This Day in History: “Super Tuesday” Tornado Breakout.

On this day 14 years ago, thunderstorms woke many people in northern Alabama in the early hours of Tuesday morning. A series of supercell thunderstorms swept through the Midsouth and Southeast on February 5-6, 2008, creating severe tornado-producing storms.

The key ingredients for thunderstorm development were in place, including moisture, a source of buoyancy, and instability. This combination was ideal for long-lived supercells capable of generating tornadic activity. Unfortunately, these severe storms passed through the area during the early hours of February 6th. The storms hit between 3am and 5:30am when most were asleep. Below is a look at the timeline for the four tornadoes that made landfall in northern Alabama.

3:00 a.m.: The first long-track tornado lands

EF-4 tornado making landfall in Lawrence County

The first tornado to land in the early hours of the morning was an EF-4. At 3 a.m. it landed near the township of Pinhook, north of Bankhead National Park, and took off near the township of Trinty, west of Decatur. This long-tracked tornado was on the ground for 20 minutes and had peak winds of about 170 mph.

In the 20 minutes it was on the ground, this tornado caused a nearly 17-mile damage trajectory; 14 miles in Lawrence County and 2.7 miles in Morgan County. This tornado claimed four lives and injured many. Numerous homes sustained significant structural damage, including a 2300 sq ft/two-story brick home that was nearly leveled from its foundation.

4:00 a.m.: Short tornado landed

EF-0 tornado that made landfall in Cullman County

At 4 a.m., a second tornado made brief landfall in a wooded area in Cullman County. This tornado was only a few minutes on the ground and traveled just under half a mile. Fortunately, uprooted trees were the main damage as the tornado landed in a wooded area. Peak winds were about 60 miles per hour and uprooted trees were directly east of Dodge City.

4:45 a.m.: Short tornado landed

EF-1 tornado making landfall in Marshall County

A third tornado made brief landfall in Marshall County around 4:45 a.m. Fortunately, similar to the other short Cullman County touchdown, there were no fatalities or injuries. This EF-1 tornado had peak wind gusts of 90 mph, with most of the damage occurring near US Highway 431 northeast of Guntersville. The damage trail was just over a tenth of a mile in length and included fallen or uprooted trees, minor roof damage to storage sheds, and the destruction of an unanchored carport.

5:17 a.m.: The last and most intense tornado made landfall

EF-4 Tornado landed in Jackson County

The last and most intense tornado that day was a long-tracked EF-4 tornado that made landfall in Jackson County. The tornado made landfall at around 5:17 a.m. and stayed on the ground for 17 minutes, leaving a trail of damage nearly 11 miles long. This tornado’s peak winds were 180 miles per hour, making it the strongest tornado to make landfall in northern Alabama.

Most of the damage occurred at the corner of County Roads 60 and 177 between the townships of Rosalie and Pisgah in east Jackson County. Several houses were swept from their foundations, trees were uprooted and even shredded, and several large hailstones were blown or thrown apart. This EF-4 tornado resulted in two fatalities and several injuries.

Summary of the tornado outbreak

This event lasted 12 hours and caused severe weather in five states; Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. A total of 87 tornadoes landed during this event, 10 of which were an EF-3 or higher. Half of these tornadoes were an EF3 and half an EF4. 87 people died that day, including six here in northern Alabama.

Tornadoes are possible at any time of the year in the Tennessee Valley, but are most common during the spring months. Looking at the bar chart above, a total of 37 tornadoes occurred for the month of February between 1950 and 2019. The rarity of such a devastating tornadic outbreak during the winter months should underscore the importance of severe weather awareness and safety. It’s important to have a plan in case a storm should strike.

About Mike Crayton

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