Dixie Tornado Alley: Just Another Stormy Day in Mississippi

A frightening sight!

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Mississippi and Stormy Weather




I live in Jackson, the relatively small capital city of Mississippi, and this is the third period of time I’ve lived here. I moved back to this state in 1996 after living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex for eight years. Although a network of good friends who seemed almost like family made my Texas years happy ones, as a retired senior citizen I want to spend as much time as possible with my actual family members, many of whom live in this area. They are my only motivation for remaining here in my retirement years, as I'm not a cheerleader for the state of Mississippi. I particularly don't like the climate and overabundance of severe weather (storms and tornadoes).

There are two general “storm seasons” in the area: spring and fall. One of these coincides with hurricane season, and when strong hurricanes, such as Katrina, hit the coastline and come inland, they still pack quite a punch by the time they reach Jackson. Considering the devastation Katrina caused to New Orleans, Mobile and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I'm not going to complain about not having electricity for weeks.

The more frequent severe weather threat in this city is tornado activity. Jackson is in the path of two distinct tornado alleys, both of which cross the Mississippi River traveling from the southwest to the northeast. One path is from Shreveport, in northeast Louisiana, across the river to Vicksburg and on to Jackson before moving toward Oxford in the northern part of the state. The other path moves across the big river at Natchez, on to McComb in southwest Mississippi (the small town where I was born), up through the Jackson area and on to Tupelo.

One bad factor about tornadoes is they aren’t only spawned by hurricanes, and—in the south—they aren’t confined to the spring and fall storm seasons. Strong thunderstorms can happen any time of year in Mississippi, especially since we have short mild winters and long hot humid summers. Violent thunderstorms spawn tornadoes also, and thunderstorms are prevalent here. There have been tornadoes just before or after the holiday season. While other parts of the country are experiencing the picture postcard beauty of snow (okay...the cold and inconvenient aspects of it as well), it may be approaching 70 degrees Fahrenheit with "muggy" uncomfortable humidity. That's generally a warning sign that storms may be on the way. Another is the discomfort of sinus pressure. Most people who live here can tell what the weather is going to do without a barometer because of the pressure and pain emanating from their sinus cavities!

These strong thunderstorms form in warm humid air east or south of advancing cool air, or a cold front. When conditions are just right—moisture in lower atmospheric levels, unstable air rising from the warmer ground and an advancing mass of cooler air with which the warm air clashes—strong thunderstorms form, fed by the warm humid air blowing into the storms.

The “line of thunderstorms” that our local weather people refer to often contain “supercells.” These are large lines of thunderstorms that sometimes move slowly, southwest to northeast, and last for hours, sometimes twelve hours or longer as new supercells form and begin moving.

Dry wind from the southwest that’s higher in the atmosphere adds energy to these storms. The other factor in strengthening supercells is the jet stream. Although it’s higher in the atmosphere, it pulls air upward. The rising air of a thunderstorm, or updraft, is responsible for formation of tornadoes.

When heavy rain and, sometimes, hail, fall in an area, this is often the precursor to a tornado, since the heavy precipitation causes a downdraft. Conditions are then ripe for a tornado.

When conditions are right for tornadoes to form, our local TV weather experts go into action and preempt all other television programming on their channels while weather conditions remain severe. One channel even shows street and road names where a tornado is predicted to be within minutes so people have the opportunity to take precautions.

“Taking precautions” generally means staying indoors within a stable structure (which a mobile home is NOT) and moving to an inner hallway away from glass when the storm siren in the area sounds. That siren means a tornado has actually been spotted, so anyone who hears it needs to get to a place of safety quickly.

A tornado which touched down on my property in April 2007 ripped up my back fence, took the top off my storage shed, tore chunks of shingles off my roof, broke apart six very big pine trees like they were matchsticks and uprooted two large mature hardwoods—my shade trees. That tornado made a believer out of me with regard to the siren.

