It’s late Wednesday afternoon, and as this editorial is being written Bolivar and Sunflower counties are under a tornado watch and will be so until 11 p.m.
Mother Nature has come alive and is dancing in the relentless south-southwest wind whistling by the house as it gusts somewhere between 28 and 40 mph. Cypress trees are nodding and bowing. Corn stalks in the field across the street, while still managing to hold fast to the good Earth, seem to be whirling in the wind like square dancers doing the do-si-do.
But the birds are not singing their spring songs, thunder is rumbling overhead, and little limbs are snapping off trees. The three outside cats have taken cover the house.
And well they should.
During April, Mississippi experienced 63 tornadoes. It was a record number of twisters for the month of April in our state. Some 25 of them were strong tornadoes—EF2-to-EF5—which in itself broke the old record, according to the National Weather Service in Jackson.
The tornado that flattened 70 percent of Smithville, for instance, was an E-5.
Neighboring Alabama experienced 108 tornadoes so far this year. On April 27, alone, 63 tornadoes swept across the state—the same number of tornadoes that Mississippi experienced in all of April.
Two of those tornadoes in Alabama that day were EF5 twisters, with winds of more than 200 mph, and seven were EF4s with winds ranging from 166 to 200 mph.
In addition, the number of tornadoes this past April in Mississippi set a new monthly record for twisters for any month since 1950. The old record was 44, which was set during the Hurricane Rita outbreak of tornadoes onSept. 24-25, 2005, the weather service said.
The death toll continues to rise this week in the nation after a deadly tornado cut a swath six miles long and a mile wide through Joplin, Mo., killing at least 122 people and destroying roughly 2,000 buildings in the process. The national toll of human life lost in tornadoes for the year now stands at more than 480 victims.
An average of around a 1,000 tornadoes claim the lives of 60 Americans annually. Most tornado victims die from flying or falling debris.
The economic cost to the nation of the twisters this year has been staggering. More than 72,000 individuals and households have registered for help from FEMA. By May 20 the federal agency had approved more than $45.3 million in aid.
On days, such as the one in which this editorial is being written, it’s vitally important to pay attention to what’s occurring.
When a tornado “watch” is listed for our area, it means weather conditions that spawn tornadoes are possible. If a tornado “warning” is issued, it means that a tornado has actually been spotted, or is strongly indicated on radar, and it’s time to move to a safe shelter immediately.
If a watch or warning is posted, then the fall of hail should be considered as a real sign of danger. A strange quiet occurring within or shortly after a thunderstorm is a similar warning sign as are fast-moving clouds, especially when they’re rotating or converging toward one area of the sky.
Listen for a sound similar to a waterfall or rushing air at first, but turning into a roar as it comes closer. A funnel-shaped, rotating cloud is a sure sign of an approaching tornado as is falling debris or tree leaves turned upward.
It’s better to be on your toes when a tornado is approaching than blown off them.