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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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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502. Patrap
7:32 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
GOES WV Loop of Tropical Basin
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128269
501. eaglesrock
8:33 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Lurking...
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500. Drakoen
12:30 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
yes Hellsniper thats what i want to hear. The shear is expected to srop so i don't really know why people don't think that there is the potential for tropical cyclogenesis.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30490
499. kmanislander
12:30 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Anyway folks, before Admin comes on and smites everyone for bickering I would suggest we get back to blob watching LMAO
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498. kmanislander
12:26 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
jph

I agree. No one knows for sure whether something will or will not materialise. It doesn't even have to be the tropics, it could simply be whether severe or simply run of the mill rain storms happen on any given day. Of course anyone can say that a hurricane will not happen in the next hour when there is not even a TD around but that does not make them a weather specialist !!
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497. Drakoen
12:28 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
WPB you are right when you say not every blob will develop. but in a place like this every blob is watched. When models forecast something interesting predicitions start being made. just the way things are.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30490
496. Hellsniper223
12:27 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
No one wants to say something definitive

Okay, FLBoy...Stormkat... let me be definitive aswell. Based on current shear, MJO, Surface pressure, Moisture content, SAL, & SST's... I'm going to have to say that anything is possible.

Though, I must admit... shear is Definitely not favorable off the east coast... Which isn't a spot where storms generally form in June. And shear Is only marginally unfavorable off the W coast of FL through the Lesser Antilles.(As shown in TAZ's NHC shear map)

Tell me, why is it that nothing is going to form? I mean... Aside from the only SLIGHTLY less than favorable shear over the Carrib and E Gulf (20-30KTs).
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495. Tazmanian
5:28 PM PDT on June 13, 2007
now now JP
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115084
494. Cirrusboy
12:27 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I really don't think anything is going to develop at least for the next couple of days (look at the vapor satellite).
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493. Skyepony (Mod)
12:22 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
VilleWatch~ DR Jack Beven has a good site full of links.

Kerry Emanuel is another to become aquanted with, ya really need a few weeks or more to digest all the research he's done in the field.

Where you located?
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492. groundman
12:20 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Stormkat, you try to sound so superior and condescending. I'm sorry but if you say it's raining I put on sunscreen. If you truly have anything of use to say you might try discussing it, it would be a pity that your message was ignored because of the tone IF it did have value.

FLBoy and Drakoen I have benefitted from both of your viewpoints in the past. Seems we are a bit testy today?? Could just be the weather??? LOL

Neither one of you seems to have been terribly injured by the others posts from what I gleaned while skimming so why don't you just kiss and make up?? Rejoice with me in the fact I found an outfit to wear to a wedding after 2 days of HARD shopping!! LOL

And BTW, blobwatching is an innocent pasttime that has become inifinitely more interesting this year because NOTHING set in stone with tropical weather.
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490. Drakoen
12:26 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
All i was doing was discussing the possibility of tropical cyclogenesis based on model analysis as well as the environmental conditions.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30490
487. Tazmanian
5:24 PM PDT on June 13, 2007
could i say some in to you StormKat? shut up
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115084
486. kmanislander
12:21 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Caymanite

I do remember. I post when there is something potentially to talk about. Based on what happened with Barry and all the new bloggers posting at a mile a minute I suspect that when we do get something else to talk about it will be chaos on here
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484. Tazmanian
5:23 PM PDT on June 13, 2007
doing ok JP you? when could we see 94L or 95L?
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115084
482. stormkat
12:12 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
lol dont use computers and i could give a rats axx what they say im telling you nothing will develop that is worth my time for the rest of june....computers guy will mess with your mind their one big joke....use the water vapor satellite and monitor the azores high and any upper level lows thats what you look for and the enviromental conditions surrounding the hurricane...computers are a big waste of money in my book...they could of used the money to send up a new weather satellite being the one up there now is down....that means guys they will have to widen the hurricane watch area when they issue one and that will cause all kinds of panic....this year could be very interesting when the cape verdes season starts...stay tuned ill keep you guys informed if anything changes....StormKat
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480. watchingnva
12:17 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
wow....sounds like a few in here could use a break from the pc and a tall one...lol
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479. VilleWatch
12:21 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Central and southern FL rainfall totals...this front has been nice. Okeechobee southward getting it right now.

