F5: a book review

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:28 PM GMT on June 13, 2007

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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702. Chicklit
11:27 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I'm not a freaking wishcaster!...I want the ULL to the NW and the trough to the north to GTHO of the way. -- Aroughleague
What is this then?
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701. kmanislander
11:26 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
good morning all
Hi Storm
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699. groundman
11:22 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
g'mornin all.
Wish that blob would make up it's mind. I'm almost afraid to go N for the weekend!! LOL
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698. Chicklit
11:14 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Aroughleague...I don't know how old you are and I don't really care, but your comments may be perceived as malicious by some. The weather follows its own genesis...and no amount of "wishcasting" will change that. Just some unsolicited advice. I won't say anymore on the subject.
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694. SWFLdrob
11:10 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
looks like that ULL is now moving SE back over the Yucatan. Any thoughts on how this will impact the Caribbean blob?

693. WPBHurricane05
7:00 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
We can't get rid of you aroughleague.....
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692. apocalyps
12:40 PM CEST op 14 Juni, 2007

not sure about that.
Shear is lower then yesterday in that area
and will fall a little bit more coming hours.
If it goes NE for the day it might have a change to develope.
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691. MahFL
6:36 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
The shear will kill the blob...Yesterday we had a severe thunderstorm go through here. I did not see any damage, but we got some more nice rainfall out of it, near downtown JAX.
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688. Comatose
10:13 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I don't want it to be like 2004 at all, League.

In 2004, FL got hit by 4 out of those 6 storms, if I recall correctly.
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686. Chicklit
10:03 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Aroughleague...Why don't you spend this incubation period learning more about meterology? Wikipedia does an amazing job of defining terms and offers plenty of links within articles so you can really investigate matters thoroughly (complete with pictures!). Sometimes I'll put a term in Google search and then click on the Wikipedia reference...It's presented in an easy to understand format, too.
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684. apocalyps
12:00 PM CEST op 14 Juni, 2007
shear is suppose to fall a little bit in the coming hours in the carribbian.so we have to wait and see.
There sure is a lot of rain in that blob.
If it developes it could become a TS with a lot of rain.
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683. stoormfury
9:53 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Aroughleague, please be patient. this is only the calm before the storm. this season will not be as boring as 2006.
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681. apocalyps
11:24 AM CEST op 14 Juni, 2007
Seems TD or TS is possible.
Certainly when it goes NW.
Will give us something to watch before the big hurricanes come.
Is it just me thinking or are the SST warming up rapidly?
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680. KoritheMan
8:09 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Where do I go to find the forecast for all these models, FLBoy? I wanna see all this for myself.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 603 Comments: 21904
676. HurricaneFCast
6:37 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Kori- Very well said. I was just about to respond to Weatherblog, but you basically said what I was going to say. Now 2007 is warmer, you can tell, especially in the Northeast GOM, Central GOM, South GOM, and the Caribbean. That's the majority of the area. Also, Temperatures in the area weren't 90 degrees in any area in 2005. That is a very interesting image though, especially if you view the Loop of the past 10 days.. The temperatures have warmed so much.. nearly 4 degrees in the past 10 days... It's amazing. Anyways, We're just playing the waiting game now..
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675. KoritheMan
6:26 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
VERY interesting there, HurricaneFCast. That makes me apprehensive this year. weatherblog: Arlene probably didn't cool the waters off that much, if at all. Arlene wasn't a slow-mover, at least I don't remember it being one, and if it upwelled cooler water at all, it may have only been 1F at most, and was more or likely around 0.5-0.8F. Weak systems don't really upwell cold water all that badly, unless they meander for awhile. Ophelia is a good example.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 603 Comments: 21904
673. weatherblog
5:38 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
HurricaneFCast...not totally true. As you can see on those temperture recordings of the GOM, actually 2005 may have been a bit warmer than 2007 in June. Around that time Arlene had just passed, cooling the gulf down a bit. Also, the 2007 GOM tempertures does have a few pockets of lower tempertures (less than 2005). But at the same time 2007 has a few more pockets of higher temps. in some areas; higher than 2005.

