February 1971 Mississippi Delta tornado outbreak

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February 1971 Mississippi Delta tornado outbreak
Type Tornado outbreak
Duration February 21–22, 1971
Tornadoes confirmed 19
Max rating1 F5 tornado
Duration of tornado outbreak2 ~33 hours, 15 minutes
Damage $45.9 million (1971 USD)
Areas affected Southern United States, Ohio River Valley

1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

2Time from first tornado to last tornado
Map detailing tornado tracks of the February 1971 Mississippi Delta tornado outbreak

The February 1971 Mississippi Delta tornado outbreak struck portions of the Lower Mississippi River Valley and the Southeastern United States on February 21–22. The two-day tornado outbreak produced at least 19 tornadoes, and probably several more, mostly brief events in rural areas;[1][2] killed 123 people across three states; and "virtually leveled" entire communities in the state of Mississippi.[3] Three violent, long-lived tornadoes—two of which may have been tornado families[4]—in western Mississippi and northeastern Louisiana caused most of the deaths along 300 miles (483 km) of path.[2] One of the tornadoes attained F5 intensity in Louisiana, the only such event on record in the state.[5][6] The outbreak also generated strong tornadoes from Texas to Ohio and North Carolina. 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 was the fourth-deadliest day for tornadoes in Mississippi on record.[2] At one point, the National Weather Service WSR-57[7] radar in Jackson, Mississippi, reported four hook echoes, often indicative of tornado-producing supercells, simultaneously.[2]

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. The first of the three long-lived violent tornadoes was an F5 that touched down in Louisiana and traveled continuously for 102 miles (164 km), followed by an F4 in Mississippi that produced continuous damage for 159 mi (256 km) and continued into Tennessee.[2] A third, F4 tornado traveled 65 mi (100 km) through Little Yazoo, Mississippi, and near Lexington. The three violent tornadoes moved at up to 55 miles per hour (89 km/h),[3] and eyewitnesses reported more than 50 tornadoes or funnel clouds in the Mississippi Delta region alone,[3] many of which were sightings of the same tornado.[1] Although authorities issued timely warnings—with average lead times of 50 minutes in the worst-hit areas[8]—few homes in the area were well constructed,[9] and many lacked basements or other safe areas, thus contributing to the large number of deaths.[10] Many residents were reportedly aware of the danger but could not find shelter in time.[11] As a result, the violent tornadoes killed entire families and caused as many as 21 deaths in some communities.[4] Many of the dead were blacks living in frail structures.[12][13] In Mississippi alone, tornadoes officially killed 110 people (107 in some sources)[2] and injured 1,469 (officially 1,060); of these, 454 persons were hospitalized.[2]

Outbreak death toll
State Total County County
Louisiana 11 Madison 11
Mississippi 110 Humphreys 32
Leflore 14
Sharkey 23
Sunflower 28
Warren 2
Yazoo 11
North Carolina 2 Cumberland 2
Totals 123
All deaths were tornado-related

Confirmed tornadoes[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 2 4 7 3 2 1 19

