Tornadoes unusual for this time of year

Published 6:00 am Friday, December 21, 2007

Thursday’s tornado in the Heuck’s Retreat community, whichappeared suddenly and destroyed or damaged several homes, wasreported by the National Weather Service (NWS) as an EF2 with windsof more than 110 miles per hour.

An NWS survey team determined the tornado touched down two andone-half miles east of the Brookhaven Municipal Airport and finallybroke up two miles west of the Woolworth Community, carving out adamage path of approximately nine miles in length. The survey teamreported that the 110 mph winds tossed furniture and appliancesmore than 100 yards through the air.

The strange thing about Thursday’s tornado in Lincoln County wasnot its size, strength or duration, but its presence in the firstplace.

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“December tornadoes are unusual in Mississippi,” said BarbieBassett, the chief meteorologist for WLBT TV 3 in Jackson. “We havetwo severe weather seasons – one in April and May, and the other inNovember. Both severe weather seasons for us this year have beenrather uneventful.”

Bassett said the NWS did not issue a tornado warning for LincolnCounty before the touchdown occurred. However, she said a severethunderstorm warning was issued for much of the lower half of thestate, and thunderstorms as powerful as those experienced Thursdayin Lincoln County are capable of producing straight line winds andspawning tornadoes at any time.

Mike Edmonston, a senior meteorologist with the NWS in Jackson,said no tornado warning was issued because the tornado was notapparent until it had already touched down. He said Lincoln Countywas the start line for the damage that ensued.

“Radar is used as a tool to detect tornadic activity,” he said.”But sometimes the storms are shallow, and the tornado developsbelow the radar beam. Those can be hard to detect.

“Lincoln County was the westernmost point in the state thatthese tornadoes got their act together,” he said. “The squall linefirst formed up there. It became more obvious as the storms movedto the east, and more warnings were issued later in the day.”

Edmonston said that, even without an official tornado warning,people need to be aware that severe thunderstorms moving through anarea are always capable of forming tornadoes and precautions shouldbe taken.

He also pointed to the possibility that similar thunderstormsmay move through the Lincoln County area Saturday evening.