National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Socioeconomic Changes Along the Tornado’s Path

Central Mississippi, and the Jackson metropolitan area in particular, was a much different place in 1966 than today. As an example, the interstate system as we know it today did not exist. Interstate 55 was in place north and south of Jackson, but the part through the city of Jackson had not yet been opened. Additionally, Interstate 20, the main east-west corridor through the Jackson area, had not yet been built. The large business, housing and urban areas of Rankin County, such as Castlewoods, River Oaks, Dogwood, etc. were non-existent 40 years ago, and were still mainly rural farming areas.

Even the areas of Jackson proper that were impacted by the Candlestick Park tornado were much different in 1966. The area of south Jackson around Candlestick Park Shopping Center and south Jackson were more sparsely populated, and was more of a “border area” between the city of Jackson and rural Hinds county. Today, this area is much more urbanized, with extensive housing development particularly in the area north and northeast of Candlestick Park.

The information currently available makes it impossible to plot the tornado’s path with precise certainty, yet it seems clear that the socioeconomic differences between 1966 and today would yield much more destruction if a similar tornado occurred in present times. While the exact path down to the tenths of a mile is not certain, it seems very likely that the tornado moved parallel and just to the south of what is now Highway 25 (Lakeland Drive). Homes and businesses in the area around River Oaks, Dogwood, the north side of Jackson International Airport, and Castlewoods, lie in or near where the tornado moved through. As was mentioned above, the area just northeast of Candlestick Park in south Jackson is also more heavily populated today than it was 40 years ago as well.

Furthermore, the time of day during which this tornado occurred would be particularly dangerous. The tornado was moving through the Jackson metropolitan area between 430 pm and 5 pm, during the afternoon rush hour time period. If this tornado had occurred today, the tornado would have been moving near the “Stack” area just south of downtown Jackson where Interstates 20 and 55 converge. The tornado would have also been passing near the heavily trafficked areas along Highway 80, Flowood Drive, and Lakeland Drive in Flowood. Numerous casualties may very well have occurred to people in vehicles in all of these areas.

Clearly, a violent tornado moving along this same path would be even more catastrophic from a damage perspective today than it was in 1966. While advanced meteorological technology and science, as well as improved communications, would almost certainly yield more precise warning information to the public today, the increase in population and infrastructure along the path might result in as many, or even more, casualties today than in 1966.

As an example, the F5 tornado which impacted the far western part of the Birmingham Alabama metro area, on April 8, 1998, can be used as a comparison. In spite of tornado warnings for this storm which, on average, were issued farther in advance than an average tornado warnng in the U.S. is today, 32 people were killed by this violent tornado. Furthermore, this tornado was only on the ground for 31 miles, less than half the path length of the Candlestick Park tornado's path through the most heavily damaged counties of Hinds, Rankin, Scott, Leake, and Neshoba. The 1998 Alabama F5 dissipated before moving into the most heavily populated parts of the Birmingham area, while the Candlestick Park tornado moved through areas which today contain some of the densest residential and business sections of the Jackson metro area.

These facts remind us of the danger posed by these strongest of storms, violent F4 and F5 tornadoes. While they are rare, less than 3 percent of all tornadoes are violent, they can produce tremendous damage and casualties. Mississippians should prepare in advance for tornado activity by having safty plans, purchasing NOAA All-Hazards weather radios, and keeping informed on weather conditions so you can ber alert for conditions favorable for tornadoes. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is currently working with local Emergency Managers on a grant program to help communities and home owners build storm shelters and safe rooms, which are the only safe place during a violent tornado.