At that time, my mother was still alive and living with me. She was by then an invalid, so it was necessary to get her into a wheelchair very quickly and move her into the hallway. By the time we were positioned there, the noise was deafening. I heard bumps and crashes as limbs and other objects hit the house, but—miraculously—the structure held.

It was not the first tornado of which I’d experienced the wrath, but I’ve been fortunate not to be hit (so far) by one of the truly violent ones that come all the way down to the ground and devastate everything in their path, leveling the sturdiest buildings and often causing deaths. In fact, I think some of the damage to my property may have come from straight-line winds blowing out from the vortex of the actual tornado.

That it was a true tornado I have no doubt, since many people in my neighborhood, including a neighbor across the street, sustained much more damage than I. There were roofs and parts of homes completely blown away, and other houses with large trees dumped through their roofs. Trees and power lines were down all over this block, so it was difficult for the emergency crews to get through for a couple of days.

There were widespread electric power and phone outages, and municipal drinking water wasn't considered safe. The Red Cross climbed over downed trees to deliver meals and drinking water to our neighborhood, as well as mops and buckets--all useful and appreciated.

Having the trees in my back yard cut down and moved out by heavy equipment completely eradicated the sod on my lawn, so it had to be re-sodded after all the other repair word was completed. Fortunately, my homeowners insurance covered nearly all the damage minus the deductible.

This explains why I dislike the frequent occurrences of heavy thunderstorms that plow through this area several times in one day, often from two different pathways. This usually happens during an afternoon into the late evening before they move completely on out. Sometimes, of course, the severe weather begins early, even before daybreak. A suburban residential area only a few miles from my home was hit several years ago while most people were still asleep, resulting in fatalities.

Oddly, in spite of a history of violent tornadoes in the state, the majority of homes in Mississippi do not have basements or storm cellars. There are also many, many people who live in mobile homes, which are not considered safe during severe weather. Don’t you find this strange in a “tornado alley?”

My own home has no basement, but a conventional foundation, so the inner hallway is my “place of safety.” I watch the ongoing weather reports and, if the warning siren sounds, Puppy Girl and I hurry to the end of the hallway where we'll sit on folded quilts with more quilts and pillows to shelter us in the event the ceiling and walls are ripped away by a tornado.

It's just one of those days. Another stormy day in Mississippi.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Update April 29, 2014: While tornadoes can occur during any month in Mississippi--I recall one just before Christmas several decades ago--April seems to be the major month for numerous heavy storm systems with tornadoes moving through the center of the state where I live. They often originate in different areas, but all head this way. This happened again yesterday all through the day and into the night. leaving behind a lot of damage and, sadly, some fatalities. Losing a home or business is devastating, but it is much worse to lose someone you love to the whirling winds of a tornado. I never hesitate when the storm alert sirens sound to head for my place of safety. Sophisticated weather tracking radar and software are able to pinpoint exactly where a tornado (off or on the ground) is heading, so residents are wise to heed the advice of Emergency Weather Alerts. Stay safe this storm season!





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After the storm....

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© 2011 Jaye Denman

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Comments 24 comments

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 4 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Hello, again, aviannovice....You're fortunate to live in the area of Oklahoma that isn't prone to many tornadoes. I hope you go through life without an "close encounter" with one!

Jaye


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

I live in Oklahoma, but in an area that usually is avoided by tornadoes(for the most part).


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 4 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Yes, Silver Poet, it's a scary thought. My state (Mississippi) had an exceedingly mild winter this year--another aspect of global warning, no doubt--and along with an increase in the mosquito and other insect population, a mild winter often heralds increased storm activity throughout the spring and fall. Actually, tornadoes happen year-round here, just more of them during those seasons.

If we thought about the potential for killer storms all the time, we would go crazy. I try to avoid worrying until I hear that warning siren sound.....

Thanks for your comments.


