February 1971 Mississippi Delta tornado outbreak
|Date(s)||February 21–22, 1971|
|Maximum rated tornado||F5 (Fujita scale)|
The February 1971 Mississippi Delta tornado outbreak was a deadly tornado outbreak that struck portions of the Lower Mississippi River Valley and the Southeastern United States on February 21–22, 1971. The two-day outbreak produced 19 tornadoes and killed 123 people across three states. The majority of the fatalities were caused by three violent tornadoes across western Mississippi and northeastern Louisiana.
Activity started early on the morning of February 21. The first tornadoes touched down in Texas east of Austin and north of Waco. The main activity intensified during the afternoon over the Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys until the late evening hours.
At around 3:00 pm CST a tornado touched down in Madison Parish, Louisiana, and moved northeast into Waverly, just east of Delhi and near present-day Interstate 20. Destroying several homes in Waverly, the tornado killed a family of 10 and caused F5 damage in the area. It continued through or near Alsatia and Melbourne before crossing the Mississippi River into Mississippi. Turning to the north-northeast, it struck areas near Mayersville and Delta City, causing more deaths. The funnel then made a sharp turn into the towns of Inverness and Moorhead before dissipating. It killed 47 people, 11 in Louisiana and 36 in Mississippi, with 21 of the deaths in Inverness alone, where 150 buildings were damaged or destroyed. The Delhi tornado is the only official F5 to have hit the State of Louisiana since official tornado records began in 1950 and the only F5 tornado ever recorded in the month of February. It is also the deadliest F5 tornado since the Candlestick Park tornado in 1966 killed 58 people across Mississippi and Alabama. 74 people died in the state of Mississippi.
At around 4:00 pm CST, the deadliest tornado of the outbreak touched down just east of the Mississippi River near Fitler. Moving north-northeast, the tornado affected areas in and around Issaquena, Rolling Fork, Cary, Anguilla, Itta Bena, and Oxford before dissipating just across the Tennessee state line. Most of its path was just a few miles east of the areas affected by the F5 tornado and several counties were affected by both tornadoes. With 58 fatalities, including 14 near Cary and 21 in Pugh City, this tornado was the deadliest on record since the Udall tornado in 1955 killed 80 people. It was eventually displaced from this title during the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak. It is also the deadliest tornado in Mississippi since 1950, surpassing the Candlestick Park tornado in 1966 by one fatality, though the Candlestick death occurred in Alabama. However, the number of deaths is well short of the 216 killed in the Tupelo F5 in 1936.
|All deaths were tornado-related|
Two other tornadoes in Mississippi killed at least 16 people in Yazoo, Warren and Sunflower Counties. The Yazoo County tornado is the 16th longest ever in Mississippi as it traveled for nearly 70 mi (110 km).
The outbreak is also one of the deadliest ever in the state, with 110 deaths. Most of the region was declared a disaster area by then-US President Richard Nixon. Additional tornadoes touched down on the following day from Indiana to the Carolinas, including one in the Columbus Metropolitan Area. A long-lived F3 tornado in North Carolina also killed two people near Fayetteville. The entire outbreak is the second deadliest ever in February, behind only the Enigma tornado outbreak in 1884 and ahead of the 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak.
