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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1903. Miamiweather
2:23 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
drakoen what does red boxes mean
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1902. Skyepony (Mod)
2:22 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Recon flight plan decoded Tommarrow (friday the 15th) at 2pm EDT.
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1901. Drakoen
2:22 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Wind Direction (WDIR): SE ( 140 deg true )
Wind Speed (WSPD): 9.7 kts
Wind Gust (GST): 9.7 kts
Wave Height (WVHT): 2.6 ft
Dominant Wave Period (DPD): 5 sec
Average Period (APD): 4.2 sec
Mean Wave Direction (MWD): SE ( 146 deg true )
Atmospheric Pressure (PRES): 29.70 in
Pressure Tendency (PTDY): -0.03 in ( Falling ) Air Temperature (ATMP): 77.7 F
Water Temperature (WTMP): 83.5 F
Dew Point (DEWP): 73.2 F
Heat Index (HEAT): 79.9 F
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
1899. Drakoen
2:21 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
hurricane91 i see red boxes
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
1898. Skyepony (Mod)
2:16 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
We have flight plan for recon

000
NOUS42 KNHC 141400
WEATHER RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHTS
CARCAH, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER, MIAMI, FL.
1000 AM EDT THU 14 JUN 2007
SUBJECT: TROPICAL CYCLONE PLAN OF THE DAY (TCPOD)
VALID 15/1100Z TO 16/1100Z JUNE 2007
TCPOD NUMBER.....07-022

I. ATLANTIC REQUIREMENTS
1. SUSPECT AREA (GULF OF MEXICO)
A. 15/1800Z
B. AFXXX 01DDA INVEST
C. 15/1600Z
D. 24.0N 84.0W
E. 15/1530Z TO 15/2300Z
F. SFC TO 10,000 FT
2. OUTLOOK FOR SUCCEEDING DAY.....NEGATIVE.
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1895. IKE
9:11 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: kmanislander at 9:11 PM CDT on June 14, 2007.
Ike

I know but the time of the pass itself is at the bottom in purple


OK...I see it.
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1894. Bamatracker
2:14 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
reason for the apperance of a ne movement is the shear.

Link
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1893. hurricane91
2:11 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Drakeon you were talking about ernestos path changing so quick, this is over 24 hrs, from a new orleans landfall to a tampa landfall, and it kept getting push east.....thought to share it

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
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1891. Drakoen
2:14 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
By: RL3AO at 2:13 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Hey guys. I've been real busy lately and decided to check the NRL and saw 94L. Does it have much of a chance?


when the upper level trough moves to the north it will have a chance.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
1890. SCwxwatch
2:14 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Link

YAY!! More rain.
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1889. WPBHurricane05
10:14 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Almost 2,000 comments.........
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1888. Bamatracker
2:13 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
so groundman....do you have bookmarks for your bookmarks? having that many kinda defeats the purpose dont it?
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1887. WPBHurricane05
10:12 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Goodness groundman.............
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1886. kmanislander
2:12 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
From the quikscat page:

The images may contain data up to 22 hours previous from update time.

Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15948
1885. RL3AO
9:12 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Hey guys. I've been real busy lately and decided to check the NRL and saw 94L. Does it have much of a chance?
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1884. Skyepony (Mod)
2:07 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Looking at the buoys & ships ~possible spin
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1883. groundman
2:07 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Thanks WPBHurricane05 and Skyepony, I now have my 1,333,555 bookmark. Cool site.
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1882. IKE
9:10 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: stormhank at 9:02 PM CDT on June 14, 2007.
hey IKE. How are you? you see any decent rains for our area? Im not in tallahassee but closer to marianna area near Ga/Fla/Ala borders


It poured here in Defuniak Springs 2 days ago. Between 1/2 and 1 inch of rain.

We should get some rain the first of next week from this moisture/system.
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1881. kmanislander
2:10 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Ike

I know but the time of the pass itself is at the bottom in purple
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15948
1880. Chicklit
2:08 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I'll check back in the morning...Loved the intelligent discussion without distractions! Many thanks to blog admin, too. It has been an interesting evening!
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11423
1879. Bamatracker
2:09 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
IKE look for the purple numbers on the bottom.
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1878. IKE
9:09 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 9:04 PM CDT on June 14, 2007.
whoa

satellite loop now has 2 lows lol


I saw that...1007mb low east of Belize. 1006mb low east of the Yucatan.
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1877. louisianaboy444
2:01 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
i am thinking as of now that it will be a southwest florida storm....i'm not thinking that it will move further north or go any more west than it already is....plus we dont need the rain here anyway....we will wait and see what the models say though
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1876. TheCaneWhisperer
2:08 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Anyone notice the 2 Lows now on the Western ATL!
1875. WPBHurricane05
10:07 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
SHF5 makes 94L a 45 MPH TS, but it did bring 93L as a 65 MPH TS.
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1874. IKE
9:07 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: kmanislander at 9:06 PM CDT on June 14, 2007.
This is what you posted. Notice the time at the bottom in purple ?. It is from this morning


