Yazoo City tornado: A historic storm, but difficult to chase

You may have noticed that although Saturday’s deadly tornado that shredded Yazoo City and many other Mississippi and Louisiana communities stayed on the ground for almost 150 miles, there has been very little in the way of photos or video of the storm, and certainly nothing that shows anything like a well-backlit funnel or cone we’d hope to see pursuing storms in the Plains. Most of what has been shown on television is video from near or within the tornado, some of it quite compelling, but more like what would be seen with a hurricane rather than a tornado.

Perhaps the best video actually showing tornado was captured by Tornadovideos.net (linked below), the chase group led by Reed Timmer of Discovery Channel fame . His chase team caught the wedge — a tornado wider than it is tall —  in the flat, cleared agricultural terrain near the Mississippi River.

Tornadovideos.net footage of wedge tornado in Mississippi (The tornado is most visible from :27 to 1:55)

The Mississippi tornado would present us many challenges in a chase. First, it is very unlikely we would ever chase storms that far south east of the Mississippi River, unless we knew the Plains were absolutely devoid of activity for several days. Secondly, much of Mississippi and the Deep South is difficult chase terrain, with rolling hills and thick forests. These storms were also moving very rapidly, close to 60 mph at times, so keeping up with this long-track tornado in what is already a challenging road network would have been very hard.

 But perhaps most troublesome is the nature of the storm itself. A wedge below a low cloud base in a high-precipitation supercell is often not easy to see and frequently becomes wrapped in rain and hail. This not only makes the storm not visually appealing, but can create a dangerous situation where the storm can get lost in blowing rain very quickly, or propel hail and debris many miles from the core of the twister.

We have experience with rain-wrapped wedges, fast-moving storms and less-than-ideal terrain. If we are ever in a situation like this with a large, destructive tornado and limits to visibility, we would always give it a wide berth for safety even at the expense of getting the best views if that was necessary. Knowing where we are on the map relative to the storm on radar would be absolutely essential to the success and safety of our chase.

The sight of devastation after a tornado of this magnitude would also cast a different pall on a chase day.  Many of our chase days are truly fun, featuring photogenic storm formations over sparsely populated regions and stark terrain, damaging little and injuring no one. It’s a much different situation when lives are lost and homes are ruined.

Seeing the grief and destruction in Mississippi is also a reminder that, wherever we go, we should be cognizant of the fact that people around us may have been adversely affected by severe weather in the past, even having lost homes and family members.

Click here to read more about Saturday’s tornado outbreak

— Kevin Myatt

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8 responses to “Yazoo City tornado: A historic storm, but difficult to chase

  1. great analysis kevin. the visibility was definitely a problem with that specific tornado. i even think that when you’ve got something 1.75 mi wide, it’s probably even hard to discern if it’s a tornado or not!

    just today they upgraded the tornado that went through dekalb from an EF3 to EF4…

  2. hokiestormchaser

    In 2004 we bailed out of a dangerous chase situation in Nebraska at nightfall after netting a couple of tornadoes, and those storms proceeded to produce the 2.5 mi. wide Hallam F4 tornado that devastated that community after dark. That was again a situation with many fast-moving storms producing multiple tornadoes. Nightfall, like poor-visibility terrain, is a great equalizer between chaser and storm. You want to have the odds stacked in your favor when pursuing these types of storms. -Dave

  3. Many survivors of the 1925 Tri-State Tornado (Mo., Ill., Ind., 219 mile path, 695 killed) said it didn’t look like a tornado so much as kind of a black fog rolling along the ground toward them. The appearance of monster wedges like the Yazoo City tornado show how that description is likely much more than legend.

  4. most definitely.

    and a 2.5 mi wide tornado??? oh man

  5. hokiestormchaser

    …the last I heard, Hallam NE was the widest documented tornado on record. -Dave

  6. Why am I not surprised Reed managed to capture that storm? Don’t think he dared take the Dominator anywhere close to that tornado (though I’m sure he thought about it).

    Kevin, I’ve heard the same thing about that tornado. I think the Weather Channel had a special on it years ago and they talked to a survivor of that storm who described it that way. I think she lived in Murhphysboro.

    I can’t even fathom a 2.5 mi wide tornado.

  7. P.S. Did anyone read where that storm system that caused the tornadoes in North Carolina back in March also caused a tornado in Freeport in the Bahamas?

  8. the bahamas?! really. cool! i mean, not cool for the people in the bahamas, but you know what i mean 😉

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