A tornado, sometimes called a twister, is a strong rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the earth's surface. This disaster is one of nature's most violent storms that can generate wind speeds of up to 300 miles per hour (mph). Extreme tornadoes can cause enormous loss of life, especially through injuries from flying debris and collapsing structures. They can uproot trees, pick up cars, and destroy large buildings. Since tornadoes strike quickly with little or no warning, it is important to take timely precautions to prevent loss of life and reduce property damage.
Tornadoes develop from thunderstorms when warm moist air collides with cooler, dry air. The warm air rises quickly through the cold air to produce a supercell, which is a large thunderstorm with rotating updrafts (upward movement of air). Winds blowing within the supercell move at different speeds and directions, thereby creating wind shears. The wind shears cause air currents to spin horizontally in the atmosphere. This area of rotating winds within a supercell is called a mesocyclone, and it can extend from two to six miles wide. A funnel cloud is then formed when rising warm air within the updraft tilts the mesocyclone from a horizontal to a vertical position. As the funnel draws in more warm air from the moving thunderstorm, it grows longer and stretches toward the ground. When the funnel touches the ground, it becomes a tornado.
According to the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale, tornadoes are classified into six categories based on their estimated wind speeds and resultant damage. These categories can be seen as follows:
Scientists have observed different types of tornadoes, including:
Rope Tornadoes: These are the most common and smallest types of tornadoes. As their name suggests, they usually have a ropy-shaped appearance when they form, and they remain narrow during their life cycle. Although these types of tornadoes may look weak, they can become more intense when they narrow and tighten. Some rope tornadoes can therefore cause major damage when they strike.
Cone Tornadoes: These tornadoes are wider at the base of a thunderstorm than rope tornadoes, and this makes them appear in a cone-shaped form. When compared to rope tornadoes, cone tornadoes are more dangerous storms that can cause significant damage.
Stovepipe Tornadoes: These tornadoes are similar to cone tornadoes, but they have a more cylindrical appearance. This is because they have the same width at the ground and the base of the thunderstorm.
Wedge Tornadoes: These are large tornadoes that have funnel clouds that are wider at ground level than they are tall. They are powerful tornadoes that rank as EF-3 or above on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Wedge tornadoes are, therefore, very dangerous and can leave large trails of destruction when they strike. Aside from intensity, scientists usually look at other factors to determine whether or not a tornado is a wedge. These factors include the height of the thunderstorm base and the moisture level below the base.
Multiple Vortex Tornadoes: These tornadoes arise when there are two or more rotating columns of air around each other or a common center. When a supercell thunderstorm produces two tornadoes spinning independently of each other, the second tornado that develops is called a satellite tornado. This type of tornado is very rare and is known to rotate around the main tornado until they eventually dissipate or merge. Multiple Vortex tornadoes are dangerous and can cause significant destruction when they occur.
Waterspout Tornadoes: These tornadoes form over a large body of water, such as a sea or ocean. They are narrow condensation funnels that develop from spinning motion originating near the ground. Waterspouts are not as destructive as tornadoes that form from supercell thunderstorms. They span over less than two kilometers and are ranked EF-2 or less on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. There are two types of waterspouts which are:
Landspout tornadoes: These types of tornadoes are not associated with thunderstorms like supercell tornadoes. Instead, they develop from vertical columns of wind that originate near the ground. Landspouts are characterized by small, smooth condensation funnels that often do not reach the surface. Like waterspouts, they are weaker than most tornadoes and usually last for only a few minutes. However, they can be dangerous and can cause damage equivalent to that of an EF-0 tornado.
Tornadoes occur in many parts of the world, including South America, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa. Countries such as Argentina, Bangladesh, Canada, Italy, Spain, and New Zealand see tornadoes yearly. The U.S. experiences the most tornadoes in the world, recording about 1,200 tornadoes every year. Most of these tornadoes form in the Great Plains of the Central U.S., also known as Tornado Alley.
Tornadoes can occur at any time of year but are common during Spring and Summer. Generally, tornado season starts from March till June. The peak months for tornadoes in Southern states, such as Texas and Oklahoma, are May and early June. In the Northern and upper Midwest states (Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota), tornado season usually begins in June or July. On the Gulf coast, the disaster happens earlier in Spring.
