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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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: 30606
452. FLBoy
12:08 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
If you want to be a moderator....I suggest you get a job on another board Drak. This is not a self-appointed moderation situation.
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451. stormkat
11:55 PM GMT on June 13, 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
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450. Drakoen
12:08 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
All i want to do is discuss this with you guys that all.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30606
448. WPBHurricane05
8:05 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
You have to remember that on average the first storm doesn't form until July 10, first hurricane August 14, and first major September 3. And Barry pulled a normal June stunt, so Florida is in the cone of doom for early season.

Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
447. Drakoen
12:07 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
lol i don't want to be anyones instructor. Everyone seems a bit antsy lately, maybe i should come here less.
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446. FLBoy
12:06 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I'm fine....Drak wants to be the instructor today......I'm not interested.
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445. Drakoen
12:06 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: StormW at 12:04 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Drakoen,
Yeah, unless forecasted steering currents change, that direction should be correct my friend. Good to see you tonight.

good to see you too. Oh FL boy the models take Upper level lows and trough into consideration when making a forecast.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30606
443. Drakoen
12:04 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: FLBoy at 12:04 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.

I don't need a model lesson Drak....at least I know when they actually run.

heh ok. no need to attack me for trying to help you out.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30606
439. FLBoy
12:03 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I don't need a model lesson Drak....at least I know when they actually run.
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437. FLBoy
12:02 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
The NAM and GFS are both extremely confused by the troughiness and ULL's around. Including the upper impulses rolling through and the jet...It is a whack job for the models right now. It won't happen.
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436. Drakoen
12:00 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: FLBoy at 12:00 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.

The 00Z CMC had the same system hitting the FL big bend...now it's supposed to be SW FL. Waiting on the 18Z to see if it's still there?

Different low maybe. the farther the model goes out the worse it is at predicting. Considering that this is only 2 days out this should be paid attention to.

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434. melwerle
12:00 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hey StormW!!!
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 12 Comments: 1837
433. Drakoen
11:59 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
actually i change my mind lol. I had to look at the water vapor loop one more time. the low will probably get picked up by the tail end of the front making landfall somewhere near fortmyers is my guess. CMC showing and NE then East track, crossing over lake O.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30606
432. FLBoy
11:58 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Th 00Z CMC had the same system hitting the FL big bend...now it's supposed to be SW FL. Waiting on the 18Z to see if it's still there?
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430. Drakoen
11:56 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: WPBHurricane05 at 11:56 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

The CMC goes east because of trough over Central Florida.

hmmm. the timing of that front will be key. It might not be that front that picks it up with the given time frame of the CMC forecast low.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30606
429. VilleWatch
11:55 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: StormW at 11:40 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.
VilleWatch,
Are you still here?


I'll be around all night. What's up?
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427. WPBHurricane05
7:55 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
The CMC goes east because of trough over Central Florida.
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426. Skyepony (Mod)
11:37 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
VilleWatch~ here is a wealth of info
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422. melwerle
11:52 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Grilled crow goes nicely with a sweet-potatoe hash served on a white plate with a balsamic vinegar reduction. Side of foot in mouth with a banana ravioli and sweet cream sauce.

Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 12 Comments: 1837
421. Drakoen
11:52 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
yea Barry was a little weird. Thelmores i will wait for a Quicksat image before i believe there is something there...
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30606
419. Drakoen
11:50 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
the CMC is a strong model that predicts well and its not the only modelforecast a SFC low. look at the graphics i posted on page 8 there might be something on page 7 too.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30606
418. FLBoy
11:49 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
OK JP.....I will absolutely love mango chutney with my Crow on Sunday if anything larger happens.
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417. thelmores
11:49 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
"there are no absolutes in the tropics"

Barry proved that! LOL
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416. Drakoen
11:49 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
FLboy that is all that can be expected as of now. But with such model agreement its hard to over look tropical cyclogenesis.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30606
415. TheCaneWhisperer
11:46 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
The CMC was the outlier early on and consistantly held on to it until the other models picked up on it! I realize more agreement needs to happen but, the same thing happend 2 weeks ago.
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414. thelmores
11:47 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Drak, you are such a party pooper! :p

try a 30 loop visible here

http://weather.msfc.nasa.gov/GOES/

goes from wsw to ene, obviously ends in my circle. :)
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412. FLBoy
11:47 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
A modest plume of tropical moisture at best into SW Florida. It ain't going to happen.
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411. Drakoen
11:46 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: FLBoy at 11:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

One model out of many.....sorry. A model standing on its own regarding cyclogenesis in the tropics is a weak bet at best. A blind pig (able to fly or not) finds an acorn occasionally.

read my tropical outlook in my blog the CMC is not the only model showing development, the GFS and NAM are as well.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30606
409. Drakoen
11:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
i think if there was a swirl there the NHC would say something. besides if the swirl is that hard to find then it is ill-defined or may not be at the surface as of yet.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30606
408. FLBoy
11:43 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
One model out of many.....sorry. A model standing on its own regarding cyclogenesis in the tropics is a weak bet at best. A blind pig (able to fly or not) finds an acorn occasionally.
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407. thelmores
11:42 PM GMT on June 13, 2007



there! its so small, could barely see it! :D

seems to be at the lower mid level, if there is such a place! LOL
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405. Drakoen
11:42 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
thelmores i don't see a spin there...
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404. TheCaneWhisperer
11:41 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Sorry but, the CMC was rather accurate 2 weeks ago! You have to at least look at it!
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403. thelmores
11:40 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
my circle should have been about a circle width ssw
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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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