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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153. PalmBeachWeatherBoy
5:59 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Dangerous looking cell Near Vero Beach
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152. JamesGalloway
5:59 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
TexasRiverRat,
I'm in Houston, and I just noticed that too.
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151. TheCaneWhisperer
1:58 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Another Vortex Popped up!
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150. weathermanwannabe
12:56 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
We need some more rain in North Florida (for my lawn) so I hope that NE Low keeps pushing SW regardless of development.....Jax is on the fringe and is getting some decent storms right now..
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149. TheCaneWhisperer
1:53 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Far NE KD!
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147. TexasRiverRat
5:52 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Doesnt even come close to raining for a week and now that it does the stupid Radar is down for maintenance.
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145. kingdomusa
5:47 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Nice link cane. And where is all that moisture getting sucked to? The circulation off the NE coast.
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144. Jedkins
5:48 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
man more of the west coast needs to get in on the rain, Ive been getting it good in pinnelas but most of west coast has lacked since Barry.

I think though by this weekend into next week the chances of heavy rain for us florida westcoasterners looks better lol.


yes I used the word wescoasterners LOL
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143. TheCaneWhisperer
1:46 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
For those who may not understand those KBDI maps, they indicate the level of drought. The level of the drought is in the 0-99 catagory in extreme South Florida and so on up the scale. Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie are still in the severe drought catagory with many other areas higher.
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142. Drakoen
5:46 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
ok i got it.
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141. Jedkins
5:46 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Its weird, I wonder about all those oranges and reds north of Orlando, haven't they been getting good rain in those areas? Or has the heavy rain been too isolated for it to make a big impact in the drought index?

Just wondering, becaue it seems like they've had their share of storms too.
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140. kingdomusa
5:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Oooooh....what vibrant colors....I could stare at it all day LOL
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139. TheCaneWhisperer
1:46 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Sea Breeze is moving in now! Storms should start to fire in the next hour or so!
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138. Jedkins
5:45 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
torrential rain overnight here has brought pinnelas back to green YES! lol
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137. hurricane23
13:44 EDT le 13 juin 2007
Check mail again...
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135. Drakoen
5:42 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
look at the GFS again and look at the NW Caribbean right now i am just talking about a low forming.
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134. Drakoen
5:40 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
huricane23 i closed my mail box but iw ill open it for you
send the message again please.
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133. Drakoen
5:38 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
emagirl if you read my blog you will know alot and be able to understand what we are saying alot easier. The CMC shows a tropical storm affect South Florida. The Gfdl as of the last run on td3e shows a l008mb low froming south of cuba like the CMC. The GFS has the Low neandering in the NW Caribbean.
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132. WPBHurricane05
1:39 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
waiting for more model agreement? Did you see the GFDL run and the GFS run?

GFDL has been showing this for a couple days, and GFS doesn't really show this.
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131. hurricane23
13:39 EDT le 13 juin 2007
Drakoen check your mail...
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130. kingdomusa
5:35 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I have already admitted that I do not know much, but I think the circulation off the NE coast should be watched. It is moving SW and over warmer waters. It must have something to it; it has been around for nearly 2 weeks now and every bit of moisture that comes at it from ANY direction either goes around it or gets sucked into it. I won't ask for input beacuse I know YOU have some. ;-)
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129. emagirl
5:36 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
so do yall think there will be a TD or TS soon or not i am kind of confused...feel dumb with all the tech talk but still enjoy reading... hopefully one day i will actually understand it
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128. Drakoen
5:34 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: hurricane23 at 5:34 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Interesting stuff from the cmc but iam not buying it.Looks like good rain chances for south florida over the next few days.


waiting for more model agreement? Did you see the GFDL run and the GFS run?
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127. hurricane23
13:32 EDT le 13 juin 2007
Interesting stuff from the cmc but iam not buying it.Looks like good rain chances for south florida over the next few days.
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126. Jedkins
5:30 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
The GFS brings rain amounts over 8 ibxhes to parts of central and aouth Florida this weekend, obviously thats overdone, but the other models still bring rich tropical moisture with PWATS greater than 2.00 inches and scattered to numerous thunderstorms firing in a summer like pattern.

Although its possible there may be some enhancement there from the old trough thats passing through Florida now thats expected to lift back north through the weekend.
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125. sandcrab39565
12:27 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
emagirl remember "It begins local and ends local"
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124. Jedkins
5:27 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Yep, what happen was the polar vortex was in control keeping water temps cool in the eastern gulf, was a very weird pattern for may, now after Barry the pattern has a steady change toward a summer storm pattern and a deep tropical flow has generally dominated instead of a northeast polar vortex flow.