Tornadoes can cause devastating consequences when they occur. The extent of destruction they cause usually depends on their size, intensity, path, time of day, and amount of time they are on the ground. Some of the adverse effects of a tornado include:
Injuries and Loss of Life: Tornadoes are known to be one of the most deadly natural disasters in the world. Violent tornadoes can cause significant loss of life and mass injuries. These injuries are usually sustained from flying debris and collapsed buildings. Tornadoes cause 1,500 injuries in the U.S. yearly, and about 80 people in the country lose their lives each year due to this disaster.
Economic Losses: Tornadoes can cause serious damage to a country’s economy. Violent tornadoes can destroy trees and buildings, pick up vehicles, and turn debris into deadly missiles. Weak tornadoes are also dangerous and can remove roofs off buildings and break windows. This can have considerable economic impacts and can render several families homeless. The strong wind, heavy rainfall, hail, and flash flooding that occur during a tornado can disrupt transportation, communications, electricity, gas, and water supply. The increase in insurance premiums after payouts is another economic effect of tornadoes that can cause financial hardship for a family.
Environmental Pollution: Violent tornadoes can destroy pipelines and break chemical containers, which can contaminate the environment with sewage, oil, asbestos, and other toxic pollutants. They can release poisonous industrial and household wastes into lakes, rivers, and water drains, which can affect the environment for a long time. Tornadoes can also send large quantities of dust and flying dirt into the atmosphere. Dust can cause lung or heart problems or any respiratory condition in humans.
Effects on the Ecosystem: Several plants and animals die during tornadoes. This devastating disaster uproots trees and other vegetation on their path. It can cause soil erosion and destroy the topsoil, which is important for nourishing plants. Tornadoes can also destroy wildlife habitats and cause the displacement of several animals and birds.
Psychological effects: Tornadoes can result in mental problems for people that have been exposed to property damage, displacement, injuries, or losing a loved one. This disaster can trigger traumatic recollections and can cause symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and withdrawal in victims.
The state of Mississippi is located in the Southeastern region of the U.S. It shares borders with Alabama to the east, Louisiana to the southwest, Arkansas to the northwest, Tennessee to the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. The state is known to be the 32nd-largest and 35th-most populous of the 50 U.S. states, with an area of 48,432 square miles (125,438 km2) and a population of 2,949,965.
Mississippi is one of the U.S. states that are highly vulnerable to destructive tornadoes. This is because of the high number of nighttime tornadoes in the state and the abundance of trees that cause damage when blown down by the storm. Tornadoes in Mississippi develop from large wind shears. They do not rely heavily on rising warm, moist air that creates instability in the atmosphere (conditions that require daytime heating of the ground). Central Mississippi (Rankin County, Hinds County, Warren County, Simpson County, etc.) and Jackson County are highly vulnerable to tornadoes. Some of the notable tornado events in Mississippi can be seen below:
|Marshall-Fayette, TN||March 21, 1952||F4||17||96|
|Warren||December 5, 1953||F5||38||270|
|Tunica, Desoto||February 1, 1955||F4||20||141|
|Copiah-Leake||February 26, 1958||F3||8||36|
|Hinds-Kemper||March 3, 1966||F5||58||518|
|Jefferson-Newton||January 23, 1969||F4||32||241|
|Grenada||February 4, 1971||F2||7||0|
|Issaquena-Grenada||February 21, 1971||F4||58||795|
|Issaquena-Sunflower||February 21, 1971||F4||46||496|
|Warren-Holmes||February 21, 1971||F4||13||182|
|Pike-Simpson||January 10, 1975||F4||9||210|
|Leflore-Union||April 21, 1984||F3||15||76|
|Jones-Clarke||February 28, 1987||F4||6||350|
|Copiah-Choctaw||November 21, 1992||F4||12||122|
|Calhoun-Prentiss||February 24, 2001||F3||6||73|
|Madison LA - Oktibbeha MS||April 24, 2010||F4||10||146|
|Monroe, Itawamba, Marion, AL||April 27, 2011||F5||23||137|
|Smith-Perry AL||April 27, 2011||F4||7||14|
|Leake - Winston||April 28, 2014||F4||10||84|
|Tate, Marshall, Benton, Tippah||December 23, 2015||F4||9||36|
|Jefferson Davis||April 12, 2020||F4||4||3|
Since tornadoes usually appear suddenly with little or no warning, the best way to survive them is to make proper preparations. This will help to keep you and your family members safe when they strike. Consider the following safety tips when preparing for a tornado:
Know your tornado risk: One of the first steps to take when preparing for tornado season is to assess your area's tornado risk. Find out if you live in a high or low-risk area by using maps or contacting your local emergency management office.
