1971 had been a relatively mild winter east of the Mississippi. Many areas had been bathed in warmth and humidity for much of February. Such was the situation on the morning of February 21. Meanwhile bitter cold that had been locked in the Artic hinterlands of Canada was finally able to break free as the jet stream, that up to the point in the winter has remained far north, finally plunged southward. As the brutal cold moved into the nation’s heartland it came into direct conflict with the early springtime conditions. In areas where the cold became quickly established snow developed and tuned into an all-out blizzard. By the morning of February 22, 1-3 feet of snow-covered areas from Texas to Iowa, including drifts to 20 feet high. But the most violent impact of the clash of airmasses occurred in the warm sector where a vicious tornado outbreak killed 212 people. Three long track tornados accounted for all but three of the deaths. The longest track of a single tornado was more than 200 miles long from Louisiana-Mississippi boarder to Tennessee during the mid-day hours of February 21. The other two twisters had tracks of 90 and 70 miles. The outbreak ended on the night of February 21 as the arctic cold swept rapidly across the region and eventually off the east coast ending the severe weather threat.
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