February 21 event
|F#||Location||County||Time (UTC)||Path length||Damage|
|F2||Bellmead area||McLennan||1330||0.1 miles (160 m)||Brief tornado struck downtown Bellmead, badly damaging multiple businesses, some of which lost roofs and walls. One home had its roof torn off and a trailer was completely destroyed. A shopping center was badly damaged as well.|
|F1||SW of Lincoln||Lee||1415||0.3 miles (480 m)|
|F5||SW of Delhi to S of Schlater, MS||Madison, East Carroll, Issaquena (MS), Sharkey (MS), Washington (MS), Humphreys (MS), Sunflower (MS), Leflore (MS)||2050||109.2 miles (175.7 km)||47 deaths – Tornado touched down just outside of Delhi and tore through the small community of Waverly, where homes were completely leveled and 10 fatalities occurred. F5 damage was observed in this area. Homes and trailers were also completely destroyed in the Alsatia/Melbourne area before the tornado crossed into Mississippi. The tornado passed near Mayersville before tearing through Delta City, where seven people died. The tornado continued northeast, completely leveling the town of Inverness, where 21 people died. The tornado then leveled the north side of Moorhead, killing four people there before dissipating. In all, the tornado destroyed hundreds of homes along its path.|
|F2||SW of Dermott to E of McGehee||Drew, Desha||2100||17.1 miles (27.5 km)||Tornado downed numerous trees along its path. Homes in McGehee were badly damaged.|
|F2||S of Wynne||St. Francis||2300||4.6 miles (7.4 km)|
|F4||S of Fitler to SW of Middleton, TN||Issaquena, Sharkey, Humphreys, Leflore, Grenada, Marshall, Hardeman (TN)||2200||202.1 miles (325.2 km)||58 deaths – Tornado destroyed hundreds of homes and plantations along its path, some of which were swept away. Areas in and around Swiftown, Cary, Pugh City, and Morgan City were devastated by the tornado, with 21 fatalities alone in Pugh City, which was entirely wiped out and never rebuilt. The funnel may have weakened and reformed into a new tornado near Cascilla and Tillatoba, causing scattered damage in those communities and near Oxford. The path in Tennessee may have been done by a separate F3 tornado that struck three homes, destroying one of them with $40,000 in damage.|
|F4||S of Bovina to SW of Lexington||Warren, Yazoo, Holmes||2306||65.2 miles (104.9 km)||13 deaths – Multiple homes were leveled along the path and at least 200 people were injured.|
|F3||N of Whitney||Sunflower||2330||8.6 miles (13.8 km)||3 deaths – Several houses and tenant houses were destroyed. Five people were injured.|
|F0||S of McRaven||Hinds||0054||0.1 miles (160 m)|
|F2||SW of Ashland||Benton||0100||0.1 miles (160 m)|
|F1||SW of Florence||Rankin||0110||0.1 miles (160 m)|
|F0||Brandon area||Rankin||0135||0.1 miles (160 m)|
|F2||NE of Pontotoc||Pontotoc||0230||0.1 miles (160 m)||In the community of Hurricane, a school was destroyed and surrounding school buildings were damaged. A church and two stores were damaged as well.|
|F2||SE of Selmer||McNairy||0335||1.5 miles (2.4 km)||A tornado struck the town of Selmer, destroying 11 businesses and 20 homes. It damaged four businesses and 20 homes as well. The tornado injured 36 people, of whom six were hospitalized. Caused $1,000,000 in damage. Rating is disputed by Thomas P. Grazulis, who indicates that it may have been F3 rather than F2.|
|Source: Tornado History Project - February 21, 1971 Storm Data|
February 22 event
|F#||Location||County||Time (UTC)||Path length||Damage|
|F1||SW of Greensburg||Decatur||1800||9.1 miles (14.6 km)|
|F1||E of St. Matthews||Calhoun||2120||11.9 miles (19.2 km)||One factory and two small homes were unroofed.|
|F2||SE of Pancoastburg||Fayette, Pickaway||2125||2 miles (3.2 km)|
|F3||Columbus area||Franklin||2155||6.8 miles (10.9 km)||Moved through the southeast side of Columbus, damaging and destroying multiple homes. Other buildings were unroofed and warehouses were destroyed. Caused $2,800,000 in damage.|
|F3||Fayetteville||Cumberland, Sampson, Greene, Edgecombe, Pitt||2230||85.7 miles (137.9 km)||2 deaths – Moved across the north side of Fayetteville, destroying 40 homes and damaging another 325.|
|Source: Tornado History Project - February 22, 1971 Storm Data|
- This Day in History 1971: Tornadoes move across Mississippi River Delta
- National Weather Service Forecast Office - Jackson, MS
- The United States' Worst Tornadoes
- Tornado history project
- Grazulis, Thomas P. (July 1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. ISBN 1-879362-03-1.