Tornado Season Is in Full Swing

It's likely that few of us were familiar with Rolling Fork, Mississippi prior to last month. A small city of only 1.4 square miles and a population under 1,900, it's located in the middle western portion of the state. Its claim to fame is blues singer Muddy Waters calling it his hometown. 

But Rolling Fork had the misfortune of gaining national attention in late March when an EF-4 wedge tornado struck and devastated the town. Winds reached 170 miles per hour.

The catastrophic damage included most of the business buildings. Power lines were knocked down, trees were uprooted, and a water tower was blown over. 

A total of 16 people were killed by the tornado and at least 15 were injured. Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker summed it up by saying his "city is gone." A resident described the town as "obliterated." Another resident said, "This was a very great small town, and now it's gone."

Hundreds of Tornadoes Already in 2023 

As tragic as this incident was, perhaps there would be some consolation if we could say it was a freak occurrence. After all, the peak tornado season runs from April through June.

But 2023 has already indicated it doesn't want to play by the rules. In 11 of the 13 weeks leading up to April 1, severe weather including tornadoes occurred somewhere in the U.S.

As one news agency stated, "It has been an extremely active year in terms of severe weather, with well above normal numbers in terms of tornadoes." 

During January and February, there were 178 confirmed tornadoes. According to the Storm Prediction Center, that's the fourth most in recorded history. Through late March, 296 tornadoes were confirmed in America. Now, more than 400 have been confirmed.

'People Screaming from the Neighborhood'

During the deadly tornado outbreak in late March in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, 26 people lost their lives and dozens more were injured. 

Some neighborhoods were completely leveled, while roofs of houses were ripped off in other areas. Rolling Fork Vice Mayor LaDonna Sias said, "It seemed like forever until that noise stopped. You could hear people screaming from the neighborhood."

Tate Reeves is the governor of Mississippi. Following the outbreak, he said, "I'm devastated by the destruction and loss of life that these storms have caused." Reeves and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised support to the impacted communities.

As happens during severe weather events, power was knocked out for tens of thousands of homes and businesses. In this case, blackouts occurred in parts of three states. And flooding negatively affected some rescue efforts.

May is Traditionally the Worst Tornado Month

Will we look back on 2023 and say it was an unusually active tornado season? Or is this just part of an overall escalation of violent weather? Only time will tell. 

But we've all observed that extreme weather events have been increasing in recent years. Both in the number of storms and in their intensity. So, in some ways this is not all that unexpected. And we're about to enter May, traditionally the worst tornado month in the U.S. 

Bill Bunting is the chief of forecast operations at the Storm Prediction Center. He said, "There have been well over a dozen higher-end severe events – that's like enhanced risks, Level 3 of 5 or higher – just since November.

"It reminds me of some of the more historically active years that we've seen in the past."

West Coast Weather Affecting Rest of Country

Bunting added that the extreme weather occurring on the West Coast this past winter and now in the spring has been a factor in Midwest, East Coast, and Southern weather patterns.

He said, "These very strong wind fields, very strong surface cyclones developing, can contribute to heightened severe weather potential as those systems get farther east."

Michael Berry is a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Shreveport, Louisiana. He said in late March that he was concerned about the upcoming tornado season.

"We've been so burdened with severe weather so far in February and March. April is coming at us like a freight train." He said with higher air temperatures and a warmer Gulf of Mexico, his area of the country has "the perfect ingredients for severe weather" this spring.

Prepare for Power Outages

What does the increase in severe weather events including tornadoes and their intensity mean for us? Well, for one thing, it means a higher risk of power outages. And the likelihood that those outages will last longer than normal. 

No manmade force can come close to stopping the power and devastation of a tornado and other strong storms. The only thing we can do to protect ourselves is to have a survival plan. 

That means knowing which room to more to during severe weather warnings and having supplies that will help us deal with the aftermath.

That survival gear includes backup power, an emergency food supply, and water purification products.

Millions of people can attest to the importance of those items. But too many of those millions had to learn lessons the hard way. By being prepared, you don't have to be one of them.

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