Eric and I went wall-to-wall with our weather coverage shortly after 11am Saturday and didn't stop until 7pm. There is a disturbing feeling I cannot explain when you see a massive tornado signature on the radar, knowing the death and destruction it is about to bring, and trying to warn the public to take cover and not wait! Besides literally screaming at the camera lens, my hands are tied and there comes a point when I feel like I can't save everybody. Well, I felt like that Saturday.
The National Weather Service has surveyed most of the damage and found where the strongest tornado was an EF4 tornado, packing 170 mile per hour sustained winds. Other "smaller" tornadoes were classified as EF3 tornadoes with 150-165 mile per hour sustained winds. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has calculated 752 homes and 189 mobile homes damaged or destroyed. The estimated damage costs is $50 million for those homes and businesses that have been lost. The long track tornado went 149 miles! For Mississippi, that is staggering as we don't see many long track tornadoes (those are mostly in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma events).
Butch Smith sent me this picture of the tornado just outside of Yazoo City. This is by far the best picture of the tornado that I've seen.So why has this upset me so? Well, because I see this destruction from a different perspective than most meteorologists and news reporters---I've been there before. In looking at the video Saturday afternoon when our crews returned to the newsroom, I saw the shock, utter disbelief and confusion the tornado victims had on their face and I remembered those emotions very well. As I was talking about the aftermath on WLBT, I began to crack. I remembered looking at my damaged house in 2001 (F4 Madison tornado), seeing my obliterated subdivision and my zombied neighbors and wondered, what do I do next? Where do I go? Where do I even start?
Then I started hearing of the deaths from Saturday, 3 of which were children. Did they not know the tornado was coming? Where they not watching tv? If they were watching me at the time, was I not urgent enough in my voice? Was there something else I could have said that would have convinced them that this was serious? I just don't know.
But I do know that there will be more tornadoes and there will likely be more deaths. Take the weather seriously and heed the warnings. Have a NOAA Weather Radio. Although there are some instances when we predict tornadic events and nothing this extreme happens, it just takes one episode like this to make a believer out of you.