Today was a day when natives of the Deep South caught up with weather obsessed natives of the High Plains states. It was Christmas Day, 2012, a day that probably set a record for tornado formations in the United States.
These tornadoes formed primarily in the Deep South, keeping residents of South Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama glued to the Weather Channel all day. It was a day when Jim Cantore, headliner of the worst weather in the country television coverage, set up shop in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in front of the Gander Mountain store on U.S. Hwy. 98 West. His presence put us on the national weather map.
An early storm wave hit about 5 a.m., with high wind and heavy rain, followed by some hours of relative calm, leading many to think we had dodged the worst of it. Then after noon, the waves of storm lines cranked up, pushing in from the northwest where temperatures in north Texas had dropped after lunch from an early 70 to 35.
As snow started falling in Dallas, the lines of thunderstorms rolled through Louisiana into Mississippi. These were very intense storms holding cells that produced swirling winds developing into tornadoes, dipping down here and there, setting off alarms and generating reports of damage all around us.
After 2 p.m. here heavy rain inundated the area, at times leaving a wall of white just outside the windows: that’s about as dense as rainfall gets. The lines of storms all carried the tornado cells, but that series passed through,again leaving relative calm.
Then came the big one, the one producing multiple tornados, either dipping to the ground or sighted swirling just above the ground. Reports started coming in of tornado damage here and there. The worst line was moving through Hattiesburg about 5:30 p.m. Luckily it moved quite fast so the tension of whether or not it would drop passed rather quickly. By 6 we knew we were in the clear.
In the meantime, one of the earlier lines of storms brought a tornado into the middle of Mobile – again – this time in the Springhill area, causing a “war zone look” in residential areas and ripping the roof off a school and blowing out windows in a medical center. Only preliminary reports have been received as I write this.
When I was growing up and as a young adult, Tornado Alley of this country was a band that stretched from Wichita Falls, Texas, to Kansas City, Missouri. Now that area of tornado activity covers territory extending to the Gulf Coast. Mississippi has more deaths from tornados that other states.
Christmas Day tornadoes, however, are not common here nor are they anywhere in the country. This day will live in weather infamy – most tornado formations ever.
Being glued to weather reports and forecasts is nothing new to me as a native of Nebraska who lived some time in Kansas in the old Tornado Alley. Today, December 25, 2012, however, was the day that Deep South residents became weather obsessed as well.