Know the signs of a tornado: Since some tornadoes strike without warning, it is important to know the signs of a tornado to be properly prepared. Watch out for signs such as a dark-greenish sky, a rotating funnel-shaped cloud, large hail, a cloud of debris, and a roar that sounds like continuous thunder or a freight train.
Pay attention to weather reports: You should monitor emergency updates during tornado season and stay tuned to local news from TV, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, and other media. Stay informed by signing up for your community’s warning alerts. Make sure you are familiar with the warning tone of your community tornado sirens if there are any.
Create a family emergency plan: Be sure to have an emergency plan that contains what you will do when a tornado occurs. The plan should also provide for how you and your family members will get back in touch if separated during the disaster. Do not forget to include your pets in the emergency plan.
Assemble an emergency kit: You should gather an emergency kit ahead of time in case you may need to evacuate. Your emergency kit should contain essential items such as non-perishable food, water, medicines, a first aid kit, cleaning supplies, extra clothing, extra cash, blankets, a flashlight, multi-purpose tools, battery-powered radio, and extra batteries.
Find a local emergency shelter in advance: In case you are asked to leave your home during a tornado, it is important to find a shelter ahead of time where you can stay during the emergency. You should practice the evacuation routes with your family members before tornado season begins.
Store important documents: Make copies of all important documents such as IDs, birth certificates, medical records, ownership certificates (deeds or leases), and insurance information. Keep documents in a fire and water-proof safe.
Review your insurance policies: Most standard homeowners insurance policies cover wind damage caused by tornadoes. Contact your insurance company and ensure you have adequate coverage to compensate for any damage to your home and belongings.
Trim shrubs, trees, and branches that can fall on your house during a tornado
Make sure structures such as tool sheds and swing sets are secured to the ground
Consider having a safe room in your home where you and your family members can stay during a tornado—this can be a storm cellar, basement, or an interior room on the first floor with no windows
Move or secure any outside furniture or items that can be picked up by the wind
Remove any debris or loose items around your home. This is because these objects may become missiles during a tornado
Install permanent shutters on your windows to protect them against strong winds
Learn how to turn off utilities in your home, including water, gas, and electricity, at the main switches or valves
Call a professional to ensure that your walls are securely fastened to the foundation
Make sure wall studs are attached to roof rafters with metal hurricane clips and not nails
Keep furniture like chairs and beds away from windows, mirrors, and picture frames
Place heavy items on lower shelves or cabinets. Use bolts or latches to secure cabinet doors
Anchor heavy objects to the ground, including water heaters, china cabinets, and bookcases. This is to prevent them from toppling over when a tornado strikes
Store household chemicals and any toxic material, such as poisons and solvents in a sturdy and locked cabinet
Mobile homes can be blown away by the storm; if you live in a mobile home, have a nearby safe building or space where you can quickly get to.
Pack a car emergency kit and keep it in the trunk of your car
The kit should contain supplies such as food, water, a spare tire, a wheel wrench, a tripod jack, jumper cables, multipurpose utility tools, a compass, a car charger for your cell phone, duct tape, and a rain poncho
Store your vehicle in a garage or storage building to prevent damage from high winds
Avoid parking your car near a tree or power line since strong winds can make them fall and cause damage.
