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Super Tuesday Outbreak damage surveys find five EF-4 tornadoes

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 10:21 PM GMT on February 07, 2008

Residents of the South continue to mourn the dead and clean up the tremendous destruction wrought by the Super Tuesday tornado outbreak. Tennessee suffered the most, with 33 dead, 189 injured, and at least 525 homes destroyed. Damage surveys indicate that at least five of this week's tornadoes were violent EF-4's on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with winds of 166-200 mph. The tornado that hit Jackson, Tennessee, causing $40 million in damage to Union University, was rated an EF-4. Another Tennessee tornado that hit the Morris Chapel area, killing three mobile home residents, was also rated EF-4. Northern Alabama suffered two EF-4's--one that hit Rosalie on Wednesday, killing one person, and a second tornado that hit Moulton, killing four and injuring 25. In Arkansas, an EF-4 tornado cut a 120-mile damage swath through the northern part of the state. Thirteen people died in this tornado, including four people in Atkins, and seven in Clinton. The NWS office in Little Rock has an excellent web page summarizing the Arkansas storms, complete with radar animations and jet stream graphics.

At least seven other tornadoes from the outbreak have been rated EF-3, according to the excellent Wikipedia page on the event. The Memphis metropolitan area was affected by an EF-2 and an EF-3 twister, and an EF-2 tornado hit the northeastern end of the Nashville metropolitan area.

Figure 1. Preliminary tornado tracks and death toll from the Super Tuesday tornado outbreak. Image credit: NOAA Storm Prediction Center.

Figure 2. Damage near Mountain View, Arkansas, along the 120-mile long track of the EF-4 tornado that swept through Clinton and Atkins. Image credit: wunderphotographer dennisearle.

The total death toll currently stands at 59, across five states and 19 counties, with hundreds of others injured. The outbreak is the deadliest in the U.S. since the May 31, 1985 outbreak that killed 76 across Ohio and Pennsylvania (and also 12 in Ontario, Canada). This week's outbreak was also the deadliest tornado outbreak in Kentucky since the April 3, 1974 Super Outbreak. In Arkansas, the 14 fatalities is the most since 25 were killed during the Benton, Arkansas Tornado Outbreak on March 1, 1997. Only one other February tornado outbreak in the past century compares to the Super Tuesday outbreak--the great February 21, 1971 Mississippi Valley outbreak, which left 119 dead across the South.

Record heat helped fuel the tornadoes
Record high temperature readings were recorded at 94 airports in 18 states across southeastern portion of the U.S. on Tuesday, according the the National Climatic Data Center. The spring-like warmth, when contrasted with the very wintry conditions on the other side of the strong cold front that pushed through the region on Super Tuesday, helped to fuel the formidable tornadoes observed.

As new damage surveys come in, I'll update this blog.

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet
Sunday at 8pm EST (9pm PST), there promises to be an interesting show on the National Geographic Channel called Six Degrees, which explores what might happen to the Earth for each degree of warming up to six degrees centigrade. The program is based on the book by Mark Lynas, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (London: Fourth Estate, 2007). According to a review of this book posted by climate scientist Eric Steig at realclimate.org, "Mark Lynas will no doubt be pleased that I very much like the book. To be sure, it is alarming, but the question of whether it is alarmist is a more difficult one..."

Jeff Masters
Mt. View, Arkansas Storm Damage Feb 5th 08
Mt. View, Arkansas Storm Damage Feb 5th 08
Traveling along East Main Street, past the Hospital...
Tornado Damage
Tornado Damage
Damage from the tornado that came through Greenville, Ky on Feb. 5, 2008.

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