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A Look Back at the Super Tuesday Tornado Outbreak

2-5-2013 9-26-10 AMToday marks the five year anniversary of one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks that occurred across the Southeast and Lower Ohio River Valley. On February 5-6, 2008, eighty-seven tornadoes occurred during a fifteen hour event that impacted ten states. It was on a Tuesday like today and was called the Super Tuesday tornado outbreak, because twenty-four states were holding primary elections and caucuses for the presidential election later that year. Some voting locations did have to close early because of the threat of severe weather. Tornadoes were not the only threat that day, as hail larger than softballs, damaging straight-line winds and flooding were reported too, all of which can now be alerted for by MyWARN.

This event was a typical severe weather outbreak that occurs every year in the United States. Warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico moved north into the Tennessee Valley providing instability. An intense low pressure system over the Plains provided shear and dynamics, and a strong cold front, providing uplift, began to move east into the warm air.  All these ingredients came together over the region and severe weather developed.2-5-2013 8-46-38 AM

The weather system that was responsible for the outbreak was well forecasted in advance. On February 3, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had already outlined a large area of the Southeast in a slight risk for severe weather on the 5th. By the 4th, the risk had been upgraded to a moderate risk, for much of the area that would be affected by severe weather.  On the morning of the 5th, the SPC upgraded the moderate risk to high risk over portions of eastern Arkansas, West Tennessee, and North Mississippi as seen in the convective outlook from that morning. MyWARN would have alerted users in the affected region first thing that morning to the threat that would unfold later in the day and into the overnight hours.

The morning started off with a strong squall line from Missouri down into Texas. As the day continued to progress, supercell thunderstorms developed out ahead of the main line. Many of these supercells produced large and violent tornadoes. These tornadoes ravaged numerous communities and impacted some larger metropolitan areas, debunking the myth that tornadoes avoid larger cities. Memphis, Nashville and Jackson, Tennessee all had damage from confirmed tornadoes. One of the hardest and most impacted locations was Jackson, Tennessee, where an EF4 tornado ripped through the campus of Union University. 2-5-2013 10-01-36 AM A majority of the buildings on campus sustained significant damage. This is an image of what was left of one of the dorms that was destroyed by the storm. Numerous students were trapped in the debris for several hours, but no one on campus lost their life. If your child was away at college, would you want peace of mind knowing your child would receive important severe weather alerts like MyWARN provides.

Another reason this event was so dangerous, was the worst of the weather impacted areas beginning during rush hour, on a day when most people weren’t going straight home as many headed out to vote. Plus, the outbreak continued into the overnight hours and actually produced early morning tornadoes in Alabama. Despite the advance notice of the threat, 57 individuals lost their lives during this event. Most of the fatalities happened with storms that produced large violent tornadoes that developed after 10 PM.  Overnight remains one of the most dangerous and deadliest times that severe weather can hit. Many people are asleep and more often than not, do not hear the warnings or rely on outdoor warning sirens, which as the name states, are to alert people outdoors. It remains extremely important for persons to have multiple sources of severe weather alerts, especially during night time events. Make MyWARN one of these sources. Most people have cell phones now, with a majority of cell phones being smartphones. You need to invest in a smartphone app that will alert you when you are directly threatened; you need to invest in MyWARN. When MyWARN alerts you, it is time to take action.

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