FL 2 day Precip.
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478. Tazmanian
5:19 PM PDT on June 13, 2007
like oh give a dran about me this keep going with out saying hello too me i go jump in the cold lake now
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115084
477. Caymanite
12:18 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hi Kman, beieve it or not I am here more than you are but just dont post regularly. Remember this is what I studied after high school.
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475. WPBHurricane05
8:19 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Or JP this thing does develop and because the strongest June storm on record. Just going through scenarios.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
473. kmanislander
12:17 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hi Caymanite

Good to see you on here
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472. watchingnva
12:07 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
just read through a few posts....interesting stuff...also looks like someone is a little hot under the collar today...lol

hows everyone doing this evening?
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471. WPBHurricane05
8:16 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Anything above 20 or 25 knots would be kind of rough for the storm, and I don't want to hear about our miracle baby (or storm) Barry forming when conditions wouldn't allow.
---------------------------------------------
Not every blob will develop.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
470. kmanislander
12:14 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
He has ??. Well maybe mother nature is starting to speak too LOL
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469. Caymanite
12:09 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Thanks STORMKAT for your usual arrogant reassurance. Really wish that you could be a bit more sociable and less antagonistic this year. You might want to study the genisis of hurricane Alma in 1966. {Yes it was early June}.I have because my father almost lost his life in it aboard a cargo ship coming from Florida to Cayman.
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467. VilleWatch
12:15 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Keetch Byram Drought Index for FL...most counties in central FL have gotten the beginnings of drought relief...

KB Florida Drought Index
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466. Tazmanian
5:11 PM PDT on June 13, 2007
wind shear is too strong?

not by this map wind shear is vary low
lol
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115084
464. WPBHurricane05
8:13 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Seems so, green goes down, blue and red go up......
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
463. Drakoen
12:13 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
lol jp.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30490
461. Drakoen
12:11 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
yes. thats what the models are for. to forecast. Forecaster are sometimes precarious with something developing especially in a situatin like this. No one wants to say something definitive. So basically we say wait and see game. happens or it doesn't
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30490
460. kmanislander
12:10 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
good evening all

The pressure at the buoy S of the Caymans is down to 1006.8 and here it is now 1009. It would seem that something is now trying to get going in the NW Caribbean
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459. WPBHurricane05
8:11 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Brother stormkat has spoken. AMEN
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
458. Drakoen
12:10 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
oh well. I think i will take a break from this site for a few minutes and take a shower.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30490
455. Drakoen
12:10 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: stormkat at 12:09 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.

guys i told you their will be no tropical activity to speak of for the rest of june...all the little blobs you see in the caribbean are just that blobs...no development guys so dont go scaring people the shear is just to strong plus we have a strong northerly flow...as long as that stays in place and it will for the rest of june we have nothing to worry about...you guys need to take a little break and come back in 3 weeks...then you may see something quite interesting off the african coast...you guys behave and dont argue over blobs they are not going to do anything except rain themselves out...if anyone sees lefty tell him to get in touch with me either by fax or telephone...thanks you guys have a great evening and play nice...StormKat


did you look at the models?
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30490
454. WPBHurricane05
8:09 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
It gets bad during Cape Verde season, lots of westcasting......
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
453. Drakoen
12:09 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 12:09 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.

FLBoy he was just making a statement, if you are going to be offended by his statement you wont stand a snowballs chance in hell in here this season when it gets active

trust me it can get bad here in the heart of the season, I should know lol, if this upsets you, you havent heard anything yet

i agree as well. We are people and as people we have opinion. we must tolerate each other and come to a consensus.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30490

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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.