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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603. kmanislander
1:57 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
good night storm
CU tomorrow
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602. Otowngirl
9:53 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
JP - I saw those clouds today.....but I was in Altamonte Springs when I saw them....on 436 - they were wild! Great picture!

Those were quite the storms today, my front yard is covered with small branches, even some hail for dramatic effect.

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599. JupiterFL
1:53 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Any posts by Stormtop, Unclesam, aroughleague or any other prepubescent human out of school for the summer.
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598. Patrap
8:52 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
A trough like Feb almost..Link
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595. JupiterFL
1:50 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
You want me to start with 2004 and work my up or start with today and work my way back?
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594. JupiterFL
1:50 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Sammy we are just playin around. Just a little fun. No harm intended.
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590. JupiterFL
1:46 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
It should be the nickname for some of the posts on this board. Short for "a lot a junk"
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589. WPBHurricane05
9:43 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
As long as this front and ULL sticks around I don't see anything developing.
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588. kmanislander
1:44 AM GMT on June 14, 2007

The ULL in the Bay of Campeche is helping the NW Caribbean vent by inducing a high overhead. The WV loop shows that
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585. kmanislander
1:44 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: JupiterFL at 1:43 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.

whats a lonk?

a typo

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583. peterj
1:39 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
It seems that every place in Florida has gotten rain but Lake Okeechobee...
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582. JupiterFL
1:42 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
whats a lonk?
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581. WPBHurricane05
9:42 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Are we sure that the "weather" in the Caribbean is not associated with that ULL?? Link
I see no development.

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580. JupiterFL
1:37 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I must say that over the past few years it has been unusual for this many models to predict something developing and then nothing to develop. Most likely something will come out of the area but only in the form of a rain storm.
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578. Patrap
8:39 PM CDT on June 13, 2007
anytime..I just provide the links.Thanks anyway.
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576. Rodek
1:32 AM GMT on June 14, 2007

Thank you for explaining the dBZ scale!
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573. Drakoen
1:35 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Posted By: StormW at 1:33 AM GMT on June 14, 2007.

Looking at the models again, I know most of them show something at he 850 mb vorticity, but the CMC is the only one I found that shows a closed low at the surface. Unless I missed something.

and the GFS and the NAM (NAM weaker with the system)
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570. WPBHurricane05
9:32 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
ULL's can be deceiving......
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568. kmanislander
1:29 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
For those of you who think nothing may be going on in the tropics RAMSDIS has it eye on the NW Caribbean as do some of us posting here. Take note of the wind barbs over Jamaica and the Caymans

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567. sporteguy03
1:20 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
I thought Dr.Masters said the tropics were quiet but there are model runs of development? What will happen to that front pushing south thru Florida? Will it fizzle out? If something was trying to develop it would not make it to Florida since it can cross fronts right? Now is it possible something could develop off the front in the Gulf and the models are picking up on that since dying fronts can produce tropical systems?
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566. V26R
1:24 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
You shuld post it JP
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563. hurricane23
9:12 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Thanks guys...It got to dangerous so i had to stop recording.
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560. V26R
1:11 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Cool Video Adrian
Very Cool!
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558. stormwatcher247
1:07 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Pressures dropping in the western caribbean
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557. hurricane23
9:03 PM EDT on June 13, 2007
Misterperfect check this video out i recored today from the crazy lighting moving threw my area earlier today.

Put your spearkers up on your pc if possible.

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553. V26R
1:01 AM GMT on June 14, 2007
Anyone know when this ULL is going to get bounced off the NE so we can have some nice weather?
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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