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February 6, 2008

Tornado Outbreak Slams Six States

Posted: 11:04 AM ET

Yesterday, CNN was fully focused on the biggest day of the Presidential Primary season, with all-out coverage from 24 states, when another drama quickly unfolded, bringing tragedy to six U.S. states.  

In the midst of the Best Political Team on Television was meteorologist Chad Myers, bringing in rapid-fire reports of tornadoes - North of Little Rock, on the southern outskirts of Memphis, in Kentucky; Jackson, Tennessee; and more.

As rescue crews poke through the wreckage, the final death toll still isn't in.  CNN crews that were hustling on Super Tuesday coverage yesterday have already changed gears to covering the aftermath.  There's also a "slight" risk of strong storms and tornadoes today as the storm system moves east, with the area of greatest risk covering much of the state of Virginia.

Yesterday, CNN's weather team followed the advisories from the Storm Prediction Center, citing a "high" risk of severe weather centered around Arkansas and Western Tennessee.  Mid-afternoon, the SPC extended the high risk zone almost all the way up to Indianapolis.  "High" risk days generally only happen five or six times a year, according to CNN Weather Producer Sean Morris.  And rarely do they happen in early February.

But virtually no area of the U.S. - or any part of the calendar year - is absolutely tornado-proof.  In 2007, a weak tornado became the first ever recorded in Brooklyn.  Alaska has a tornado history, but not a very long one.

A website called The Tornado Project has an amazing list of every reported tornado to hit the U.S., broken down county-by-county, since 1950.  Check it out.

Covering the ruin and misery in the wake of a tornado isn't any fun, but it's essential to what we do here.  Even in an awful story like this one, there's a moment where we can feel good about our jobs.  When a political leader starts a sentence with the words "The news media...." we've come to expect that we're in for some criticism.  But this morning on CNN, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said "The news media saved lives" by getting out the word about severe storms.  Better forecasting, intense media coverage of weather, and the advent of home "Weather Alert" radios are three reasons that deaths from tornadoes are way down in recent years.

- Peter Dykstra, executive producer,  CNN Sci-Tech (and Weather, too)

Filed under: Politics • Severe weather

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