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.
— Kevin Myatt