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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1803. Tazmanian
6:27 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
sorry : Drakoen did not hit the right one i hit the ! on your post wish i mean to do it to unctarheel1209 post but evere thing fix now Drakoen i hit the right one
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1802. kmanislander
1:25 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Chicklit

I have a couple of things in mind. One is that the "low" may not actually be as far N as the Navy site says. That would not be unusual as we have seen low centers repositioned many times before until certainty is reached.
Secondly, it is possible that the low may actually be quite diffuse, that is more broad in nature and not actually a tight surface low in a particular place. Only the Quikscat pass can resolve these types of questions.

Of course it may well be that the pass shows a clearly defined low center near to where the Navy says it is but I am always a little sceptical with June systems, especially complicated by the near proximity of the ULL
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1801. Bamatracker
1:25 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
NOOOOOOO!!! the models are never wrong! They always get it right this fir.....

just kidding. Look it is a simply wait and see thing.

1) we need an actual surface low prove its existence.
2) we need some intensification to make it atleast at TD.
3) then we can really start looking at that time where it might go.
If it waits a until sat or sun. to become a td it could mean something completely different than if it were to get upgraded tonight.
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1800. IKE
8:28 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
That ULL over the Yucatan is booking it to the east and should be out of the way by the weekend.
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1799. Drakoen
1:25 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
here is my analysis. There is a current upper level trough over the Southeast in South Florida, this trough is expected to lift to the north to north-central florida. The current motion of the low suggest a NE movement along with the upper level low. I am not buying a landfall in northern Florida, due to the current upper level trough and the upper level low. The shear is currently able to allow marginal develop. I would say a TD tommorrow morning just before sunrise.
The current upper level dynamics are still showing some shear affect the system. You notice that there is hardly anything of the left side of the low, NW of the island of Roatan.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29864
1798. IKE
8:26 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: stormhank at 8:24 PM CDT on June 14, 2007.
HI all.. any chance the Fla. panhandle will receive any rain from that system in NW carribean??


Yes and good evening to you. Aren't you in Tallahassee?
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1797. Miamiweather
1:25 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I have a quick question what is the probability that this will come to miami Hurricane 23
1795. WPBHurricane05
9:21 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
I still think they should name more subtropical storms. Barry and Alberto would fit that category.

Sub-tropical: Anna/Andrea
tropical: Allison/Barry

Note: The image of Anna is shortly before becoming fully tropical.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1794. Drakoen
1:23 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Posted By: hurricane23 at 1:08 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Bama keep in mind this is the first set of models running but in my opinion a NE-NNE tracks seems very possible to me.Things can change.

this is what i think as well. Given the current upper level situation. The model ahve a tendency to be wrong with the first forecast. I wuold be suprised to see s dramatic change in the forecast calling for a more NE movement with the low.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29864
1793. Chicklit
1:23 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I have a hunch that all is not what it seems ! K-Man, care to explain?
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1791. stormhank
1:22 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
HI all.. any chance the Fla. panhandle will receive any rain from that system in NW carribean??
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1790. kmanislander
1:21 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Thel

Will do
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1788. Chicklit
1:19 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Link
GOM, Florida and the Western Caribbean.
Is that mass of showers coming behind the dry air going to knock out the trough?
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1786. thelmores
1:16 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
kman, post as soon as you get the QS let us know.....

you are right my friend, should prove interesting! :)
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3802
1784. Bamatracker
1:18 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
thanks all for the help on my technical problem. I have my loops back....yaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!
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1783. Caymanite
1:12 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Yea Kman its that way often with these systems. Amazing how our forefathers got the signs right regularly without computers and all the gadgets. Guess it says something for wind direction, barometer readings, cloud types,and sea state.
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1782. hurricane23
9:14 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Nothing to be alarmed about this will likely at best get to TD status.Right now you can see the ULL moving out to the NE taking all the thunderstorm activity with it.There's also quite a bit of upper level shear over the system.

