This year has been uncharacteristically quiet with respect to tornadoes. But the atmosphere roared to life this past week as three bouts of deadly storms wrought havoc from Louisiana to Maryland. Even more tore across the South on Monday night, killing a Tennessee woman and concluding the deadliest week of tornadoes since April 2017.
The Storm Prediction Center outlined portions of the Mississippi and Tennessee valleys as having an “enhanced risk” of severe weather Monday. The National Weather Service issued 71 tornado warnings Monday night and has confirmed that at least four tornadoes touched down — though that number could climb into the 20s.
Hardest hit were regions between Interstate 20 and Interstate 30, including a swath through Louisiana, northern Mississippi, northern Alabama and central Tennessee. Dramatic video emerged from the Pelican State, where ominous storm clouds dropped a stovepipe funnel west of Natchitoches.
The storm’s upward winds were strong enough to prevent rain from falling — leaving an eerie doughnut hole-like void known as a “bounded weak echo region” on the radar. The storm reportedly knocked down trees onto a house along Louisiana Highway 1221. Several other homes were damaged, but the tornado otherwise stayed over mainly rural areas. The tornado itself grew to 200 yards wide.
Several cities in the South found themselves in the path of Mother Nature’s fury Monday night, including Tupelo, Miss. The National Weather Service in Memphis warned that “a large and extremely dangerous tornado was located near the Intersection of Highway 45 and Interstate 22.” The vortex threw debris some 13,000 feet into the air.
A Weather Service WSR-88D radar 35 miles away detected the lofted debris. Meteorologists used a radar algorithm that interprets the shape of things in the air; the lower the value, the wackier the shape. That’s how meteorologists knew the northwest suburbs took a direct hit.
Storms continued into the wee hours of the morning in Alabama and Tennessee, where numerous storm surveys are planned Tuesday. Preliminary reports suggest as many as eight to 10 tornadoes between Memphis and Nashville.
Nighttime tornadoes are particularly dangerous, as they occur when many are asleep and not paying attention to warnings. Nocturnal twisters cause twice as many deaths as those during daylight.
Tragedy struck in Christiana, Tenn., where at least one person was killed in the early morning hours Tuesday. Tennessee is at the top of the list for nighttime tornadoes, with an estimated 46 percent of all tornadoes touching down at night.
Monday night’s fatality is the fourth tornado death in the past week — including one in Port Gibson, Miss., on Halloween, and two from an unwarned tornado Friday evening in Baltimore — bringing the count to nine for the year.
Before November, five tornado fatalities had occurred since January.
Oklahoma lags far behind its annual average with less than three dozen confirmed tornadoes. Iowa and Louisiana are leading the nation, each tallying more than 75.