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Tornado outbreak is possibly the deadliest in 37 years

The nation's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., reports that tornadoes this year have already claimed more lives than all of last year, possibly making this the deadliest tornado outbreak since the 1974.

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"That event did not catch anyone by surprise, but I think everyone is still stunned to see the results," Dixon told OurAmazingPlanet.

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Deadly Dixie

A Dixie Alley tornado does not need to be big to be deadly.

Unlike the flat, grass-covered plains of Tornado Alley, tornadoes are hard to see in Dixie Alley. Trees and hilly terrain obscure funnel clouds, a problem made even worse by the region's high rate of nighttime tornadoes.

Often, tornadoes can be cloaked in rain, hiding even the most massive twisters.

To make matters worse, Dixie Alley is home to many manufactured houses and mobile homes that have weak walls and poor or non-existent foundations. Before last night, more than half of this year's tornado-related deaths had occurred in mobile homes.

Historic outbreaks

Before yesterday's storms, the biggest outbreak this year was in North Carolina, where tornadoes killed 24 people , all from a single April outbreak. That was the deadliest outbreak since the "Super Tuesday" storms of February 2008, when 57 people died in Dixie Alley.

In 2008, during a season among the all-time highest for number of tornadoes, 126 people were killed. This year's tornado season has already topped that total. As staggering as these death tolls are, they've been dramatically reduced in recent years due to better forecasting and warnings.

Mike Smith, chief executive officer of Weather Data Services, a part of AccuWeather, believes that at least 100 lives were saved by the warnings before a massive EF-4 tornado — the strongest of the year so far — struck near St. Louis on Good Friday (April 22). Some of the tornadoes from the outbreak yesterday are speculated to also be EF-4s.

Reach OurAmazingPlanet staff writer Brett Israel at Follow him on Twitter@btisrael.

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