For the second Sunday in a row that continued into early Monday, an outbreak of severe weather struck the south, including widespread damaging winds, several tornadoes, hail and torrential rainfall.
More than 45,000 customers were without power in Mississippi and Alabama Monday morning where the largest concentration of damaging winds occurred. In southern Mississippi, a large and damaging tornado was confirmed just 30 miles from where the largest twister in state history had struck one week before.
While most of the intense storms had moved off the East Coast Monday morning, strong to severe storms were pushing south across the northern and central Florida Peninsula, where a tornado watch and a severe thunderstorm watch were in effect through 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. eastern, respectively.
In anticipation of the storm outbreak on Sunday, the National Weather Service Storm Prediction placed much of the region in elevated risks zones for severe weather. Storms began to break out across the South Sunday morning and peaked in coverage and intensity in the evening hours.
Notably, at 7:23 p.m. central time, the Weather Service warned of “a confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado” just 30 miles south-southwest of the 2.25-mile-wide tornado that struck southern Mississippi one week ago. At 7:44 p.m., the twister was heading east at 55 mph on a path to pass close to the city of Purvis around 7:50 p.m., about 15 miles south-southwest of Hattiesburg. The Weather Service warned “this is a particularly dangerous situation” extending the tornado warning through 8:15 p.m for areas just east of Purvis.
Based on doppler radar, the tornado then passed close to the southeast part of Hattiesburg, very near its municipal airport.
The Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center wrote in a statement that this tornado was likely at least an EF3 on its 0 to 5 scale for twister intensity, with winds of at least 136 mph.
Horrible. This significant, strong #tornado in #Mississippi is passing just 30 miles south of where two EF4s and an EF3 tornado ravaged the landscape and killed at least 8 just a week ago today.— Matthew Cappucci (@MatthewCappucci) April 20, 2020
Lamar and Forrest counties, seek shelter NOW. pic.twitter.com/8B7yeladlf
The tornado warning was extended again through 9 p.m. central time, with the storm expected to pass between the towns of Richton and Beaumont in southeast Mississippi, and then again through 9:15 p.m. mainly over rural areas. Damage was reported from the twister in Marion and Lamar counties.
Tornado warnings were issued for the same storm as it traveled into southern Alabama.
Tornado warnings continued to be issued for storms in southern Alabama, the Florida Panhandle, and southwest Georgia late into Sunday night, including some for twisters which had been confirmed by either radar or storm spotters.
Earlier Sunday, storms struck the Dallas-Ft. Worth with large hail while storms west of Galveston and Houston also produced large hail as well a tornado.
The outbreak came exactly a week after more than 130 tornadoes tore up much of the South and Southeast amid a deadly severe weather event. With a preliminary tally of 69 deaths, 2020 is the nation’s deadliest year for tornadoes since 2012 — and it’s only mid-April.
The repeated threat of dangerous storms underscored the challenge of living in storm-prone areas during the springtime, particularly at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic. It also demonstrated the importance of having a severe weather plan in place to know what to do when the time comes.
“I think Alabamians are tired of dealing with COVID-19, and after last Sunday, tired of dealing with severe weather,” James Spann, the chief meteorologist for the ABC affiliate in Birmingham, wrote in a Facebook post outlining Sunday’s severe weather threat. “We don’t do this to scare anyone, or make them more anxious, but at the same time we have to let you know there is a risk of severe thunderstorms. … We will get through the day together.”
Spann and other meteorologists emphasized the importance of having a way to be notified of any warnings issued. A battery-backup NOAA weather radio is ideal while you ensure wireless emergency alerts are activated on your phone and the “do not disturb” mode is disabled.
The storms stemmed from a pocket of spinning upper-level cold that was digging south off the California coast as late as Saturday morning. It then swung across the Four Corners region toward the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, where it started the day early Sunday. Ahead of this axis of “vorticity,” or spinning air, an influx of Gulf of Mexico air overspread much of the South.
That approaching area of spin fostered rising motion ahead of it, kindling the development of strong to severe thunderstorms. Meanwhile, a surface stationary front draped essentially parallel and just to the north of Interstate 20 between East Texas and South Carolina served as a focal mechanism for storms. To the north, a chillier air mass lended itself to nonsevere storms and heavy rain, while severe weather flourished in the milder air to the south.
That upper-level pocket of cold and spin was cradled in a dip of the jet stream; ahead of it, a zone of fast-moving air surged northward. That boosted the amount of “wind shear” present, or a change in wind speed/direction with height. That increased the chance of rotating storms.
Another round of storminess is possible from Wednesday into Friday from the Southern Plains into the Southeast, though details remain uncertain at this time.