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Super Tuesday Tornado Outbreak: Five Years Later

By: Nick Wiltgen | TWC
Published: February 5, 2013

Atkins, AR.

Atkins, AR.

Getty Images

Michelle Boatright inspects the damage to a pickup truck the morning after a tornado ripped through the town February 6, 2008 in Atkins, Arkansas. (Photo by Rick Gershon/Getty Images)

  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, Ar.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Atkins, AR.
  • Lafayette, TN.
  • Lafayette, TN.
  • Lafayette, TN.
  • Lafayette, TN.
  • Lafayette, TN.
  • Lafayette, TN.
  • Jackson, TN.
  • Jackons, TN.
  • Jackons, TN.
  • Jackson, TN.
  • Jackson, TN.
  • Memphis, TN.
  • Memphis, TN.
  • Memphis, TN.
  • Memphis, TN.
  • Memphis, TN.
  • Memphis, TN.
  • Memphis, TN.

Tuesday marks the fifth anniversary of the largest February tornado outbreak in U.S. history.

The "Super Tuesday" outbreak, so called because 24 states were holding caucuses and primary elections for the 2008 presidential campaign, cut a swath across 10 states on Feb. 5-6, 2008.

A total of 86 tornadoes touched down, five of which were classified as "violent" EF4 tornadoes on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

Ten killer tornadoes in this outbreak took a total of 57 lives, making it the deadliest tornado outbreak since May 31, 1985, though this grim toll has since been overshadowed by the much larger death tolls suffered in 2011. Of those 57 fatalities, 51 were caused by tornadoes rated EF3 or EF4 in intensity.

(IN PHOTOS:  April 2011 Super Outbreak | May 2011 Joplin tornado)

Among the notable tornadoes in the Super Tuesday outbreak:

  • An EF4 tornado tore a 122-mile track across north-central Arkansas, killing 13 people and injuring 139. This was the longest single tornado track in Arkansas since detailed tornado records began in 1950.
  • An EF2 tornado ripped across the south and southeast sides of the Memphis metropolitan area shortly after sunset, causing 3 deaths. A local television station's tower camera broadcast the tornado live during an evening newscast.
  • An EF4 tornado caused severe damage in Jackson, Tenn., striking the Union University campus directly. Fifty-one people were hurt, but a 2009 NOAA assessment credited timely National Weather Service warnings and the university's "detailed, practiced plan" with preventing any loss of life.

As of November 2012, The Weather Channel severe weather expert Dr. Greg Forbes ranked the Super Tuesday outbreak as the seventh-worst overall in U.S. history, and second only to the 2011 Super Outbreak among 21st-century tornado events.

To compare outbreaks, Dr. Forbes uses formula accounts for the number of tornadoes, their intensity, deaths, injuries, damage, and other tornado parameters such as total path length and tornadoes per hour, and adjusts these variables for factors such as inflation and changes in tornado reporting.

(MORE:  Top 10 Weather Anniversaries of 2013)

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