F5: a book review

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:28 PM GMT on June 13, 2007

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

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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753. nash28
12:37 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Jesus. I see Nelly is back throwing the Bush/NeoCon slam YET AGAIN with absolutely NO REASON to do it.

Sounds like someone should move to the Moveon.org site if they choose to come here and NOT discuss tropics.
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752. Caymanite
12:29 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Good morning all.Enjoying the stormy conditions here again today. Will be interesting to follow this blob to see if it develops. Have a nice day.
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750. stoormfury
12:27 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
good morning once again.

i quite agree that it is time we get down to the business of tropical weather and stop all this bickering. i am new to this blog and one thought that the comments would be of a mature and professional manner
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749. eaglesrock
8:31 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
Found this on Accuweather:

Tropical moisture over the western Caribbean isn't likely to develop into a tropical storm or hurricane
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748. thelmores
12:31 PM GMT on June 14, 2007

seems this is where the COC is located. Not sure if it is a surface feature...... yet!
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747. TheRingo
8:26 AM EDT on June 14, 2007
was there a hurricane in russia recently?

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745. IKE
7:18 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Like they need any warning.

Go mow the grass Aroughleague.
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744. apocalyps
02:09 PM CEST op 14 Juni, 2007
I see its trying to form an eye.
Slow development should be good for this blob.
If it just could go further north where is less share and stay there for a day or two.I think it could become Strong TS or hurricane indead.
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743. weathermanwannabe
7:11 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Hey All...Quick shout-out before going to work...The "blob" area has produced persistant convection for the last several days, it diminishes a bit, and then fires back up....This is the most impressive the area has looked over the last several days. Assuming that this round can last over the next 24 hours, and that the shear remains low, it may have chance to develop into a TD as it drifts towards Cuba (although I am not aware of any model picking it up for development).....Just my thoughts and will BBL this evening...Have Good Day and stay on topic..
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741. thelmores
12:15 PM GMT on June 14, 2007

CMC IN 90HRS...... interesting!
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739. thelmores
12:10 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
AHHH, had too many windows open I guess! LOL

use firefox mostly, i try to avoid IE! :D
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738. IKE
7:09 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
I'm having no problems. Are you on Firefox or IE?
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736. mermaidlaw
12:04 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hello Kman, your right we have to watch and wait. I wonder if the wind shear will get this one?

Good morning Chicklit!:)
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735. kmanislander
12:08 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
no problem for me Thel
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734. kmanislander
12:07 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
Gotta go now
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733. thelmores
12:07 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
anybody else having problems viewing the blog??
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732. thelmores
12:06 PM GMT on June 14, 2007

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730. thelmores
12:05 PM GMT on June 14, 2007
that youtube link is hosing the blog up! or something is! LOL
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729. mermaidlaw
11:58 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Thanks Thel!:) I enjoy watching, and reading all thoughts and opinions. I sure could use rain here in Hernando County. And as we know, it is the time of year to pay close attention! I hope you have a great day!!:)
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728. Chicklit
11:57 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Latest 8 o'clock discussion mention ULLs, but Thelmore, I agree.
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727. apocalyps
01:57 PM CEST op 14 Juni, 2007

Hurricane no, but TD or TS possibly.
Shear will lower coming hours.
Just want to see something with an eye.
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726. kmanislander
11:57 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hi Mermaid

Looks like "wait and see" on the blob.A lot will depend on what the ULL on the W coast of the Yucatan does. If it pushes E then shear will be a big factor. The WV loop does show a current movement of the ULL eastward
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723. thelmores
11:54 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
mermaid, good morning! :)

If it is just rain, that's fine to! Everybody surely could use some!

We'll have to wait and see how things transpire today, but my "gut" tells me the "blob" is worthy of some attention!
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722. kmanislander
11:56 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
The 8:05 is out now
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721. kmanislander
11:54 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Thanks Groundman for that
Chicklit, it looks like the QS pass may already have missed the NW Caribbean
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719. thelmores
11:48 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
seems the models don't initialize much in the NW carribean, not sure the last run's will be useful in trying to figure out the "blob".

Did notice the CMC has a storm heading for La. Get on it Pat! Somebody call in Stormtop! LOL
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718. mermaidlaw
11:43 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Good morning Ike, Kman, Thel, Coma, and ALL.

My local MET. just said that the blob in the caribbean may move towards the West coast of Florida over the weekend, and bring lots of moisture. They are watching it. Any thoughts?
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717. groundman
11:41 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: kmanislander at 11:39 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.
Hi Thel

Last night I was posting about low pressures in the NW Caribbean and wind barbs that might suggest a surface low trying to form and one poster jumped all over me like crazy. This used to be a great place to exchange ideas but I am sorry to say a lot has changed here this year.

Kman, it was time for a group pms attack I believe?? We are here to discuss, study, learn, watch, disseminate (sp) and share our lives (somewhat) along the way. Some seem to want to share the bad parts of their lives.

It was bad last year on this blosg, bickering and backbiting, will be bad this year. Just have to ignore those who are not proficient in interpersonal relationships. I don't always do this but don't let it get to you. You have something very valuable to contribute, your viewpoint.

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716. kmanislander
11:51 AM GMT on June 14, 2007

They are probably waiting on data from a quikscat pass. There is a pass underway now but it may miss that area
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715. apocalyps
01:46 PM CEST op 14 Juni, 2007
Its gone develop.
ts tomorrow?
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714. Chicklit
11:45 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I'm surprised there's no mention of development in the latest NOAH discussion.
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713. kmanislander
11:44 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Our pressure here is 1010 and the NW Caribbean has had low pressures now since late yesterday
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712. thelmores
11:42 AM GMT on June 14, 2007

I fully expect this to be an invest by the end of the day.... if not sooner.
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711. kmanislander
11:42 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
It won't I can assure you
You are right. The ULL is on the move E

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710. IKE
6:39 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Yeah...I read that kman.

Don't let it run you off.

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709. kmanislander
11:36 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Hi Thel

Last night I was posting about low pressures in the NW Caribbean and wind barbs that might suggest a surface low trying to form and one poster jumped all over me like crazy. This used to be a great place to exchange ideas but I am sorry to say a lot has changed here this year.

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708. IKE
6:35 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Pressures are low at the 2 active buoys in the western/NW Caribbean...around 29.79.

The ULL over the Yucatan is moving east now...and may inhibit the blob.

Eventually this moisture is going to head north and reach the northern GOM by Tuesday/Wednesday of next week.
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707. Comatose
11:35 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Well that blob is looking impressive on radar this morning.
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706. thelmores
11:29 AM GMT on June 14, 2007

Well, last nite I pointed out a little swirl, well this blob is there this morning, which tells me there is a circulation here.

I don't understand why there are so many that come to this blog to ridicule others! If you want to discuss tropics, great. But if you are here just to dismiss other thoughts or opinions, I consider that so juvenile!

I am here in this blog for one main reason. To study tropical genesis. In order to do that, I watch "every" blob out there! I certainly am not foolish enough to think that every blob will turn into tropical weather. I am here to discuss the possibilities, and the factors.

just my $.02!
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705. IKE
6:33 AM CDT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: Aroughleague209 at 6:31 AM CDT on June 14, 2007.
GTHO = get the hell out
Will you? Please?
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