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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553. V26R
1:01 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Anyone know when this ULL is going to get bounced off the NE so we can have some nice weather?
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550. Drakoen
1:00 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
ok Adrian. I am gonna go now guys. Later.
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549. Patrap
8:00 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
Driving with the models alone is like driving a car with a MAp..and not looking out the windshield.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
548. Patrap
8:00 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
To run with the models..one must see the current to see downstream trends.Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
547. Drakoen
12:59 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
The model runs tommorrow is what i am waiting for. Either they are consistent or they drop the system completely. Some will be wrong some will be right, the beauty of meteorology.
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546. hurricane23
8:53 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
If you look at this water vapor loop you can clearly make out the interaction going on with the wave and the ULL over the eastern bay of campeche.Development right now seems unlikely but still worth keeping and eye on it as you would normaly do for this area during this time of the year.

Rain looks very likely for miami dade and broward counties through atleast saturday with 60 percent tommorow growing to a 70-80 percent by friday and saturday.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
545. TheCaneWhisperer
12:59 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Agree StormW but, look at Barry forming in supposed 30kts of shear!
544. Drakoen
12:57 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I saw that StormW but i also see a window of oppurtunity. This is all a wait and see game (fun) for me.
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543. TheCaneWhisperer
12:55 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
That is the exact track the 12Z CMC was showing thel.
539. Patrap
7:55 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
NWS dBZ scale link..Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
537. Drakoen
12:55 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Hellsniper223 at 12:54 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.

lol, you can't forget that the GFDL sees something spinning up and moving into NW Fl.

God we need rain...
yea even though that model run was from yesterday the GFDL is a very good model.
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536. Patrap
7:54 PM CDT on June 13, 2007

What do the colors mean in the reflectivity products?
Clear Air dBZ Scale Precipitation dBZ Scale
The colors are the different echo intensities (reflectivity) measured in dBZ (decibels of Z) during each elevation scan. "Reflectivity" is the amount of transmitted power returned to the radar receiver. Reflectivity (designated by the letter Z) covers a wide range of signals (from very weak to very strong). So, a more convenient number for calculations and comparison, a decibel (or logarithmic) scale (dBZ), is used.

dBZ Rainrate
(in/hr)
65 16+
60 8.00
55 4.00
52 2.50
47 1.25
41 0.50
36 0.25
30 0.10
20 Trace
The dBZ values increase as the strength of the signal returned to the radar increases. Each reflectivity image you see includes one of two color scales. One scale (far left) represents dBZ values when the radar is in clear air mode (dBZ values from -28 to +28). The other scale (near left) represents dBZ values when the radar is in precipitation mode (dBZ values from 5 to 75). Notice the color on each scale remains the same in both operational modes, only the values change. The value of the dBZ depends upon the mode the radar is in at the time the image was created.

The scale of dBZ values is also related to the intensity of rainfall. Typically, light rain is occurring when the dBZ value reaches 20. The higher the dBZ, the stronger the rainrate. Depending on the type of weather occurring and the area of the U.S., forecasters use a set of rainrates which are associated to the dBZ values.

These values are estimates of the rainfall per hour, updated each volume scan, with rainfall accumulated over time. Hail is a good reflector of energy and will return very high dBZ values. Since hail can cause the rainfall estimates to be higher than what is actually occurring, steps are taken to prevent these high dBZ values from being converted to rainfall.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
535. thelmores
12:51 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
"Posted By: stormkat
guys i told you their will be no tropical activity to speak of for the rest of june"

Is that written in stone? LOL
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3805
534. Drakoen
12:54 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
yea me too JP. Obviously tehre is nothing in the Caribbean now but that could change as condition become more conducive for tropical cyclone development.
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533. Hellsniper223
12:53 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
lol, you can't forget that the GFDL sees something spinning up and moving into NW Fl.

God we need rain...
Member Since: March 28, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 16
532. Rodek
12:53 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Can someone please explain the dBZ scale for me? What is dBZ?
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529. Drakoen
12:52 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Adrian what do you think about the models? something forming in the Caribbean.
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528. Miamiweather
12:48 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Adrian i have a quick question do u think it is going to keep raining like it has the past couple of days?
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527. thelmores
12:50 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
gfs2007061318


anybody see a trend here??

hopefully short term that is!

Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3805
526. Drakoen
12:49 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: hurricane23 at 12:47 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Iam not to sure what you guys are watching but its looks rather wet for florida the next few days with this rain coming up from the caribbean during this weekend.Windshear is fairly high across the NW Caribbean and the gulf and all this convection looks to be from a very weak wave in the vicinity interacting with an ULL over the eastern bay of campeche.Dont see anything developing right now but conditions might become more favorable in the next 7-10 days and looks to be an area to moniter which is quite normal for this time of the year.Adrian

we are just discssing the models. they have something spinning up in the Caribbean.
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525. Drakoen
12:49 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
hmm my image isn't to scale...
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524. hurricane23
8:46 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Iam not to sure what you guys are watching but its looks rather wet for florida the next few days with this rain coming up from the caribbean during this weekend.Windshear is fairly high across the NW Caribbean and the gulf and all this convection looks to be from a very weak wave in the vicinity interacting with an ULL over the eastern bay of campeche.Dont see anything developing right now but conditions might become more favorable in the next 7-10 days and looks to be an area to moniter which is quite normal for this time of the year.Adrian
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
523. Drakoen
12:43 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
18Z GFS shows something forming in the Caribbean. ~Consistency~
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521. Patrap
7:44 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
Why is Scatterometry Important?

Data derived from ocean scatterometers is vital to scientists in the their studies of air-sea interaction and ocean circulation, and their effects on weather patterns and global climate. These data are also useful in the study of unusual weather phenomena such as El Niņo, the long-term effects of deforestation on our rain forests, and changes in the sea-ice masses around the polar regions. These all play a central role in regulating global climate.

Computer modeling of global atmospheric dynamics for the purpose of weather forecasting has become an increasingly important tool to meteorologists. Scatterometer data, with wide swath coverage, have been shown to significantly improve the forecast accuracy of these models. By combining scatterometer data of ocean-surface wind speed and direction with measurements from other scientific instruments, scientists gather information to help us better understand the mechanisms of global climate change and weather patterns.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
520. Skyepony (Mod)
12:36 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
VilleWatch~ Well welcome neighbor, I'm in Brevard County. I keep a blog with alot of self updating weather info & more links covering ECFL, FL & the world. You can click on my handle to get there. It's the easiest way to blog hop around WU. There's also a great newbie blog..someone post who's that is...full of great links & general WU how tos.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 174 Comments: 38192
518. Patrap
7:40 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
What is a Scatterometer?
A scatterometer is a microwave radar sensor used to measure the reflection or scattering effect produced while scanning the surface of the earth from an aircraft or a satellite.

Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
517. eaglesrock
8:40 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Check out my blog for the info on this potential storm.
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516. drusierDMD
12:32 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
i know something is up when Dr. Masters updates
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515. Patrap
7:39 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
NASA/JPL's SeaWinds Scatterometer aboard the QuikSCAT.

Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
514. Cirrusboy
12:37 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Water Vapor satellite
Link
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513. Drakoen
12:38 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
if anyone wants to talk to me about this i will be in my blog.
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512. Patrap
7:37 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
Im sure the follow on replacement will get fast tracked with all this attention Skye.A good scatterometer is essential.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
510. Tazmanian
5:36 PM PDT on June 13, 2007
there is a 1009mb low off of FL
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115241
509. kmanislander
12:38 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
BBL
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15842
508. kmanislander
12:36 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Regardless of what the surface map says a surface pressure of 1006.8 ( and falling ) in the W Central Caribbean bears watching as that is well below normal values
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15842
507. Skyepony (Mod)
12:29 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
stormkat~ "The weather satalite" isn't down. It could fail at any moment & is well past it's lifespan.

New news on that today, they pushed gettting the replacement up there back to 2016.

Gotta agree with ya~ something should be done way sooner.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 174 Comments: 38192
506. Patrap
7:34 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
Buoys | Buoy Forecast | Models | Pacific Forecast | QuikCAST | Chartroom | El Nino | Tutorials | Reports | Great Circles | News | Shop

NORTH ATLANTIC IMAGERY

Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
503. VilleWatch
12:31 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Skye, thanks for the links...I'm in central FL, Alachua county.
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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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