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Photos capture devastation of deadly Super Tuesday tornado outbreak on 10th anniversary

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
February 05, 2018, 11:52:59 AM EST

Ten years ago on Super Tuesday, a violent tornado outbreak erupted across southern United States, killing 57 people, injuring hundreds and destroying thousands of buildings.

The outbreak occurred on Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, 2008, while 24 U.S. states were holding primary elections and caucuses to select candidates for the upcoming presidential election.

According to a report by the National Weather Service (NWS), the outbreak went down as the second deadliest February tornado event since record-keeping began in 1950. Also, it was the largest outbreak since May 31, 1985.

The storm broke many records, including the longest-tracking tornado to date. A tornado touched down for a continuous 122-mile track through north-central Arkansas. That is the longest single track since record-keeping began in 1950.

Over the course of the outbreak, 87 tornadoes touched down and five were classified as EF4 tornadoes on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee were among the affected states in which primaries were being held. Some voting locations were forced to close early due to the approaching severe weather.

"Most people died in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, because they were the biggest cities impacted," AccuWeather Meteorologist Bob Smerkbeck said.

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The outbreak's rampage lasted over 15 hours from the afternoon of Feb. 5 until the early morning of Feb. 6. The storm system produced several destructive tornadoes in heavily populated areas, most notably in the northeastern end of the Nashville metropolitan area and the Memphis metropolitan area in Jackson, Tennessee.

"All the pieces for severe weather came together for this outbreak. La Niña fed the jet stream energy across lower Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys needed to sustain supercell thunderstorms. The surface storm caused a warm and humid southerly flow from the Gulf of Mexico for severe thunderstorm fuel," Smerkbeck said.

A strong to moderate La Niña pattern was underway, which causes a stronger-than-average jet stream across the southern U.S.

A squall line formed in the early morning from east Texas northward into Missouri and then it moved east.

"The atmospheric cap ahead of the squall line took longer than expected to break, which allowed the atmosphere to heat up and become ready to explode in the afternoon across Arkansas and southern Missouri where thunderstorms produced tornadoes," Smerbeck said.

Out of the 87 tornadoes, 31 were rated as EF0, 30 were rated as EF1, 16 were rated as EF2, five were rated as EF3 and five were rated as EF4.

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