Discover the Most Powerful Tornado to Tear Through Mississippi

Tornado warning sign against a powerful stormy background with copy space. Dirty and angled sign with cyclonic winds add to the drama.
© Conceptual Art/

Written by Rebecca Mathews

Updated: September 10, 2023

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Mississippi has its fair share of powerful tornadoes and is one of the top five states overall for tornado strikes. Even small tornadoes cause devastating damage, but the biggest, widest, and fastest tornadoes can strike fear into every heart. This article will let you discover the most powerful tornado to tear through Mississippi and how the state’s tornadoes affect the people and animals that live there.  

What Is a Tornado?

Tornadoes are awe-inspiring feats of nature that we can’t control, and that makes them even more fearsome. They occur when warm, humid air collides with cool, dry air in the atmosphere and creates a storm. As the pressure grows and the storm increases in size, it begins to spin, creating a rotating air column that can reach 300 mph. When a furiously spinning funnel-shaped cloud touches down from the storm, it travels wherever it pleases.

Tornado hitting a house

Tornadoes can reach speeds of up to 300 mph.


Why Does Mississippi Have So Many Tornadoes?

Although it’s one of the top five regions for tornadoes, Mississippi isn’t recognized as part of the infamous Tornado Valley. However, some experts argue the valley is moving or wasn’t accurate when it was first coined.

Mississippi is particularly prone to tornadoes because of its long streak of flat Great Plains and the Mississippi River valley that heat up rapidly and create pockets of rising warm air. Its moist, rising air travels through the Gulf of Mexico and collides with cool air from Canada.

Overall, the U.S. experiences over 1,000 tornadoes a year, more than any other country. Mississippi is battered by 67-86 of these tornadoes annually, but in 2019, the figure went through the roof, and 115 tornadoes shook the state. Between 2000 and 2019, the state weathered 716 tornadoes, the highest average.

Recently, with up to 170 mph wind speeds, the Rolling Fork twister left a trail of devastation in the town of Rolling Fork, Mississippi. It was classed as an EF4 by NASA Earth Observatory, destroyed much of the town’s structures, and killed 26 people.

Tornado warning sign against a powerful stormy background with copy space. Dirty and angled sign with cyclonic winds add to the drama.

The National Weather Service issues tornado watches and warnings in areas with impending storms.

©Conceptual Art/

Mississippi’s Most Powerful Tornado

The most powerful tornadoes are classed as EF5. It includes twisters that spin at over 200 mph and cause the most damage. Mississippi has endured four EF5s since 1950.

Tornadoes classed as EF5s create winds over 200 mph. These massive twisters blow wherever they please, destroying homes, businesses, and even city blocks. Objects as heavy as cars and boats are caught up in its suction and turned into deadly missiles when they are ejected. EF5s are devastating tornadoes. Nothing can stop them.

Here are the most powerful tornados to tear through Mississippi, according to the National Weather Service.

1953 Vicksburg Tornado

On December 5, 1953, an EF5 tornado struck Vicksburg, Warren County. It was so powerful it killed 38 people, injured 280, and caused 25 million dollars worth of damage, including destroying the city’s gas line. It was the fifth deadliest to ever strike Mississippi. Windspeeds were not collected in the 1950s, but the damage caused was colossal.

Front page of Sunday Post-Herald about Vicksburg, Mississippi tornado in 1953

The Vicksburg 1953 tornado is among the worst tornadoes ever recorded in Mississippi.

©NWS Jackson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

1971 Mississippi Delta Outbreak

On February 21-22, 1971, Mississippi, Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina were struck by a devastating storm called the Mississippi Delta Outbreak. The storm lasted for two days and produced at least 19 tornadoes. One hundred twenty-three people died overall, and entire rural towns were destroyed in Mississippi. One of the outbreak’s most powerful tornadoes was an F5 that hit Mississippi and killed 47 people.

1966 Candlestick Park Tornado

An F5 tornado hit Jackson, Mississippi, on March 3, 1966. It became known as the Candlestick Park Tornado because it destroyed a newly developed shopping center with the name.

This powerful tornado tracked 202.5 miles, destroying regions of Leake, Scott, Rankin, and Hinds counties. It killed 57 people, injured 500 others, and caused $75.5 million in damage. You can track the path of devastation here on the National Weather Service historical data pages.

