THIS IS A LONG ARTICLE, but we trust that you will like if you’re a weather buff. Enjoy!
The “Super Tuesday” tornado outbreak of February 2008 got its name because a number of states were holding their presidential primaries on that day.
The volatile weather system produced the greatest number of tornadoes on record for a February outbreak.
The set up included an unseasonably warm and humid air mass in place, a deep upper trough, and a surface cold front.
Wind shear was high, much more so than usual for February, with low-level winds a few thousand above ground level at 70 mph while mid-level winds were blowing from the west at 90 mph. This made a favorable set-up for rotating thunderstorms…and tornadoes.
By late afternoon on the 5th, the atmosphere had become extremely unstable and a few supercells began to form ahead of the cold front.
There was a large “tongue” of warm and moist air in place over much of the mid-South ahead of the cold front, and this fed into the developing tornadic storms, allowing them to maintain themselves for a long time.
The tornadoes raced across the mid-south and Tennessee Valley states at an average speed of 55-mph…but despite this, the National Weather Service was able to issue warnings on every tornado before deaths took place with an average warning lead time of 17 minutes through the outbreak.
The outbreak produced the 87 tornadoes across nine states: There were five violent EF4 tornadoes, five EF3 tornadoes, and 15 EF2 tornadoes among them. All of the tornado deaths, of which there were 57, took place in a 12-hour period that began around 5p.m. on the 5th and ended at 5 a.m. on the 6th.
Tennessee had the greatest death count at 31, followed by Arkansas with 14 lost to the storms, and all occurred at the hand of EF2 or greater intensity twisters. The longest-track tornado of the entire event, 122 miles for an EF4, is an Arkansas state record for a continuous tornado path.
Damage estimates were pegged at half a billion dollars. NWS and SPC data used in this report.
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