The only chance it may have is if it were to sit down there through the weekend as conditions might become more favorable.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13621
1781. hurricane91
1:18 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
soo would this get push east towards southwest/central florida or keep going north IF it developes?
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1780. IKE
8:17 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
It'll never get named? That's what was said about Barry.
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1779. Patrap
8:17 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
4 panel Zoom..WV GOM Link
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1777. IKE
8:15 PM CDT on June 14, 2007
The trough is suppose to lift back to the north and northeast.
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1776. WPBHurricane05
9:15 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Is that what they are now? If it spends that much time in the Gulf it could be a much stronger system by landfall.
Forgive me if this is a stupid question:
Hasn't there been a sort of trough coming down pushing everything east? Is that supposed to stop so this thing goes north?


Navy has winds around 25 MPH now. What I was saying about 30-49 MPH is a possibility according to the models.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1775. kmanislander
1:15 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Caymanite

If that forecast verifies it will be an indoor weekend LOL
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1774. peterj
1:02 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Since all of you are better than me what are the chances of 94L actually developing?
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1772. WPBHurricane05
9:14 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Don't think so marlinsfan, they probably would want to send out the hurricane hunters to see if it has a closed low.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1771. Littleninjagrl
1:14 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
I just don't see how it could go west. But storms do weird things sometimes.
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1770. Chicklit
1:08 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Winds between 30-49 MPH.
Is that what they are now? If it spends that much time in the Gulf it could be a much stronger system by landfall.
Forgive me if this is a stupid question:
Hasn't there been a sort of trough coming down pushing everything east? Is that supposed to stop so this thing goes north?
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1769. kmanislander
1:13 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Quikscat very close now. Data for the E Caribbean just made available
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1768. marlinsfan1
9:11 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
could it be a depression at 11 p.m.?
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1767. melwerle
1:11 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Hey StormW!
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1765. WPBHurricane05
9:11 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Note: The dark green "model" is the XTRAP, the XTRAP is NOT a model, it shows the current direction of the storm.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1764. kmanislander
1:11 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Hi caymanite

Just got on. been busy today. waiting for the quikscat pass. I have a hunch that all is not what it seems !
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1762. Tazmanian
6:08 PM PDT on June 14, 2007
by the way the navy site has 94L at 500mb LOL that is some strong 94L LOL


they have 94L at 1006mbs got it from the navy site
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1761. Caymanite
1:02 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Hey Kman where are you? 94L has formed and I dont see you giving your usual well thought- out opinions. Buoyweather looks like they are also fcstg the nasty for us for the entire week-end. SE winds up to 28kts and seas at 8ft.
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1760. kmanislander
1:05 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Thel

I saw your post guessing at the lowest pressure being down in the gulf of Honduras.
Funny thing was I just loaded the WV loop of the gomex and as is usual just as the last frame loaded it depicted the low on the screen. Only thing was it showed it down near to where you have the cirsle and not up where the navy says the lowest pressure is !!

I remember just before Barry formed the Navy site was all over the place looking for the " center" and the models were all being initialised time and again from different coordinates. It will be most inetersting to see what quikscat has to show
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1759. WPBHurricane05
9:10 PM EDT on June 14, 2007
Link Computer models

Link Computer models key
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
1758. thelmores
1:05 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Bama, try clearing you browser cache and or update your java install.

java link
http://www.java.com/en/download/index.jsp
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3802
1756. bappit
1:04 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
http://weather.msfc.nasa.gov/GOES/goeseastconusir.html gives you the page to zoom in from for IR.

http://weather.msfc.nasa.gov/GOES/goeseastconus.html is the same for visible. Not worth much right now of course.

http://weather.msfc.nasa.gov/GOES/ is the "home" page.

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1754. Thundercloud01221991
1:06 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
Is that for this storm issued by the NHC? Hurricane23
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1753. Bamatracker
1:09 AM GMT on June 15, 2007
yea i know 23....just being dramatic.... :?

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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.