If your boat can be trailered, haul it out of the water and move it to a safer area
If you intend on keeping your boat in a marina berth, double all lines and keep your vessel away from dock edges and pilings
If your vessel will be at anchor, move to the most protected area possible and set multiple anchors with a scope ratio of 10:1
If you decide to moor your vessel, make sure your mooring is solid and can withstand the load that will be placed on it by your vessel
Check mooring chains and swivels, and ensure they are in good condition
Remove all moveable equipment in the boat, including canvas covers, sails, cushions, radios, biminis, and dinghies
Secure everything that cannot be removed, such as wheels, tillers, and booms
Consider installing fenders, fender boards, or tires to prevent your boat from rubbing against pilings or other boats
Charge batteries and ensure they can run automatic bilge pumps during the storm
Be sure to disconnect power cords and electronics on board
Store important documents in a safe place, including your lease or storage rental agreement with the marina, a recent photo of your vessel, insurance policies, boat registration, and equipment inventory
Avoid storing your boat near trees or any object that can topple over and cause damage due to strong winds.
Gather a pet supply kit containing items such as pet food and water, medications, blankets, pet toys and treats, a harness or leash, a pet carrier, crates, and a litter box
Your pet supply kit should also contain copies of your pet’s registration information, veterinary records, a picture of you and your pet, and other relevant documents
Find an animal shelter ahead of time in case you may need to evacuate
You can also ask your family and friends that live outside your immediate area if they can pet-sit during the emergency
Make sure your pets are tagged and microchipped to make finding them easier if you become separated from them during a tornado
Take your pets along when practicing your evacuation routes with your family. This makes it easier to bring your pets calmly to a safe location when a tornado strikes.
Since tornadoes can be very dangerous, it is important to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. This will help you to take the necessary steps to prepare for the disaster. Tornado watches are issued by the NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center when weather conditions in an area indicate an increased risk that a tornado may occur. Alerts are sent out a few hours before the tornado strikes to inform the public to be prepared and to remain vigilant for the storm. Tornado warnings, on the other hand, are more urgent alerts that are issued by local offices of the National Weather Service (NWS). These alerts are sent out within minutes when a tornado has been reported by spotters or detected by weather radar. A Tornado warning usually indicates that there is a serious threat to life and property, particularly to anyone or anything in the path of the tornado. Once you receive this warning, you should take action immediately and find a safe location to stay.
Public officials use the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to send out alerts to Mississippi residents through their mobile phones (mostly via text messages). The IPAWS uses Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), the Emergency Alert System (EAS), and the NOAA Weather Radio to notify the public about a disaster. Most communities in Mississippi also have tornado siren systems that produce a three to five-minute wavering sound to warn residents that a tornado warning has been issued. Some sirens can make verbal announcements that a tornado warning has been sent out. When you hear the siren sound, stay calm and listen to the radio, TV, or any media for emergency information and instructions.
One of the first and most important steps to take when preparing for tornado season is to determine if your area has a low, moderate, or high tornado risk. You can use the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s National Risk Index Map to check your tornado risk. The map contains a Tornado Risk Index score and rating, which represent your area's relative risk for tornados when compared to other parts of the U.S. You can also check your Tornado Expected Annual Loss score and rating, which represent your area's relative level of expected building and population losses yearly due to tornados.
Consider the following safety tips if a tornado occurs when you are in a building:
Go to a safe place immediately if you see signs of a tornado - a basement, storm cellar, or an inside room on the lowest floor (e.g., closet, hallway, or bathroom) will do
Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls
Do not take shelter near heavy objects on the floor (refrigerators, pianos, water heaters, etc.) that may fall on you
Protect yourself by getting under a sturdy table, desk, or workbench
You should also cover your body with heavy blankets, pillows, or a sleeping bag, if possible
If you are in a wheelchair, move away from the windows and go to an interior room of your house
If you live in a mobile home, move immediately to a nearby basement or sturdy building.
If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch or ravine and cover your head and neck with your hands.
If you are in a long-span building such as a mall, theater, or gym, move to the lowest level of the building and stay away from the windows, as these buildings may collapse if a tornado hits
Listen to the local radio, TV, and other media for emergency updates and instructions.