So, still we are in the middle of the first month and we passed B. But in '05, B didn't come around until late June...we still have a long way to go to see if this is gonna be anything like '05 or even '04. Also 2005's July was incredible with 2 major storms and a total of 5 named storms. But we know how akward this season has been so far...so it is definately way too early to know how this season will pan out.

Taz- Very true...the waves are coming off of Africa higher....leaving possibly a better percentage for them to survive or develop (even though I doubt it)...I'd be very concerned around July-September time if this pattern continues...we could only just hope for most of them to reccurve out to sea...(missing Bermuda)...LOL

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672. NorthxCakalaky
5:29 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Going to sleep every-one. BY3
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671. kingdomusa
5:26 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I heard a report on fox news today that they do not expect the quiksat to last much longer. In fact, they said it may malfunction this year leaving the forecasters struggling.
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670. kingdomusa
5:24 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Good question - looks menacing enough to me
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669. NorthxCakalaky
5:22 AM GMT on June 14, 2007

I saw a tornado vortex, but the county is only under a Sever Thunder Storm warning. Why is that?
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668. kingdomusa
5:14 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Did you all hear the news about the quiksat ?
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667. groundman
4:39 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Points to ponder for sure Taz and HurricaneFCast. What does it all mean?? Have a feeling??

Gnite all, going to try this sleep thing again.

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666. HurricaneFCast
4:33 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Well Here's something a bit scary:
The images you are about to see are from June 12th, 2005 and June 12th, 2007
As you all know 2005 was the worst Atlantic Hurricane Season on record. This year is not projected to have near that kind of activity, but should it be? Here is something interesting.. We all know that in 2005 the SST's were WELL above normal.. But how are the SST's this year.. Well.. Previously they were above normal but not as above normal as 2005. However, In the past 2 weeks there has been a significant increase in SST's across the Atlantic. Here are the SST's of the Gulf Of Mexico on June 12th, 2005:
As you can see, for June 12th, those are extremely warm.. Almost 88 Degrees in some spots. Now, Here are the SST's for the Gulf of Mexico as of June 12th, 2007:

There are no visible areas of the Gulf Of Mexico with SST's below 80 degrees and some areas are up to an Amazing 90 Degrees in Mid June! Obviously, This presents an interesting case for an even more Active Hurricane Season.. Will it happen? That remains to be seen. Goodnight Everyone. I just wanted to share this intriguing piece of information with you all.
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665. moonlightcowboy
4:32 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I hear u, Taz! Good observation! Keep watching! Thanks! U have a good nite, too!
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664. Tazmanian
9:28 PM PDT on June 13, 2007
good night 03

play nic all have a good night ok
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663. sporteguy03
4:25 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
yeah see that Taz
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662. sporteguy03
4:22 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Thanks guys for the great tornado info great blog Dr.Masters has
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661. Tazmanian
9:21 PM PDT on June 13, 2007
yes 03 i been watching that not good news if you live in FL may be good news if you got the rain but not good news if you got the high winds
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660. Tazmanian
9:20 PM PDT on June 13, 2007

look Tropical wave are comeing more N then they have been
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659. StormJunkie
4:16 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Night all. Will catch up on the Carib system tomorrow. Exhausted. Spent the past 4 hours learning to do some video editing. Small sample in my blog. Please let me know how the loads times are and what you think of the video.

Thanks all.

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658. sporteguy03
4:17 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
anyone see how the models show the Bermuda High spreading West a pattern?
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656. VilleWatch
4:13 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
That site also shows 84% of FL tornadoes are F0-1.
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654. VilleWatch
4:09 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
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653. sporteguy03
4:03 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hi JP,
Has there ever been an F5 tornado in FL?
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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