also. ;-)

Additionally, all model runs over night, including CMC, have dropped this system regarding any genesis. Pls don't flame me about GFDL, it was last run 3 days ago.

The one thing most models runs do show however is that the bermuda high will finally kick into it's normal summer pattern, and that should mean more typical westcoast seabreeze thunderstorms in FL during the next week.
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2039. groundman
7:34 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: doublevision at 5:37 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.
It's just a bunch of ordinary brainless women, thinking with their "little" heads.lol I wouldn't put very much stock into what they are "broad" casting at all.lol


Doublevision, most on here are much smarter than I am and I qualify for MENSA. Obviously you are of the jock strap can't see past my nose hairs mentality. Be careful of whom you speak. And I am one of those with "little" heads. Also I have my CDL and can shoot better than most men. And I'm a grandma and probably look better than your 25 year old girlfriend so forget that angle too.

Don't irritate me when I wake up. Most on here are here for weather discussion and I doubt that the guys would like to be called broadcasters any more than the girls. This blob bears watching or it wouldn't be an invest, talk about small brained, duhhhhhhhhh.
On that note, back to bed.
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2038. PensacolaDoug
7:45 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
http://www.nrlmry.navy.mil/sat_products.html


Check it out
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2036. KoritheMan
7:44 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
It may develop, it may not. I'm gonna continue watching it though.
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2035. PensacolaDoug
7:37 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
94L is alive on the Navy site.
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2034. Thundercloud01221991
6:44 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I am waiting for a bit more convection before I become convinced
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2033. Caffinehog
6:33 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I reverse my previous comments:
The ULL appears to have died, and this thing looks more organized than a few hours ago!

I'm still hesitant to predict development, though.
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2032. Thundercloud01221991
6:34 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I know
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2031. Caffinehog
6:31 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Why aren't people up in arms over quikscat?

Who knows about it except us?

The satellite is also useful for studying deforestation and the melting of glaciers.

And the politicians don't give a crap because people don't know anything about it, and won't vote against them for ignoring it.
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2030. Thundercloud01221991
6:28 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Hello c2news
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2029. C2News
6:27 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I'm bored!
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2027. Hellsniper223
6:05 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Night. haha...
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2025. melwerle
6:03 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
see you tomorrow hellsniper.
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2024. Hellsniper223
6:01 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
lol... Umm... Thats a good question Mel. I'm not sure what I walked into either. Or what I just said. It is too late to be blogging, honestly.
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2023. melwerle
5:58 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
what the heck did i walk into tonight?
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2022. Hellsniper223
5:53 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Hmm... I would have to say that people in general are brainless. He was making a general statement by saying "brainless women". Generally refering to them as people. Which I'm sure is better than the casual Third world ideal that women are less than human.
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2021. noshoes
5:49 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
"...a bunch of ordinary brainless women, thinking with their "little"

doublevision...I hope you can explain your way out of this one.
Sincerely,
No Shoes
(female)

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2018. melwerle
5:29 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
ok - i live in savannah - been offered a tick r/t to san diego from sun - friday - i don't want to take it if the weather is going to be awful here. I live in a flood zone...
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2016. Randyman
5:09 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
.PREV DISCUSSION... /ISSUED 1126 PM CDT THU JUN 14 2007/

UPDATE...
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RADARS SHOW SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS
ARE WEAKENING ACROSS SOUTH CENTRAL TEXAS LATE THIS EVENING AND
EXTEND IN AN ARC FROM CONCAN TO FLORESVILLE TO SPEAKS. EXPECT THIS
TREND TO CONTINUE AS AIRMASS SLOWLY STABILIZING AND HAVE DROPPED
POPS TO 20S MOST AREAS, EXCEPT 10S SOUTHWEST. HAVE ALSO REMOVED
MENTION OF SEVERE AND HEAVY RAINFALL. QUICK GLANCE AT INCOMING 00Z
MODEL RUNS SHOWS A FEW ROUNDS OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS FRIDAY
THROUGH THE WEEKEND AS MID AND UPPER LOW TAKES UP RESIDENCE OVER
TEXAS AND ONGOING FORECASTS MENTIONS THIS. HAVE DROPPED OVERNIGHT
AND EARLY MORNING TEMPERATURES AND DEWPOINTS SLIGHTLY BASED ON
CURRENT AND EXPECTED OBSERVATIONAL TRENDS. HAVE ALSO UPDATED WINDS
AND GUSTS TO REFLECT OUTFLOW BOUNDARIES AND IMPACT ON WINDS WITH
EXPECTATION THAT SOUTHERLY WINDS WILL RETURN BY MORNING.
OTHERWISE, ONGOING SOUTH CENTRAL TEXAS FORECASTS ARE ON TRACK.

OF NOTE, ALL THREE TIMES THE SPURS HAVE WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP, A
HURRICANE HAS HIT THE TEXAS COAST. 1999 WITH BRET, 2003 WITH
CLAUDETTE, AND 2005 WITH RITA. WILL 2007 CONTINUE THAT TREND?

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2014. franck
4:59 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Government today is primarily concerned with geopolitics and expanshion of capital and debt, not mortal needs of citizens.
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2013. scottsvb
5:02 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
stormpetrol tropical system dont die down at night...tropical systems feed off the humidty and warm water at night..
Land thunderstorms die down over night.. not tropical systems.
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2011. stormpetrol
4:52 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Convection has died down for now as it usually does this time of night, I suspect by tomorrow morning everything will be in full bloom again, it also appears to have a ENE movement to me.
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2010. VilleWatch
4:51 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
not much organization. we'll see what tomorrow holds.

CaribIR
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2008. KoritheMan
4:47 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
So -


Why aren't people up in arms about this? I mean really, we lose 10% of our ability to track huricanes after Katrina and nobody cares?!


what's the deal?!


When tropical cyclogenesis is possible, people on here get hysterical. They are in a trance. LOL! I am too though, so no offense to anyone.

I am DEFINITELY concerned with the failure of QuikSCAT. I don't want the forecasts to get worse, and a 10% decrease in the quality of hurricane forecasts is quite a lot.
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2007. VilleWatch
4:45 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: stormpetrol at 4:08 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.
Could someone tell me if I'm seeing 2 different low level spins, one east of the Belize/Mexico border and the other in the Yucatan channel, looking at the infared loop or is that one the ULL in the Yucatan channel and the other one a weak low level spin East of the Belize/Mexican border.


This link shows 2 lows if you click NCEP Fronts.
Link
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2006. highndry1
4:41 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
So -


Why aren't people up in arms about this? I mean really, we lose 10% of our ability to track huricanes after Katrina and nobody cares?!


what's the deal?!
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2004. Caffinehog
4:03 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
highndry1,

Yes, QuikSCAT was not designed to last this long. Several of its gyroscopes have already failed, and one more failure takes it out of commission.

It could, concieveably, last another 3-5 years, but it could also go out at any second.

It will take at least 7 years to build another one, and hurricane forecasts will be about 10% worse without it. Oh, and funding has NOT been granted for a replacement.
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2003. stormpetrol
4:02 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Could someone tell me if I'm seeing 2 different low level spins, one east of the Belize/Mexico border and the other in the Yucatan channel, looking at the infared loop or is that one the ULL in the Yucatan channel and the other one a weak low level spin East of the Belize/Mexican border.
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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.