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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302. PBG00
9:10 PM GMT on June 13, 2007


Yes it is possible,Yes sportsGuy03 in 72 hours it could make landfall in S.Florida

Lets not get ahead of ourselves with the cmc runs..I wouldn't batten down the hatches just yet.
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301. Tazmanian
2:07 PM PDT on June 13, 2007
so when could we see 94L?
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300. Patrap
4:06 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
GOES WV Loop of Tropical Basin
Link
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299. nolesjeff
9:02 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
afternoon all, See alot of talk about Bahamas weather this afternoon, My son is leaving in the morning for a bahama cruise. Should he expect rain for the next 3 days? Hey Drak, still waiting on that rain in SW Fla.
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298. StormJunkie
8:59 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
lol 03, good to see you mp, FlB, 77

77, the shear is relatively low where the system could develop, it just depends on what happens in front of it as to how much time it has. I will be watching the next few runs though to see what plays out. The Bahamas has nothing going on, but the Yucatan Low is at least somewhat intriguing.

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296. MisterPerfect
8:56 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
"woof" and "meow" that's what the rain sounds like in Miami right now...hard hard rain
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295. sporteguy03
8:50 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
CMC Model forecasting a system? Is that possible?
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291. Drakoen
8:50 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: StormJunkie at 8:49 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Drak, the GFS, CMC, and nogaps all show high shear over or near where this system is headed unless it heads in to the Yucatan, and then the land would get it.


ok but i still say that the shear wil reduce somewhat, before increasing.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30727
289. StormJunkie
8:47 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Drak, the GFS, CMC, and nogaps all show high shear over or near where this system is headed unless it heads in to the Yucatan, and then the land would get it. The CMC shows the lowest shear of the three and that is why it develops it a little more, but then it quickly tears it apart also.
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287. Drakoen
8:47 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Stormchaser hes talking about the area around the bahamas. if you are talking about that then there is no suggestion that the low is completely closed and is rather ill-defined regardless of the fact that its at the surface.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30727
285. Drakoen
8:44 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Interesting Isolines
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283. dnalia
8:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Another severe thunderstorm down here in Miami. So much fun driving home as these idiots DO NOT know how to drive in the rain! Anyway, sitting in my car, waiting for the rain to stop. I really need to get a new umbrella.

Anyone get any hail?
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281. Drakoen
8:42 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: StormJunkie at 8:42 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.


are we sure Quickscat backup power is still working?

Anywho, Not sure what to make of the models yet. Looks as if they are all calling for shear to remain high.


the shear charts show other wise as well as the shear tendency.
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280. StormJunkie
8:38 PM GMT on June 13, 2007

are we sure Quickscat backup power is still working?

Anywho, Not sure what to make of the models yet. Looks as if they are all calling for shear to remain high.
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279. kmanislander
8:40 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
gotta run now but will BBL
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277. Drakoen
8:39 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Ema girl there needs to be more suggestion of a closed low at the surface and more organization. There also needs to be less shear. Shear map indicated 20-30 kts of winds shear. Also the low would have to detach it self from the upper level trough.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30727
276. kmanislander
8:39 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: emagirl at 8:37 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

so is this something that the plane might check out

Not likely given its overall appearance and my post below
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275. Chicklit
8:38 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/goes/east/gmex/loop-wv.htmlLink
Looks like a strong band fired up across Cuba all at once...
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274. Drakoen
8:38 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: emagirl at 8:37 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

so is this something that the plane might check out

nope
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273. Drakoen
8:36 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Climatologically speaking this area is favored, but i just don't see much development happening, unless something miraculous happen (ie Barry)
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272. emagirl
8:36 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
so is this something that the plane might check out
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271. kmanislander
8:34 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I agree that it may not be closed ( although a look at the full hi res image suggests that it may be )but I do not think there is much doubt that it is at the surface. However with all the heavy convection displaced to the SE it would not be classified now even if was closed as there is practically no convection colocated with the low.
Quikscat only measures surface winds as far as I am aware
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270. StormJunkie
8:07 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Waterspout came on shore at Folly Beach, SC. Family saw it off shore. Apparently came in near the pier. I will be heading out there tomorrow so will give a first hand report.
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269. Drakoen
8:30 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Kman

It is ill-definded and doesnot appear to be closed and is still being supported by the upper level trough and some the convection is part of the upper level diffluence.
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267. kmanislander
8:28 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Drak

The low is at the surface as can be seen from the Quikscat pass. It is just not where the heaviest convection is at this time but more to the NW of it.
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266. Drakoen
8:26 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
still waiting on the new model runs, which would give us a better idea on the strength of the system as well as where it is going. the CMC has the low forming near the western tip and crossing over land. If another model shows the low moving between the western tip of Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula then obviously it would have a better chance to develop given the time over water.
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265. Drakoen
8:25 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: sammywammybamy at 8:16 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Does Any one Have a Blog on the possible System forming and hiting S.Florida?

i do, well sorta i have my outlook for the Caribbean you can check it out.
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264. Drakoen
8:23 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: stormchaser77 at 8:17 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Drakoen ..... The CMC Shows a Tight ISO Which
One Would assume Would Be Representative Of
atleast a Decent Depression or Tropical Storm.