Silver Poet profile image

Silver Poet 4 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

That's a frightening thought! I hope we all survive.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 4 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks for reading and your comment. I can appreciate the beauty of a thunderstorm if conditions aren't right for it to spawn tornadoes. Once the tornado warning siren sounds (which means a tornado has been spotted), I go to the safest place in my home, the central hallway, and hope it doesn't touch down.

I read a news article last week predicting the southeast U.S.will have more tornadoes than usual in 2012. The actual season hasn't begun, and already 95 tornadoes were logged in January, versus the 16 that hit in January 2011.


Silver Poet profile image

Silver Poet 4 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

Thanks for the story! Interesting and voted up. Storms are fascinating and beautiful as well as dangerous, a thing to be respected for sure.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

You are so right, Mico Sam. The Mississippi River recently flooded at Vicksburg, which is about an hour's drive from where I live.

Yesterday was another "storm day" here in Jackson, Mississippi. It was one of those suddenly occurring storms where it gets dark and windy very quickly. I hadn't checked the weather forecast, so was surprised when I heard garbage cans banging against the house. (I later learned there was a tornado watch in this area.) There was no damage done at my home except small limbs in the backyard. I know someone who got a tree through the roof, attic and ceiling of her house from the same storm. Bad weather can be treacherous!


Mico Sam profile image

Mico Sam 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

Mississippi River is very dangerous sometimes and when the weather is bad it is good to leave ahead of time.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Hi, andrebreynolds....Thanks for reading my hub, and I appreciate your comment. Jaye


andrebreynolds profile image

andrebreynolds 5 years ago

Nice shot of tornado and your hub is really good.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks, Sligobay....After the terrible hardships being suffered by the Japanese now due to an earthquake and tsunami, I feel like a wimp if I complain about tornadoes and hurricanes that come this far inland. The storm season here is lengthy, often taking lives, and the summers hot and humid. Just goes to show, people can become accustomed to anything. At least there's not a war raging all around. I try to be thankful for the things this area doesn't have. Glad you stopped by, and appreciate your comments. JAYE


sligobay profile image

sligobay 5 years ago from east of the equator

I was down your way for Mardi Gras last year and spent time with a friend in Biloxi. He lost his home in Ocean Springs to Katrina. The rest of the nation was buried in snow at that time and I thought it great to be on the Gulf Coast for that storm. Your summers would be unbearable for me. Great article about some hard weather. Voted up.


JayeWisdom 5 years ago

Hi, Keith....Huddling in the hallway (in the center of the house and with no glass windows) isn't by any means foolproof, but with no basement it's the best I can do. Glad the floods missed you, but sorry about your friend Ernest's flooded home. There were two major floods in this city several decades ago, but within a few years of each other. They did horrendous damage. Fortunately, I don't live in the flood plain, but that's no guarantee of never being flooded. I don't have the nerve to watch a tornado movie or even the videos of spotted tornadoes on the move. I've been through several of the real ones in my lifetime, and have been lucky enough that the killer tornadoes missed me (so far). Glad we don't have earth tremors here, but there is a faultline in a bordering state, so there's no guarantee for the future. Guess what I'm trying to say is that natural disasters can strike anywhere...anytime. We just have to live in the present and try not to worry about them in advance. JAYE


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Hi Jaye, that was a close call, it doesn't sound foolproof huddling in a doorway, but i suppose that's the only option. We have a few earth tremors here in Melbourne and could get a bigish one in theory. There's probably a more accurate way of measuring it than bigish, but i'm no scientist. We had flash floods last week and my good friend Ernest got a metre of water in his bungalow. We are on a slight rise, so out of the flood path. I love the Tornado movie with Helen Hunt. I've forgotten the name as it's 11-45 PM. Cheers Keith.