Never try to outrun a tornado because tornado winds can easily pick up vehicles
Drive to a nearby building and stay there until the tornado stops
If you cannot get to a building, get down in your car, buckle your seatbelt, and cover your head and neck with your arms
Make sure to keep your head down below the windows
You can also find a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine and lie face to the ground and protect your body with a coat or blanket
Avoid highway overpasses and bridges because they may have sustained damage due to the storm
Do not take shelter under your vehicle.
Find shelter immediately in a basement, or sturdy building
If there is no safe location nearby, go to a low-lying area such as a ditch or depression and lie flat
Protect your head and neck with your arms
Avoid seeking shelter in areas with many trees because a tornado can uproot trees and cause them to fall on you
Watch out for flying debris and avoid hiding under a bridge or overpass.
Even after a tornado passes, you should not leave your shelter until you are sure that it is safe to do so. Take note of the following safety tips when returning home after a tornado:
Listen to emergency updates and instructions from the media before returning home
Call 911 if you or anyone around you need urgent medical attention
Take care of children, older adults, and people with disabilities who require special assistance.
Communicate with family and friends and inform them of your safety
Keep children and pets under your direct control
Pay attention to how you and your family members are experiencing and handling stress after a tornado.
Stay out of damaged buildings because they may collapse completely
Check your home for structural damage or cracks before entering
Call a professional to make repairs to damaged structures and to permanently secure your home to the ground
You can also ask such a professional to build tornado-resistant features to strengthen your home against future damage
Take pictures of any damage to your home and belongings for evidence when filing a claim with your insurance company.
Watch out for broken gas lines or fallen power lines and report them to the utility company immediately
If you smell gas or propane in your home or hear a hissing noise, get out quickly and contact the fire department
Contact your local government to check if your water supply is safe to use
Avoid using contaminated water to prepare food, wash dishes, brush teeth, or wash hands
Do not use candles or open flames inside your home. Instead, use battery-powered flashlights
Avoid contact with floodwaters because they may contain sewage, insects, and other wildlife.
Wear protective clothing during clean-up, including long pants, rubber gloves, facemasks, thick-soled shoes, and a long-sleeved shirt
Clean up spilled gasoline, bleaches, or other flammable liquids that can ignite a fire
Dispose of all food, beverages, and medicine that have been exposed to floodwaters and mud
Clean your home thoroughly with boiled water and soap or a detergent
Work with a partner when moving furnishings or debris, because they may be waterlogged and heavier
Throw out objects that absorb water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected, including mattresses, carpeting, and stuffed animals
Do not use electrical appliances while standing in the water to avoid the risk of electrocution
Be aware that your home may be contaminated with mold when flooded. This can worsen the health condition of people with asthma, allergies, or other breathing problems.
There are different types of disaster assistance programs available to residents of Mississippi who have suffered damage due to a tornado. Some of these programs include:
Individual Assistance Program: This is a federal disaster program consisting of the Housing Assistance and Other Needs Assistance programs. FEMA uses this disaster program to help survivors with temporary housing costs and disaster-related expenses, including medical, funeral, and transportation expenses. Under this program, residents of Mississippi can receive grants to repair damage to their homes caused by a disaster. To qualify for this disaster assistance, your county must be declared a federal disaster area by the president. You can apply online by visiting the FEMA's disaster assistance website or calling (800) 621-3362. People with hearing and speech disabilities can call (800) 462-7585 to apply.
U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA): The SBA offers low-interest loans to disaster victims who are homeowners, renters, or business owners. The loans cover both Physical and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. You must live in an SBA-declared disaster area to become eligible for disaster assistance. Applicants can visit the SBA website to apply or call (800) 659-2955. Those with hearing and speech disabilities should call (800) 887-8339.
State Temporary Housing Program: During non-Presidential Disaster Declarations but when the Governor has issued a state of emergency, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) offers assistance to residents who are displaced from their homes for over 72 hours due to a disaster. Eligible residents may receive up to three months of rental assistance.
Disaster Unemployment Assistance: The Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) offers this disaster assistance to individuals whose jobs were lost or interrupted due to a major disaster declared by the president. To qualify for this assistance, applicants must show that they are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits under any state or federal law. You can visit the MDES website to apply or call toll-free at (601) 493-9428 (8 a.m.- 5 p.m., Monday through Friday).