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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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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102. Jedkins
4:59 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
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101. TheCaneWhisperer
1:00 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Latest NWS Hazardous Outlook!

Looks to get saucy in the South East later today.
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100. HurricaneFCast
5:01 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
We did have some semi-severe storms here earlier.. Constant lightning and gusty winds.. Although there was no hail..
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99. HurricaneFCast
4:56 PM GMT 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
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98. Jedkins
4:52 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: Comatose at 4:26 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

I'm not too optimistic about central FL storms for today, and I think the Severe Thunderstorm watch is a bit premature.

Look at the dry air that's filtering in the area. That certainly isn't going to help.




That is dry air aloft and has no indication of moisture at the surface, you also have to realize that is cold air aloft not subsidence, so once enough convergance occurrs, the deeper moisture will overcome the drier air aloft and tap its cold potential.



Although I agree, I am optomistic myself about the watch, I think they may be jumping the gun a bit myself but we will see.

I was just explaining why they have a watch in the first place. But that being said, although the air is cold aloft, it is dry air, yes surface moisture is plentifull enough, but storms still struggle to develop untill stronger convergance occurrs.
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97. HurricaneFCast
4:54 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
a

Link

On the left is a Side Menu bar, Just click on Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, Whichever you want SST's and such for.
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96. Drakoen
4:53 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Its timing. Hopefully the thunderstorm will start firing up soon when they get on land.
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95. jake436
10:51 AM CST on June 13, 2007
Does anyone have a good link for SST's in the GOM and Caribbean? I am curious how the recent hot weather will make the SST's jump...especially in the GOM. We have been experiencing much hotter weather down here, and the winds have finally subsided. Good for speckled trout fishing...and fuel for the storms. I wanna keep track of the temps.
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94. HurricaneFCast
4:51 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
MisterPerfect- Lol, He's usually so good at proofreading and that kind of tarnishes your point when you Mis-spell the Title.. Isn't this why we have the "Update your blog" option, to correct things such as that?
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93. nolesjeff
4:49 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.
I sure hope you are correct! thanks
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92. MisterPerfect
4:49 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Anyone notice Dr. Masters spelled review wrong in his Blog title? Just out of curiosity..

F5: a book reveiw


Well, we should put his name on the chalkboard then.
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91. HurricaneFCast
4:47 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Tropics are too quiet.. I'm gettin' bored. At least it's stormy here in Florida =D
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90. HurricaneFCast
4:46 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Anyone notice Dr. Masters spelled review wrong in his Blog title? Just out of curiosity..

F5: a book reveiw
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89. Drakoen
4:44 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
88. Drakoen
4:40 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.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
87. nolesjeff
4:37 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: Drakoen at 4:31 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

hehe Southeast Florida is already wet from Barry. We here in Southwest fla remain extremely dry
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86. Drakoen
4:34 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I just updated my blog. Also please tell me if you would like to see something in the blog (tropics related) and i will try and put it up. Please leave comments in the blog as i am not accepting messages due to recent events.
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85. Drakoen
4:30 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
hehe South Florida is already wet from Barry.
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83. Drakoen
4:26 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Probably South Florida storm mainly. When that daytime heating kicks in the action should start.Maybe Extreme Central Florida will get on in the action as well.
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82. Comatose
12:25 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
I'm not too optimistic about central FL storms for today, and I think the Severe Thunderstorm watch is a bit premature.

Look at the dry air that's filtering in the area. That certainly isn't going to help.
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81. fldoughboy
4:16 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
And also apparently, not everything that is a NoName will develop, case in point yesterday with TD-3E. I would have thought it would have been "Cosme" for a brief period of time, but that never materialized. On the other hand, with Barry, it did. Go figure.
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80. Drakoen
4:17 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
there will be more thunderstorm nash just wait for them to roll on in along with daytime heating.
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79. StormJunkie
4:15 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
nash, wait until about the 4:00 time frame today. Instability will be on the increase along most of the SE coast.
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78. StormJunkie
4:08 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
doughboy, The letter does designate the basin the system is in. There is also a checklist for determining if something meets the requirements to become a invest. Now, this seems obvious, but just in case, invest is a area that is under investigation for development. Others may be able to elaborate more though
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77. nash28
4:13 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
The pressure here 20 minutes ago was at 29.85 and falling. Now it is at 29.88 and rising.