KMAN...it's got June 15th at 1:04 UTC.
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1873. Skyepony (Mod)
2:04 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
same thing with WPB intensity go to the 4th frame 1 down on that last link I posted
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1872. Bamatracker
2:05 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Best time to really look at the models is after they start having consistent runs time after time. Until they the flip flop around like a fish on deck in confusion.
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1871. WPBHurricane05
10:06 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Could it just be an area of low pressure or do they have a "spin"??
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1870. kmanislander
2:05 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
This is what you posted. Notice the time at the bottom in purple ?. It is from this morning
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15948
1868. Skyepony (Mod)
2:00 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
oh I'd forgot the deal with the spigetti models... go here early track frame 1. Good point on not giving these 1st models too much credance. Interesting where they inish from as well.
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1867. WPBHurricane05
10:04 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Intensity Link
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1866. WPBHurricane05
10:03 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Link
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1865. groundman
2:00 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: Skyepony at 1:57 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.
spagetti models


apache @ colorado state says I am forbidden to view spaghetti??
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1864. stormhank
2:00 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
hey IKE. How are you? you see any decent rains for our area? Im not in tallahassee but closer to marianna area near Ga/Fla/Ala borders
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1863. Bamatracker
2:01 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
its still debatable that this is a system. We must keep that in mind as well.
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1862. kmanislander
1:59 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Thel

I think I know where the problem is. The image you posted is from 11:00 earlier today when there was the blow up in that area. The data is old. I looked it up and at the bottom of the image it gave the time. The new data has not yet been downloaded. When you look at a QS pass there are purple numbers at the bottom that tell you the time of the pass. Sometimes the data can be stale by 20 hrs
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15948
1861. ClearH2OFla
10:00 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Drak im with you on that track there. Seems everything is pulling more East. Barry was forcast at one point to hit panhandle, then big bend then south of tampa and then we got it
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1860. WPBHurricane05
10:00 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Intensity
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1859. IKE
8:59 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
That ULL is moving on to the east Drakoen and is approaching western Cuba.
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1858. Bamatracker
1:57 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
right kman....we need to wait for the descending pass get the latest look at it. That ascending pass was from earlier today.
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1857. Drakoen
1:54 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Let me try to explain the future forecast for some people that are confused. There is currently a trough that i near extremem northern Cuba. We ahve a low level spin north of Roatan, Honduras. the uotflow of this system is evident on the satellite imagery. You can still see strong upper level winds across the system. What will be interesting is that the trough is expect to move back to the north. how far north the trough moves and the motion of the low will determine the forecast track. Also the trough lifting north will allow the upepr levelwinds over the Caribbean to relax to allow for some development. I don't recommend by into the first model runs on this system. Keep watching the system. The Current motion suggest a more NE movement than anything. and there is still that upper level low, over land. By looking at the current set up i expect a dramatic change in the forecast track of teh system from the model runs tomorrow.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30825
1856. IKE
8:57 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: sammywammybamy at 8:57 PM CDT on June 14, 2007.
Judging By quickscat i think it is a Td or close to that status am i right?


I think it's on it's way to TD...but I'm not a met. Take my opinion for what it's worth.
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1855. BahaHurican
9:44 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Goodnight all,

BROAD UPPER TROUGH COVERS THE W ATLC W OF 67W AND IS PROVIDING
PLENTY OF MOISTURE FOR SCATTERED SHOWERS/ISOLATED THUNDERSTORMS
THAT EXTENDS WITHIN 150 NM OF LINE FROM ACROSS CUBA NEAR 22N79W
TO E OF BERMUDA BEYOND 32N60W. THIS UPPER SYSTEM IS ALSO
SUPPORTING A 1010 MB LOW CENTERED BETWEEN THE BAHAMAS AND
BERMUDA NEAR 29N71W WITH A SURFACE TROUGH EXTENDS SW ACROSS THE
N BAHAMA ISLANDS INTO THE GULF OF MEXICO THROUGH THE STRAITS OF
FLORIDA.


The result this afternoon was the usual afternoon downpour that one expects in June. We got some heavy showers for about an hour (around 4 pm).

I not there is an invest up for the W Car. However, I don't see this area as being much more organized than it was any time in the last 48 hours. This is just from eyeballing it, mind u. I haven't had a chance to read most of the stuff on the blog yet.
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1854. kmanislander
1:56 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
It's the descending pass that is being downloaded now
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15948

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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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