February 21 event[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F2 Bellmead area McLennan 1330 0.1 miles (160 m) This 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.[4]
F1 SW of Lincoln Lee 1415 0.3 miles (480 m) A brief tornado tore off an awning and part of a steel roof, carrying them about 100 feet (30 m) and pulling three awning posts out of the ground.[14] Two-by-four lumber pieces were driven into the ground as well.
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 – This devastating, long-lived tornado—of F5 intensity in Louisiana, F4 in Mississippi[6]—first appeared aloft[15] northwest of Crowville, Louisiana[16]—about 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Delhi—before touching down over eastern Madison Parish[4] southwest of Delhi. The tornado then moved northeast through the small community of Waverly,[4] about 3 mi (4.8 km) east of Delhi,[15] where it was first reported operationally. In this area, along and northeast of U.S. Route 80, the tornado completely leveled many small homes at F5 intensity,[4][6] killing 10 people in a family of 12 on a farmstead near Joes Bayou,[15][16] five of whose bodies were thrown into nearby swamps and were not located for weeks.[4] The tornado continued northeast, destroying seven homes and two trailers in the mostly-rural Alsatia/"Melbourne" area, south of Transylvania,[4] before crossing the Mississippi River into Mississippi. The tornado passed near Mayersville, gradually weakening until entering northern Sharkey County, where it may have reformed into a new, F4 tornado[4][6] before hitting Delta City, destroying the entire community[3] and killing seven people.[4] The tornado continued northeast, killing two people near Cameta[17] and two more west of Isola.[4] Afterward, it entered the town of Inverness as a large tornado,[18] destroying 125 homes and 40 other structures[4]—80–90% of the community[15]—killing 21 people, and injuring 200 more.[4] The tornado destroyed the entire central business district,[18] city hall, the three largest churches in town, and entire blocks of frail homes in the black section of town; many of these homes were "obliterated."[12] Hundreds of people were left homeless, and railroad cars were tipped onto their sides.[12] The tornado then leveled the northwest side of Moorehead, killing four people there before dissipating.[4] In all, the tornado destroyed hundreds of homes along its path. It is the only official F5/EF5 to have hit the state of Louisiana since official tornado records began in 1950 and the only F5/EF5 tornado ever recorded in the month of February. Until an EF5 tornado on April 27, 2011, killed 72 people, it was also the deadliest F5 tornado since the Candlestick Park tornado in 1966 killed 58 people across Mississippi and Alabama.[6]
F2 SW of Dermott to E of McGehee Drew, Desha 2100 17.1 miles (27.5 km) This minimal F2 tornado downed numerous trees along its path and damaged several homes in McGehee, some severely.[4]
F2 S of Wynne St. Francis 2300 4.6 miles (7.4 km) A brief tornado damaged many structures, including a brick home and mobile homes. Two barns were destroyed as well.[19] Rating disputed, not listed as significant by Grazulis.[4]
F4 SE of Fitler to SW of Middleton, TN Issaquena, Sharkey, Humphreys, Leflore, Grenada, Marshall, Hardeman (TN) 2200 202.1 miles (325.2 km) 58 deaths – The deadliest and longest-lived of the three long-tracked violent tornadoes was likely a tornado family.[4] It first touched down between 6 to 8 mi (9.7 to 13 km) southwest of Cary and moved northeast into town,[15] destroying the entire community.[3] Just south of Cary, the tornado destroyed the Evanna plantation, killing 14 people in the area.[4] Continuing to the northeast,[15] the tornado crossed Gooden Lake as a waterspout, killing seven people there and two more nearby at "Mound Lake Plantation."[4] The tornado then passed through and completely destroyed the "Pugh City" plantation, reducing frail, low-income housing to "splinters," rolling farm machinery, and killing at least 21 people.[4][15][17] Extensive wind-rowing occurred as frame homes were completely swept away.[20] The tornado killed two more people in Swiftown, six in Morgan City, two 2 mi (3.2 km) west of Greenwood (near Fort Loring), and four near Money.[4] The tornado may have weakened and reformed into a new tornado, 200 yd (183 m) wide,[18] that passed in or near Avalon, Oxberry, Cascilla, and Tillatoba, causing scattered damage in those communities.[4][18][21] This tornado then lifted and reformed into one or more tornadoes west of Oxford, destroying more than 31 mobile homes in trailer parks, passing near the University of Mississippi campus, and producing a path at least 10 mi (16 km) long into the Holly Springs National Forest.[4][17][22] Areas in and near Oxford reported $500,000 in damage, the worst natural disaster in local history.[22] Yet another or more tornadoes may have caused damage from Benton County[17] into Tennessee, where F3 damage occurred 5 mi (8.0 km) southwest of Middleton; there, three homes were damaged and one was destroyed with $40,000 in damage.[4] The tornado was just a few miles east of the areas affected by the F5 tornado for most of its path, and several counties were affected by both tornadoes. With 58 fatalities, the tornado is the deadliest in Mississippi since 1950;[6] however, the deadliest Mississippi tornado on record in the 20th century killed 216 people in 1936.
F4 S of Bovina to SW of Lexington Warren, Yazoo, Holmes 2306 65.2 miles (104.9 km) 13 deaths – The final long-lived violent tornado of the outbreak touched down south-southwest of Bovina, where it was seen approaching .5 mi (0.80 km) away.[18] The tornado destroyed barns and homes, including a guest house, as well as hundreds of trees. One home was completely leveled, with only concrete blocks remaining on its foundation, and two people died of injuries.[4] Next, the tornado passed through and destroyed Little Yazoo,[3] where many homes and other buildings were leveled and swept away.[23] Near Little Yazoo and Bentonia, the tornado leveled a dozen more homes, killing 11 people.[4] In Holmes County, the tornado extensively damaged homes, barns, chicken coops, and sheds before dissipating.[18] In all, the tornado leveled many homes along the path and injured at least 200 people.[4]
F3 N of Whitney Sunflower 2330 8.6 miles (13.8 km) 3 deaths – Several homes, including tenant houses, were destroyed. Rating disputed, ranked F2 by Grazulis.[4]
F0 S of McRaven Hinds 0054 0.1 miles (160 m)
F2 SW of Ashland Benton 0100 0.1 miles (160 m) This tornado was produced by the storm that affected Cary, "Pugh City," and Oxford.[4] It downed trees and power lines near Holly Springs and Ashland.[17] Rating disputed, not listed as significant by Grazulis.[4]
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.[4]
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.[4] The tornado injured 36 people, of whom six were hospitalized, and caused $1,000,000 in damage. Rating disputed, ranked F3 by Grazulis.[4]
Source: Tornado History Project - February 21, 1971 Storm Data

