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What is a Tornado? Back to homepage

A tornado is one of nature's most violent storms. It is a violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground. Tornadoes vary greatly in size, intensity and appearance. Tornado winds can range from less than 100 mph to in excess of 200 mph with the stronger tornadoes. The time tornadoes stay on the ground can also vary from a quick touch down that does little or no damage to one that stays on the ground for several hours and destroys nearly everything in its path.

Tornado Climatology

Historically, November has been a very active month for severe weather and tornadoes. The graph below shows the two peaks in tornadoes across Mississippi.

 

While statistics show the majority of tornadoes occur during the afternoon (around peak heating) across the United States, that is not always the case for us in the South and especially across Mississippi. Certain seasons tend to favor when tornadoes are most likely to occur, illustrated by the above graph showing the two peaks in tornado activity. You can see from the image below that weaker tornadoes (EF0 to EF1) do mostly occur during daylight hours. However, the strong to violent (EF2 to EF5) tornadoes are nearly equal when it comes to day vs night occurrences.

 

If we investigate further and look at data over the last 20 years and view it by month, we can see that tornadoes that occur in November strongly favor nighttime occurrence. This nighttime trend continues, although not as strong, for Dec-Jan with the trend switching to more daytime occurrence by February which lasts through the remainder of the year. These tornado occurrences at night show a vulnerability to the population. Tornadoes during this time tornadoes are hard to see/confirm making people less aware and more likely to not act or take cover when threatened.

 

 

Tornado Terms to Know

 

Tornado Watch

Tornado Warning

Tornado Emergency

Conditions are favorable in the atmosphere for the development of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. A tornado has been sighted by a spotter or rotation has been detected on radar.

Environmental conditions are favorable for the development of a strong or violent tornado, or

radar shows indications of a strong/violent tornado as seen by a debris ball or tornadic debris signature, or

report of significant damage or that a large tornado is on the ground.

Remain alert for signs of threatening weather and make preliminary plans for action. Take immediate action to protect yourself.  Do not wait for visual confirmation of a tornado as this may take time away from seeking proper shelter! Take immediate action to protect yourself and your life.

 

Tornado Drill on Wednesday, October 25th.

 

This will be conducted at 9:15 am, using the Routine Weekly Test through NOAA Weather Radio All-Hazards. We strongly encourage local emergency managers, school officials, businesses, and home owners to participate in this drill. The best way to learn what to do when severe weather approaches is to practice when the weather is not threatening.

Click here for more information on how to prepare your organization, workplace, or church for a tornado.

Tornado Safety Guidelines

  • In homes or small buildings, go to the basement or to an interior room, interior hall, or to small rooms such as a closet or bathroom on the lowest level. Put on a helmet to protect your head from flying debris. If you do not have a helmet, use a blanket, couch cushion, pillow, mattress, or other item that will provide more protection than simply your hands.
  • In schools, nursing homes, hospitals and shopping centers, go to a pre-designated shelter area. Interior hallways on the lowest floor are usually best. Stay away from large windows or glassed areas. Also, stay away from large rooms like dining halls or gymnasiums because they usually have weakly supported roofs.
  • If you are in mobile homes or a vehicle, leave it and go to a substantial structure. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, gully, or culvert with your hands shielding your head. However, this may not be a good option if heavy rain is falling.
  • Stay away from windows. Do not bother opening them. Opening windows will not protect the structure but will in fact lead to more damage if hit by a tornado. Also, you will just waste time and put yourself and possibly others at greater risk. Use those valuable few seconds to find safety.

Remember, tornadoes form very quickly and may occur with little or no advanced warning. You may have only a few seconds to find shelter. When a tornado threatens, your immediate action can save your life. Take the time during Severe Weather Preparedness Week to teach your children or your co-workers about tornadoes. Show them the best shelter areas in your home or business.

    

Notable Fall/Winter Tornado Events

  • December 5, 1953 - 3 tornadoes occurred across Mississippi, with two in the current NWS Jackson coverage area. One was an F3 in northeast Louisiana and southeast Arkansas and was on the ground for 57 miles. The strongest tornado was an F5 which struck Vicksburg, MS around 5PM. The tornado was only on the ground for 7 miles total. Over $25 million ($200 million in 2013 dollars) in damages occurred. This tornado is more widely known as the Vicksburg Tornado. 38 fatalities occurred, which are the most fatalities of any tornado or tornado event in the month of December. A majority of the fatalities in one location were in Saenger Theatre, which was mostly destroyed. 270 injuries also occurred. For more, check out the event summary.
  • November 21-22, 1992 - Large tornado outbreak, 14 total tornadoes with 1 long track F4 (128 miles), 5th longest. This tornado is more widely known as the Brandon Tornado. A total of 15 fatalities occurred during that horrific night. For more, check out the event summary.
  • November 24, 2001 - Large tornado outbreak, 14 total tornadoes, 2 F4s and 2F3s. One of the F4s was the Fairfield Tornado. A total of 7 fatalities occurred across the region that early morning -Event Summary
  • November 10-11, 2002 - Veterans Day Outbreak, MS was on the southern end of the event but still had 7 total tornadoes - Event Summary
  • November 24, 2004 - Large tornado outbreak, 21 total tornadoes, 1 fatality - Event Summary
  • November 15, 2006 - Tornado event across southeast MS, 2 F3s - Event Summary
  • February 5, 2008 - Significant, deadly regional outbreak of tornadoes across the South and Ohio Valley. Over 50 deaths occurred across the outbreak region. While most of the tornadoes occurred north of Mississippi, there were 12 tornadoes in north and central Mississippi. The strongest was an EF3 that went through Lafayette County. For more: event summary from NWS Jackson.
  • November 29-30, 2010 - Tornado event with 13 total tornadoes - Event Summary
  • October 17-18, 2012 - Early fall tornado event with a rare October EF3 tornado - Event Summary
  • December 25, 2012 - A significant regional tornado outbreak occurred on Christmas Day. 5 tornadoes occurred in Mississippi, with the strongest being an EF3 that was on the ground for 61 miles through southeast Mississippi. Overall, 20 injuries occurred from tornadoes that day. Here is the event summary from NWS Jackson and NWS New Orleans.
  • December 23, 2014 - A significant regional tornado outbreak occurred on just two days before Christmas. 5 tornadoes occurred in Mississippi, with the strongest being an EF3 that was on the ground for 12 miles through southeast Mississippi, including the city of Columbia. Overall, 5 fatalities occurred, with 3 being from the EF3 in Columbia and 2 from EF2 near Laurel. 50 injuries occurred from tornadoes that day. Five fatalities were the highest number for an event in December since the 1953 Vicksburg F5 tornado. Here is the event summary from NWS Jackson.
  • December 23, 2015 - A significant tornado outbreak occurred again just two days before Christmas. An EF3 and an EF4 tornado tore across northern Mississippi, resulting in 11 fatalities and 64 injuries. Other weaker tornadoes also occurred. Later, on Christmas Day, an EF0 tornado struck Smith County and an EF1 tornado affected Covington County just three days after Christmas. Here's a brief summary via NWS Jackson.
  • January 21, 2017 - An EF3 tornado tore through Hattiesburg and Petal during the early morning hours, resulting in dozens of injuries and four fatalities. Here's a brief summary via NWS Jackson