Now water temp is 85 at the beaches here instead of the upper 70's back around Barry.
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123. Drakoen
5:23 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
the GFDL run is old so i wouldn't it trust it as far as the forecast path. I like the CMC idea for the as far as bringing benficial rains to southwest Florida.
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122. jake436
11:20 AM CST on June 13, 2007
Wow.. Take a look a this.. SST's up 1-2 degrees in just a week in the GOM.. Amazing loop:
Link


Looks like as much as 4-5 degrees C in some spots...such as along the west coast of FL, and the NE Gulf Coast.
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121. Drakoen
5:22 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
i guess we can wait untill the other model runs come out to get a better idea on the strength and timing if this low develops.
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120. TheCaneWhisperer
1:20 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Very interesting Nash28! In quick fashion too!
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119. emagirl
5:20 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
thanks Cane all help is appreciated
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118. Drakoen
5:20 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
hmm 2 days out and we might have a surface low just south of Cuba. The GFDL shows this as well. The GFS has a weaker low forming and neandering in the northwest Caribbean.
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117. TheCaneWhisperer
1:15 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
"If your house is in the cone, you are at risk"

"Hurricanes don't have sympathy"

Just a couple for ya emagirl.
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116. jake436
11:17 AM CST on June 13, 2007
Thanks for the info, hurricanefcast. I figured the SST's had probably jumped a bit in the GOM.
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115. Drakoen
5:18 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
that CMC 12z just came out right?
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114. Drakoen
5:15 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
intersting most of the models are hinting some kind of develop over the next few days. Still a wiat and see game though. I am starting to by into it now that we have more model agreement.
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113. Drakoen
5:14 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: nash28 at 5:10 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

12z CMC has TS over SW FL.


yea i just saw that we are still monitoring the Caribbean. I see some rotation down there. jsut need some more convective activity. Also I don't know if the rotation is at the surface.
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112. Jedkins
5:14 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
We are at 9 inches of rain for the month now, 3 inches of rain has fallen after Barry, and 6 from barry, getting much better in pinnelas county.
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111. emagirl
5:09 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
i am hosting a hurricane expo next month and i have a power point i could really use some help coming up with some hurricane preparedness phrases to put with my disaster pics.. for example "stay alert, stay alive"
i asked the other day and got some good ones to use but need some more thanks for any help
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110. Jedkins
5:11 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: Drakoen at 5:07 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Posted By: Jedkins at 5:03 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Posted By: Drakoen at 4:41 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Ah yes. You guys should hopefully get some rain today. I told you guys that when Barry formed most of the heavy convection would be in Southeast Florida.



Ya well this entire county got 3 to 6 inches from Barry, the heaviest rain wasn't all in south Florida, east central Florida, the immediate Tampa bay area, and parts of northeast Florida had very heavy rain from barry as well. It was mainly interior central Florida and southwest Florida that missed out and had only 1 to 2 inches


I know that. I was just talking about South Florida the comparison between Southeast and Southwest Florida in the rainfall they got from Barry.


I gotcha, just thought I'd mention it in case ya didn't know.
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109. Drakoen
5:11 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
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108. Jedkins
5:06 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Yep, I definitely feel ya, as I said I'm still optimistic myself I just wanted to state their reasons for having a watch, but at this point I think it could go either way, maybe there will be a lot of activity maybe there wont.


My explanation for why it may not feel like it is the air away from the coast esspecially along the east side of the state remained stabilized into this morning with no windflow to bring moisture back up, but PWATS are still pretty high so the deeper moisture and dewpoints must be just off the surface where the winds have been up a bit more.

So you may feel it a bit more as the day goes, if not I'm not sure then.

It definitely feels like a day for storms here on the west coast, of course we just had a thunderstorm here and a crazy night of storms all night with over 2 inches of rain so I guess thats a good reason why lol.
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107. nash28
5:10 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
12z CMC has TS over SW FL.
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106. Drakoen
5:07 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
huricane23 looks like i am in some of that too. Can't wait for it to rain here, always makes for a nice cool day, in hot-humid South Florida.
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105. Drakoen
5:05 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: Jedkins at 5:03 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Posted By: Drakoen at 4:41 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

Ah yes. You guys should hopefully get some rain today. I told you guys that when Barry formed most of the heavy convection would be in Southeast Florida.



Ya well this entire county got 3 to 6 inches from Barry, the heaviest rain wasn't all in south Florida, east central Florida, the immediate Tampa bay area, and parts of northeast Florida had very heavy rain from barry as well. It was mainly interior central Florida and southwest Florida that missed out and had only 1 to 2 inches


I know that. I was just talking about South Florida the comparison between Southeast and Southwest Florida in the rainfall they got from Barry.
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104. hurricane23
1:06 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Look at the lighting threat right over me.

h
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103. Comatose
1:03 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Thank you for the correction Jedkins :-)
I'm always learning new things here and correcting old mis-perceptions.

That said, it just doesn't feel like thunderstorm weather outside right now. On my last smoke break a couple of minutes ago, it didn't feel either too hot or too humid.

We'll see what happens. We missed out on a decent thunderstorm yesterday (got a bunch of rain, no thunder) so hopefully mother nature will make it up to us.
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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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