I Agree With MichealSTL On This.

The Only Interesting Feature To Me Is That It
Shows a Stronger system than The Other Models.

Who Knows Just a Definate Something To Watch.

You Are Starting To Remind Me Of Lefty With Your Constant
Reposting Of My Every Post Though.

i had no malicious intention its just that you seemed a little unclear. Just trying to help thats all.
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263. Drakoen
8:19 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: kmanislander at 8:15 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

The latest image below is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it would appear that a high is trying to build overhead the NW Caribbean as indicated by the cloud field taking on a more circular appearance. Secondly, the area E of the Bahamas seems to be organising and deep convection is on the increase. Given the proximity of the areas to each other I do not believe that both could develop. If the Bahamas gets going first it will increase shear over the NW Caribbean and inhibit any chance of development there unless it heads off to the NE very quickly. The next 12 to 18 hrs will be interesting to watch especially as surface pressures in the NW Caribbean are relatively low ( 1010.5 here and 1009 to our South at the buoy ).


the convection in the the bahamas is part of an upper level trough that supports an 1009 mb, so i don't think it will get to the surface, therefore not affecting the development in the Caribbean. I am still watching for a rotation to spin up in the Caribbean then things will get really interesting.
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262. Thundercloud01221991
8:17 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
To: Tsunami warning system participants in the U.S. West Coast States, Alaska, and British Columbia
From: NOAA/NWS/West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (Experimental Web Product)
Subject: Tsunami Information Statement #1 issued 06/13/2007 at 12:41PM PDT

A strong earthquake has occurred, but a tsunami IS NOT expected along the California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, or Alaska coast. NO tsunami warning or watch is in effect for these areas.

Based on the earthquake magnitude and historic tsunami records, a damaging tsunami IS NOT expected along the California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska coasts. At coastal locations which have experienced strong ground shaking, local tsunamis are possible due to underwater landslides.

At 12:30 PM Pacific Daylight Time on June 13, an earthquake with preliminary magnitude 7.0 occurred near the coast of Guatemala.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii will issue messages for Hawaii and other areas of the Pacific outside California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska.

This will be the only statement issued for this event by the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center unless conditions warrant. See the WCATWC web site for basic tsunami information, safety rules, and a tsunami travel time map and table. (NOTE: Travel time maps and tables indicate predicted times only, not that a wave was generated.)

Link to Standard Information Product
Link to Public Information Product
Link to XML/CAP Product
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261. TheCaneWhisperer
4:18 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: rwdobson at 3:46 PM EDT on June 13, 2007.
"This weekend would be just beyond the 48hrs stated here!"

but by this weekend, it's already supposed to be making landfall...

The 12Z CMC doesn't close off the low until 60 hrs and makes landfall in the 84hr range. CMC was stated to be the faster of the models.


SORRY 72hrs for Landfall!
257. Patrap
3:15 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
This area had a similar Quake..stronger..with Warning..2 days ago..


2007-06-11
------------------------------------------------
TSUNAMI ALARM!!!

Region:
offshore Guatemala.
Affected Regions:
Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
Magnitude: 7.2


Link
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256. kmanislander
8:10 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
The latest image below is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it would appear that a high is trying to build overhead the NW Caribbean as indicated by the cloud field taking on a more circular appearance. Secondly, the area E of the Bahamas seems to be organising and deep convection is on the increase. Given the proximity of the areas to each other I do not believe that both could develop. If the Bahamas gets going first it will increase shear over the NW Caribbean and inhibit any chance of development there unless it heads off to the NE very quickly. The next 12 to 18 hrs will be interesting to watch especially as surface pressures in the NW Caribbean are relatively low ( 1010.5 here and 1009 to our South at the buoy ).

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255. mrpuertorico
4:07 PM AST on June 13, 2007
a powerful earthquake about 70 miles from guatemala city and just 20 miles from the coast has hit guatemala not sure as to damage or tsunami possibility
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254. Thunderstorm2
4:07 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
This is what is causing the rain here.

s
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253. mrpuertorico
4:07 PM AST on June 13, 2007
6.8 magnitude earthquake near guatemala city
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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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