Apostle Jack profile image

Apostle Jack 5 years ago from Atlanta Ga

Sounds like a beautiful place.I wish you well.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks for stopping by, Apostle Jack. Mississippi weather can, indeed, be wild. Of course, if you don't like the weather, it will probably change significantly the next day. Late yesterday, it began sleeting. Today there is ice on my walkway. I watched the mail carrier inch his way along so he wouldn't fall...just to bring me a piece of junk mail! JAYE


Apostle Jack profile image

Apostle Jack 5 years ago from Atlanta Ga

Wild and true.Thanks for sharing.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Sally...Yes, it will be green, green, green when spring arrives (and it usually comes early here). Meanwhile, everything is brown and gray with a low temp in the 20s today. At least, I don't have a ton of snow on my roof such as I've seen in the news photos taken further north. It's funny, though. People who live here are so accustomed to short mild winters and long hot summers that most bundle up like it's below 0 degrees when the temp dips to 50! Guess it's just what you're used to that determines how you react to any kind of weather. JAYE


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Jaye - Thanks for your note. I am sure he is oblivious to the weather now that football season is over. I heard about the rain and heat in the fall. When I have been, I am so impressed with the green, green grass -- so knew there must be lots of rain.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Well, MERLIN, you just burst my bubble with that great news about the guy who was struck by lightning four times! Actually, there have been some "near misses" with tornadoes even since the 2007 one that did all the damage, so I know a tornado can also touch down in the same spot. I just try not to think about it! JAYE

TRUCKSTOP SALLY...Gee, I'm sorry to worry you about your child who is attending college here. Said child probably doesn't say anything to you about the stormy weather either because (1) he or she doesn't want to worry you, or (2) because kids don't pay much attention to things like that, especially since they believe they're indestructible. I don't mean to give the impression that the weather is always bad here...it's not. And though there is a lot of humidity (about 9 months out of 12, much as Merlin's place in the world), it isn't always stormy. Sometimes it's just plain old rain....Hope you have great weather for Parents' Weekend. JAYE


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Oh my goodness. My middle child is a freshman in college in Jackson. We have not been there for an entire year, but so far -- except for extreme heat during football season we have been pleased with the weather. Heading there at the end of the month for Parents' Weekend. Keeping my fingers crossed for clear skies.


Merlin Fraser profile image

Merlin Fraser 5 years ago from Cotswold Hills

Great Hub Jaye,

Surely there must be somewhere on this planet where the weather is more or less perfect for most of the time.

I thought when I was in Peru, on the Northern Pacific coastal bit I had found it, beautiful sunshine for most of the year, little rain great Barbecue weather.

OK there was the odd Earthquake and Oh Yes... Every now and then a major El Nino would come along and dump Tropical Jungle rain on the desert, washing it out to sea.

I live in a country that has 3 months of winter and 9 months crap in between. True we get a good summer every now and again but they are few and far between and never predicted.

PS Hate to be the bearer of hard Logical facts but who said Lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place ?

There's a guy in the Guinness Book of Records who has been struck four times...


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks for stopping by, Cheyenne...It is peaceful here now and getting colder as the cold front moves on in. Once again we "dodged the bullet" as the storms moved on through without any tornadoes. I much prefer the cold, though people who have to contend with lots of snow and ice (which we rarely have here) might say I'm crazy! You're correct about there being weather issues everywhere. Tornado weather is a bit nerve-wracking, but not as much so as earthquakes would be....

I am happy to be near my family, so I must take the weather challenges as they come. I'm hoping that the old saying that "lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place" serves as well for tornadoes! Perhaps I've already had my share....JAYE


CheyenneAutumn profile image

CheyenneAutumn 5 years ago

JayeWisdom - I think no matter where one lives there are difficult issues with the weather, which we have to face, and determine if we want to handle it to live there. Personally, I can handle a blizzard and the random wicked hailstorm, I knew growing up in WY. and the little rattles and wiggles of the earthquakes I have experienced here in Los Angeles where I am now. But I wouldn't be at all comfortable with the hurricanes, storm fronts, and tornadoes you have in Mississippi. I am glad you are near your family though.

Take care of you.

Cheyenne

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