Tornadoes scarce to begin 2021

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 6, 2021

By Skip Rigney

The National Weather Service’s office in Jackson reported this week that there were no tornadoes in Mississippi during January or February of this year. This is the first time that the state has gotten through the first two months of a new year without any tornadoes since 1991. It’s only the ninth time that it’s happened in the past 70 years. On average, the state sees a total of seven tornadoes in January and February.

Although Mississippi’s 2021 tornado drought has continued through the first week of March, that certainly wasn’t the case 55 years ago. On March 3, 1966, one of the most intense and deadly tornadoes in Mississippi history cut a half-mile swath of destruction over 200 miles long across the center of the state.

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The tornado first touched down about 25 miles southwest of Jackson at 4 p.m. It quickly moved northeastward. By 4:30 its 150-200 mile per hour winds were obliterating the shopping center in south Jackson whose name would always be associated with the tornado, Candlestick Park. Cars were thrown more than a half-mile, and pavement was scoured from the ground. Twelve people died there.

Northeast of Jackson near the tiny town of Leesburg, the tornado, or another which had formed from the same supercell thunderstorm, reached its maximum strength with winds estimated at over 200 miles per hour. It is one of only four tornadoes in Mississippi history estimated to have reached the top EF-5 level on the Enhanced Fujita scale of damage-inferred tornado winds.

In less than three hours on that March 3rd, over 500 Mississippians were injured, and 58 people died as a result of the severe weather.

The lack of tornadoes to start 2021 in Mississippi is consistent with the trend across the United States. On average the U.S. has over 100 tornadoes during the first two months of the year with most of them occurring in the southeastern U.S. and Texas.

This year only 30 tornadoes occurred across the country in January and February based on reports received by the National Weather Service. And, none were reported the first four days of March.

The tranquil trend should continue for Pearl River County for most of the upcoming week as we spend most of it under the influence of a large, strong high pressure system. The centerline of the surface high will stretch from the Great Lakes to Arkansas on Sunday.

Each day the center of high pressure will slide farther eastward, until by mid-week it will be out in the Atlantic Ocean. That will put us on the western edge of the high pressure system’s clockwise circulation, which means we can expect strong onshore flow from the Gulf of Mexico from Tuesday or Wednesday through the end of the week.

Those southeasterly winds will provide an abundant supply of mild and quite humid air from over the Gulf. Each day from Wednesday into next weekend will get a little warmer and more humid.

However, the lack of any nearby low pressure system or front to lift that warm, humid surface air should keep any showers that do form light, isolated, and well below severe levels, until at least next Friday or Saturday.