Super Tuesday Tornadoes Tear Through U.S. Mid-South

February 7, 2008

More than two dozen tornadoes tore through the mid-South late Tuesday night, destroying homes, barns, and industrial buildings from Texas to Ohio. The severe thunderstorm outbreak, which included tornadoes, hail, heavy rain and lightning, killed more than 50 people and injured more than 100 more.

“Tuesday’s severe weather was caused by a strong, developing low pressure system that moved out of east Texas during the day,” said Dr. Tim Doggett, senior research meteorologist at AIR Worldwide. “As the system moved into the Mississippi Valley, cold air from the plains was drawn southward. It clashed with the warm, humid air ahead of the system, triggering a cold front. The resulting cold front caused widespread thunderstorm formation in the middle of unstable air feeding in from the Gulf of Mexico. A dynamic jet stream located above the system provided the wind shear that fueled the numerous tornadoes.”

The Storm Prediction Center has collected more than 70 reports of tornadoes, though the actual number of individual events is probably fewer. AIR meteorologists analyzed the SPC data and, based on time/space continuity of the reports, defined 25 individual tornadoes. In addition to the tornado reports, the SPC has recorded near 200 reports of straight-line winds and 112 reports of hail. There were several reports of hailstones the size of softballs (4.25 inches).

In Tennessee, which suffered the worst damage, 15 students at Union University were trapped in their dormitories as shattered window and ceiling debris from a hard-hitting tornado prevented their escape. Approximately 40 percent of student housing buildings were destroyed, and classes at the university have been canceled for the next two weeks for cleanup.

In Jackson, Tennessee, collapsed wreckage trapped 50 residents inside a retirement home.Tuesday’s tornadoes also pulled a roof off a hangar at the international airport in Memphis. Forty miles outside Nashville, a tornado that struck a compressor station set off a natural gas fire that could be seen in the sky for miles around. The blaze was put out early Wednesday morning.

In Arkansas, a tornado that touched down overturned trucks on Interstate 40. Thirty homes were destroyed in Atkins, prompting the Red Cross to put up shelters. Officials in Gassville, Ark., sealed off the entire town after concerns that storm-related gas leaks would result in an explosion. A damaged hospital in Mountain View was forced to close its emergency room.

In Muhlenberg County in western Kentucky, storms killed at least three people at a mobile home park. Meanwhile, a downpour that started in Evansville, Ky., Tuesday at 9 p.m. flooded major roads, causing street crews to barricade road access. Officials in surrounding counties reported heavy rains, downed trees and additional flooding.

To the west, in Lafayette, Mo., two industrial buildings, several homes and a church were destroyed by tornado winds, and in Ozark, there were reports of softball-sized hail.

Heavy downpours prompted officials in Indiana to open the floodgates on Carroll County’s Oakdale Dam, freeing excess water at a rate of 18,000 cubic feet per second.

In Mississippi, the Emergency Management Agency estimated that 20 to 30 tornadoes pummeled the state in areas above the state capital of Jackson. A tornado damaged more than 30 homes at Fort Riley in Kansas.

Source: AIR Worldwide

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