February 22 event[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F1 SW of Greensburg Decatur 1800 9.1 miles (14.6 km)
South Carolina
F1 E of St. Matthews Calhoun 2120 11.9 miles (19.2 km) One factory and two small homes were unroofed.[4]
F2 SE of Pancoastburg Fayette, Pickaway 2125 2 miles (3.2 km)
F3 Columbus area Franklin 2155 6.8 miles (10.9 km) This tornado moved through the southeast side of Columbus, damaging and destroying multiple homes that lost roofs or collapsed.[4] Other buildings lost their roofs, and warehouses were destroyed, with losses reaching $2,800,000. Rating disputed, ranked F2 by Grazulis.[4]
North Carolina
F3 Fayetteville to NE of Fountain Cumberland, Sampson, Greene, Edgecombe, Pitt 2230 85.7 miles (137.9 km) 2 deaths – This tornado moved across the north side of Fayetteville for 20 mi (32 km), destroying 40 homes—some of which had near-F4 damage and only interior walls left—and damaging another 325.[4] The rest of the path may have involved several distinct, brief tornadoes of weaker intensity.[24]
Source: Tornado History Project - February 22, 1971 Storm Data

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b NOAA 1971b, p. 55
  2. ^ a b c d e f g NOAA & Saltsman 1971, p. 15
  3. ^ a b c d e f NOAA 1971b, p. iii; 1
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak Grazulis 1993, p. 1121
  5. ^ Grazulis 1993, pp. 324–8
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Other Violent Tornadoes in Mississippi History". srh.noaa.gov. Jackson, Mississippi: National Weather Service. 2 March 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  7. ^ NOAA 1971b, p. 14
  8. ^ NOAA 1971b, p. 2
  9. ^ NOAA 1971b, p. 3
  10. ^ NOAA 1971b, p. iv
  11. ^ NOAA 1971b, p. 7
  12. ^ a b c Reed, Roy (February 23, 1971). "A Town's Luck Ends as Tornado Hits". Inverness, Mississippi: New York Times.
  13. ^ Reed, Roy (February 28, 1971). "Tornadoes: 'The Lord Was Looking After Me'". Inverness, Mississippi: New York Times.
  14. ^ NOAA 1971a, p. 25
  15. ^ a b c d e f g NOAA 1971b, p. 56
  16. ^ a b NOAA 1971a, p. 16
  17. ^ a b c d e NOAA 1971a, p. 18
  18. ^ a b c d e f NOAA & Saltsman 1971, p. 16
  19. ^ NOAA 1971a, p. 12
  20. ^ NOAA 1971b, p. 27
  21. ^ NOAA 1971b, p. 29
  22. ^ a b NOAA & Saltsman 1971, p. 17
  23. ^ NOAA 1971b, p. 52
  24. ^ NOAA 1971a, p. 21


External links[edit]