April can bring wild weather

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, April 10, 2018

By Skip Rigney 

Tranquil weather is forecast for the rest of the work week before showers and thunderstorms arrive Friday night or Saturday.

High pressure will keep our skies fair over the next few days, and high temperatures will be in the 70s. Our next weathermaker is low pressure that is currently over the Pacific south of Alaska. This disturbance is heading eastward and will approach Mississippi by Friday night or Saturday.

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By then, humid air will have returned to our area on southerly winds. The approaching front will destabilize the atmosphere allowing showers and thunderstorms to form.

The upcoming switch from fair to stormy is typical of April. In fact, across the United States, the month of April is usually a mixture of beautiful spring weather dramatically interrupted by severe storms and occasional returns of winter.

This past weekend the same cold front that sparked a severe thunderstorm in northern Pearl River County last Friday night, brought freezing temperatures to north Mississippi on Sunday morning.

Still, that’s nothing compared to the arctic air mass that swept over the U.S. back in April 1857. According to David Ludlum in his classic, “The American Weather Book,” the frigid outbreak brought snow to every state in the nation. On April 7, 1857, the mercury in Houston, Texas dipped to 21 degrees.

April has seen some of the most vicious tornado outbreaks in American history. One of the most lethal occurred in Tupelo, Mississippi on April 5, 1936. The twister killed 216 people making it the fourth deadliest on record for the U.S.

On April 25, 1908 during what came to be called the 1908 Dixie Tornado Outbreak, a large, intense tornado ripped a path 155 miles long, devastating Purvis, Mississippi just 20 miles north of Poplarville. A story the next day in the Lexington Herald in Kentucky stated, “Utter misery of every sort was found today at Purvis, Mississippi, by relief parties.”

At the time of the 1908 Purvis tornado, Isaac Cline was the lead forecaster at the Weather Bureau Office in New Orleans. Cline is a famous and sometimes controversial figure in the history of American weather forecasters. In 1900 Cline had been the forecaster in charge of the Weather Bureau in Galveston, Texas when the most deadly hurricane in U.S. history hit that city.

By 1908 the Gulf Coast regional forecast center, along with Isaac Cline, had moved from Galveston to New Orleans. It was there that Cline wrote a summary of the tornado that began in Louisiana late on the morning of April 25, 1908 and hit Purvis that afternoon. Cline stated that “the greatest destruction ranged in width from one-half mile at Weiss to two and one-half miles at Amite, Louisiana.” If accurate, that would make it be one of the widest tornado paths ever reported.

According to tornado expert Thomas Grazulis in his book, “Significant Tornadoes,” this deadly storm killed 55 people in Purvis alone and a total of 143 along its long path through Louisiana and Mississippi.

It’s too early to tell whether the thunderstorms associated with the cold front that will approach us sometime between Friday night and Sunday morning will be severe. However, in a month known for dramatic weather, it wouldn’t hurt to check the updated National Weather Service forecast as the weekend gets closer.