On Friday, a tornado that ripped through Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia claimed at least 22 lives.
One of them was a monster twister with an intensity rating of 4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale of 0 to 5. The three-quarter-mile-wide tornado devastated the city of Rolling Fork and astounded meteorologists with its magnitude and power as it tore through Mississippi for 59 miles and roughly one hour and ten minutes.
Storm chaser Stephanie Cox, who is based in Oklahoma, told BBC News, “I still can’t believe what I saw.
At least 13 people were killed by the storm, which caused devastation in the town, which is more than 80% Black and has a poverty rate of roughly 21%.
Charles Weissinger, a resident of Rolling Fork for all of his 72 years, told The Washington Post that “the vast majority of all the residential and commercial property in our little village is virtually gone.” The roof is missing where I’m sitting in my office right now. I can see a clear sky.
Even more direct advice came from the mayor of the Mississippi Delta town that Muddy Waters claimed as his birthplace. Also in the path of the tornado was the 200-some Delta community of Silver City, where, as The Washington Post reported, only a few buildings still stand.
The storms that swept across the South on Friday are thought to have killed 21 people in Mississippi and one person in Alabama, where a tornado toppled a mobile home onto a 67-year-old man, trapping him, according to The Weather Channel. Twisters also damaged more than 100 homes and businesses in Georgia.
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Following the storms, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a State of Emergency, according to CNN. And President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Mississippi Sunday morning, which will unlock federal aid for residents of Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe, and Sharkey counties, where Rolling Fork is located, as The White House announced.
Meteorologists said to BBC News that the Rolling Fork tornado originated from a supercell storm, which features warm air near the ground and variable wind directions and speeds as you move up in the atmosphere. Although these storms are uncommon, they can last longer than regular storms and result in greater damage.
According to Lance Perrilloux, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, Mississippi, the conditions were just right for the storm to last a very long time, which is unusual. It caused that tornado to just wreak havoc for a long distance.
Perrilloux further informed NPR that the storm’s duration and power made it one of the rare tornadoes that we’ve seen in documented Mississippi history.
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The role that the climate crisis plays in influencing tornadoes is difficult to assess, but there is some evidence that they are becoming more common in the Southeast and Midwest relative to the Great Plains, and that outbreaks of multiple tornadoes are set to become more likely in the South and Mid-South with global warming.
What we’re going to see is more of these disasters, Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Victor Gensini told Axios in 2021, after another tornado cluster struck eight states in the South and Mid-South.