Not enough instability for these things to keep their intensity.
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76. fldoughboy
4:12 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Ok, Thanks FLboy
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75. stampapaul
4:12 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Nash, it looks like we have another one coming up behind that one
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74. Drakoen
4:11 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
lol nash. hate when that happens.
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73. nash28
4:09 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Damn storm fell apart just as it approached Apollo Beach!!! DAMNIT!!!!!
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72. Drakoen
4:09 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
heh at least there is some rotation there.
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71. kmanislander
4:02 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Yes it has weakened some but this is June. Development takes days if it happens at all
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69. Drakoen
4:06 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I don't really know why they are called that. They are just areas of interest for possible cyclogenesis.
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68. fldoughboy
3:59 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
As explained earlier, if anyone knows why storms are called 93L Invest, and the like, please explain or e-mail me. I am curious. Thanks.!
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67. Drakoen
3:58 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
wow lol thats a bit odd.
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66. Drakoen
3:57 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Posted By: kmanislander at 3:43 PM GMT on June 13, 2007.

The area I am looking at is near 17.3 N which is far enough away from land to allow for development. A TD once formed right over the Yucatan peninsula and then moved N into the Gomex. Strange things can happen


hmmm well i am noticing that the convection is dissapating somewhat.
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65. kmanislander
3:56 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Ike and Drak

Here is the storm I was referring to that formed over land as a TD and on the 28th June. Like I said anything can happen !
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64. Drakoen
3:48 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
The island of roatan reporting a northeast wind.
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63. Drakoen
3:46 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
well the shear tendency indicated decreasing shear so we will have to see over the next few days what happens. shear is currently 20 kts out of the west.
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62. HurricaneRoman
3:44 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Hey guys im on vacation right now in st. augustine beach!! crazy storm yesterday ... im in a beach condo and there are several others that circle a pool...and with the sotrm yesterday .... tables... umbrellas and chairs that were on the pool deck ...literallly went flying through the air..... storngest winds i have seen since Wilma .... it was really scary yesterday.... tables flew like 60 feet ...some went over the pool gated...and the rain wqas so hard.... yea well i live in s. fl if u guys didnt know....well i'll talk to u guys later
-Roman
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61. Jedkins
3:43 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Ya I got pummeled here in central Pinnelas last night, over 2 inches of rain, amazing light show, some places closer to the beach had 3 or 4 inches.


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60. kmanislander
3:42 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
The area I am looking at is near 17.3 N which is far enough away from land to allow for development. A TD once formed right over the Yucatan peninsula and then moved N into the Gomex. Strange things can happen
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59. IKE
10:41 AM CDT on June 13, 2007
Where that convection is at in that picture is where the latest GFS run develops a 1008mb low in 24 hours.
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58. stampapaul
3:41 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Hey guys..just had a pretty good storm come through Clearwater with heavy winds, heave rain, and pretty vivid lightning.
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57. Drakoen
3:40 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
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56. fldoughboy
3:36 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
I've never seen a tornado, but I've heard one in the distance at night with hail falling in the backyard at a friend's apartment back in 1993. Quite an experience. Wondering if Gainesville is immune to tornadoes, but I'm not wishing that kind of devestation on anyone, just an observation.

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55. Drakoen
3:35 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
the things it has against it is mainly the westerly shear. Still the chances of development are low none of the models are showing development in the imediate future. Though it could be this same blob that develops next week.
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54. DocBen
3:36 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Looks like TWO blobs - east of Belize and east of Nicaragua.
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53. fldoughboy
3:33 PM GMT on June 13, 2007
Thank you, Drak, I didn't see the loop.
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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.