Tornado outbreak kills 26 in Mississippi

Deadly tornado outbreak ravages Deep South

The predicted severe weather materialized in one of the worst ways possible on March 24, 2023, as a wide, long-track tornado that hit in darkness. Some of the hardest hit communities in Mississippi included Rolling Fork, Silver City and Amory. Authorities said there were 26 fatalities. Drone footage captured the scene of devastation in the morning light.

As the storms came through

Videos of the wedge-shaped tornado and early scenes of destruction littered Twitter last night as the storms came through. The mayor of Rolling Fork was stuck in his home after it was damaged by the tornado. Many storm chasers ended their chase after coming across injured victims of the tornado and instead turned to assisting them in getting help.

Yesterday’s forecast

Tornado outbreak: Map showing red circle over Louisiana and Mississippi with lighter colors farther away.
The National Weather Service shared this map of areas at risk of severe weather for Friday, March 24, 2023. The greatest concern for a tornado outbreak is in the red area, though the whole region should be alert. Image via NWS.

The National Weather Service had forecast a storm system to bring tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flooding to the Deep South on Friday, March 24, 2023. Louisiana and Mississippi were in the bullseye for the most intense storms and tornadoes. However, strong storms were expected over a broad region from Texas to Kentucky, bringing damaging winds and a broader risk for brief tornadoes.

The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued a moderate level 4/5 risk for Friday afternoon and evening. The forecast called for storms to begin near the Texas/Louisiana border in the early afternoon and move east through the day. Numerous supercell thunderstorms were predicted. The storms were expected to intensify through the evening as mid-level winds strengthen and encourage storm organization. Tornadoes were the primary threat, but wind and hail were also expected throughout the moderate risk area.

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Map of American south with storms on simulated radar over Louisiana stretching north past Memphis.
The storm forecast for Louisiana, Mississippi and surroundings, from the High Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) model. Image via NWS.

Tornado outbreak forecast

Friday’s storm forecast was a “tornado driven” threat. The SPC said that there was a 15% chance of a tornado within 50 miles (80 km) of a point within the moderate risk area. They forecast that any tornado that touched down would also have the potential to do significant (EF2+ on the Enhanced Fujita Scale) damage with winds exceeding 110 mph (180 km/hr). Many experts called for a tornado outbreak during the evening hours.

The exact nature and intensity of the storms through Friday afternoon were dependent on a few subtle meteorological factors. Despite the high confidence in dangerous storms, meteorologists were still resolving exact forecast details throughout the day.

Heavy rainfall and flooding

Flooding was also a threat as heavy rain follows the storm. The Weather Prediction Center also issued a moderate risk (level 4/5) for flooding rainfall in the Ohio River Valley. This region has experienced plenty of rainfall over the past few weeks, so any heavy thunderstorm rain will quickly saturate the soil and runoff for local flash flooding risks. Rivers and streams will also rise in the coming days, leading to flooding concerns for floodplain areas along the Ohio River downstream of the heaviest rainfall.

Active recent weather

This system follows weeks of powerful storms on the West Coast and an active early severe weather season. The same system that hit the Deep South also produced a rare tornado in the Los Angeles area on Wednesday, March 22. The EF-1 tornado in Montebello, California, was one of only two confirmed tornadoes in Los Angeles county since 2010.

Bottom line: A tornado outbreak devastated areas of the Deep South on Friday, March 24, 2023. Authorities said 26 people lost their lives in the storms.

Read more: Tornado Alley is shifting toward Dixie

March 25, 2023

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Peter Forister

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