UPDATE: 536pm CT – The National Weather Service office in Mobile, AL has released the preliminary storm survey results confirming two tornado tracks in their forecast area produced by the same storm that impacted Hattiesburg, MS. The storm survey team found EF-1 intensity damage in Wayne County with a tornado tracking nearly 17 miles in a discontinuous path. The tornado first touched down near the community of Clara and then tracked to Denham before lifting.
Additionally, EF-0 damage was found in Northwest Perry County – an extension of the track of the same tornado that moved through Hattiesburg and Petal, MS.
Additional details will be forthcoming over the next few days after survey teams complete their data, especially looking on Tuesday in the Washington and Clarke County areas in Southwest Alabama.
UPDATE: 505pm CT – The National Weather Service in Jackson, MS has just upgraded the intensity from the Hattiesburg / Oak Grove tornado that impacted Lamar and Forrest Counties yesterday. The tornado was preliminarily rated EF-3, but that rating has since been upgraded as damage consistent with 170mph winds was observed in the area of Oak Grove High School. This violent tornado was only the second violent tornado (EF-4 or EF-5) recorded in Lamar or Forrest Counties since record keeping beginning, the other tornado being the April 24, 1908 Purvis tornado which was on the ground for 155 miles and impacted a wide ares from Louisiana into Mississippi (Source: NWS Jackson MS).
The NWS storm survey teams have also preliminarily confirmed EF-2 tornado damage in Southwest Marion County – a separate track from the tornado that hit Hattiesburg. This confirms the suspicions in the original post that the storm “cycled” and produced separate tornadoes – as indicated by radar signatures.
Storm survey teams preliminarily confirm EF-2 tornado damage in SW Marion County. Seperate tornado track from the one that hit Hattiesburg.
— NWS Jackson MS (@NWSJacksonMS) February 11, 2013
— Original Post Below:
“We were blessed”. That is what the Mayor of Hattiesburg, Mississippi said repeatedly when interviews on CNN after a strong tornado tore through the city on an otherwise calm Sunday afternoon in February. As he stated repeatedly, even though the University of Southern Mississippi, several high schools, and the American Red Cross center were all directly hit by this storm, there were only limited injuries and not fatalities. The fact that we’re reporting on damage to buildings, NOT fatalities is key in this story, and with storms like these, timing is everything.
First off, with students already on a long weekend break with Mardi Gras coming up, so the tornado occurring on the middle day in a four-day weekend meaning that the campus was relatively quiet. Throw in the fact that the campus is a short two-hour drive from New Orleans, many students were likely out of town for one reason or another. Additionally, the Elam Arms residence hall was hit by the tornado, blowing out windows to the multi-story residence hall… But the residence hall has not been used for some time, and according to a July 15, 2011 story from WDAM in Hattiesburg, the university was hoping to tear down the dormitory because “it’s considered to be in a prime location, for a developer to put in a business…. An excellent site for a hotel.”
According the University website, several structures in the southern portion of the campus were damaged including Jazz Station, the Mannoni Performing Arts Center, Ogletree Alumni House, and Elam Arms.
Mississippi is no stranger to strong tornadoes as we have seen in years past in places like Yazoo City. This storm was similar to previous supercells producing long-lived tornadoes. The supercell tracked from Southern Walthall County in Southern Mississippi through the counties of Marion, Lamar, Forrest, Perry, Jones and Wayne. The same storm was also responsible for damage near Millry and Coffeeville in Washington and Clarke Counties in Southwest Alabama.
Based on an initial review of the radar data from this storm, the same supercell appeared to have cycled at several points along this 3.5 hour, nearly 170 mile long path. The National Weather Service Offices in New Orleans, Jackson and Mobile will likely be performing damage assessments over the next several days. It will be interesting to see where the damage paths are confirmed to have started/stopped, but the most likely points for breaks in the paths appear to be located near the following locations in that path:
- Near the Marion / Lamar County, MS line – slight jog in the storm path to the right
- Southwest Wayne County, MS – Just west of Camp Eight Road in the De Soto National Forest
- Clarke County, AL – The storm appears to have crossed US-84 roughly 5 miles east of Coffeeville, AL
In all, it is pretty likely that there were multiple tornadoes along this path. The worst of the damage appears to be EF-2 to EF-3 in intensity, with the Hattiesburg tornado causing damage consistent with a tornado of at least EF-3 strength. EF2 and greater tornadoes are rated as strong, so regardless of the damage, it is clear to say that the area was impacted by a strong tornado.
Tornadoes are rated by the damage they produce.
EF0…WEAK……65 TO 85 MPH
EF1…WEAK……86 TO 110 MPH
EF2…STRONG….111 TO 135 MPH
EF3…STRONG….136 TO 165 MPH
EF4…VIOLENT…166 TO 200 MPH
On a related topic the National Weather Service in Mobile tweeted the following graphic. Incredibly their 30 minute forecast for this supercell was HIGHLY accurate both temporally and spatially. The storm passed within a mile of Robinson’s Junction at 0027 UTC – right in line w/ the forecast graphic below. The use of Social Media in this case to not only get out the tornado warnings, but to EMPHASIZE areas that are at greater risk represents a MAJOR opportunity for the National Weather Service to enhance their communication with customers.