Five years after storms killed hundreds across the Southeast, scientists hope lessons learned can save lives in the future

A truck lies overturned next to the pavement in the neighborhood along Cherokee Valley Rd. in Ringgold, Ga., on Thursday. The area was laid to waste by a tornado Wednesday night.

It took the deadliest tornado outbreak in modern history to shatter the false sense of security among Chattanooga area residents - even meteorologists.

In the Tennessee Valley, where 81 people lost their lives five years ago, many believed the mountains would protect them from violent twisters. Even scientists thought they understood how tornadoes were formed, that technology was sophisticated enough to warn people far enough in advance.

"We thought warnings were getting so good that this could never happen again," said Erik Rasmussen, the project manager for VORTEX Southeast, a newly funded federal project to study tornadoes in the South.