1840 Great Natchez Tornado

The Natchez twister of 1840 is described as the second-worst tornado ever to hit the States. On May 7, several tornadoes touched down twenty miles southeast of the town of Natchez and swept along the river, ripping away riverbanks and trees. The deaths were chiefly on the Mississippi River, where the powerful winds ravaged a large number of anchored boats. This mega tornado killed 317 people and injured over 1,000.

It was so powerful that it destroyed Natchez and caused $1,260,000 of damage (cost at the time) before moving on to Louisiana to continue its trail of destruction.

1936 Tupelo Tornado

An F5 tornado struck Tupelo on April 5, 1936, killing over two hundred people. The storm that created this twister swept eastwards, creating numerous twisters over two days. Tupelo was badly hit. The twister injured over 1000 people, destroyed the reservoir, and set off flash floods and fires that severely hampered the emergency response and recovery time for weeks afterward.

2011 Super Outbreak

On April 27, 2011, the infamous Super Outbreak storms led to four EF5 tornados. One of them touched down in Eastern Mississippi, killing three people and causing widespread destruction, such as scouring pavement from the road. This powerful twister traveled 28 miles through four counties, leaving 1.1 million dollars of damage behind. Then-President Obama signed a major disaster declaration for 29 Mississippi counties two days later. The fastest windspeeds recorded during the Super Outbreak exceed 200 mph.

How Do Tornadoes Impact Wildlife in Mississippi?

The most powerful tornados to tear through Mississippi cause devastation, but because there are so many each year, ranging from F1 to F5s, people are learning to adapt. There are warnings and safety procedures to follow; however, wildlife does not have this option.

In Mississippi, numerous rescues take in wildlife that’s been harmed, displaced, or orphaned as tornadoes smash through forest swathes, woodlands, lakes, and plains.

The movie Sharknado may have a ridiculous premise, but tornadoes can pick up and drop animals, so there is some basis in truth! Animals dropped by tornadoes include fish, amphibians, worms, jellyfish, and even alligators.

Mississippi wildlife rescues take in injured deer, orphaned fawns, owls, hawks with broken wings, rabbits, possums, and foxes following a tornado strike. Tornadoes injure any unfortunate wildlife to be caught in its path. Animals are hurt by falling objects such as trees, washed away by floods, or injured by fires.

Tornado impacts on wildlife in Mississippi are huge. Then, after the storm has passed, wildlife is left to navigate an altered environment. Another big issue with tornadoes is the environmental damage caused by chemical leakage, household waste, and asbestos released when homes are damaged.

Highest Ever Wind Speed Tornado

Tornadoes are measured on different criteria, such as how many people died, how much damage they caused, and how fast their wind speeds were. Many of Mississippi’s most devastating tornadoes killed hundreds, but their windspeeds were not measured at the time.

The highest wind speed tornado ever recorded was an F5 ripping across Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, in 1999. Its wind speed hit 302 mph as it traveled 38 miles in 85 minutes. This twister killed 36 and obliterated many homes. The National Weather Service issued its first-ever national tornado emergency in response to this massive super-fast storm.

Bridge Creek Tornado

The highest wind speed ever recorded for a tornado was in 1999 in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma.

©Erin D. Maxwell / CC0 – Original / License

The Deadliest and Fastest Tornado in U.S.

The deadliest tornado ever was so large it happened on March 18, 1925, in three states at the same time. Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana experienced an F5 tornado that traveled 219 miles at 59 mph and lasted 3.5 hours. The Tri-State Outbreak killed 747 people overall and is known as the deadliest group of tornadoes ever to hit the U.S.

Powerful Mississippi Tornadoes

Mississippi has a long history of violent and powerful tornadoes that displace people and animals, wreck property, and take lives. The most powerful tornado to tear through Mississippi is difficult to pinpoint because many of the worst twisters to hit the state occurred before wind speeds were officially recorded.

However, modern experts classify several Mississippian tornadoes as F5s today based on their destruction. They include:

  • Tupelo Tornado 1936
  • Vicksburg, Warren County Tornado 1953
  • Mississippi Delta Outbreak 1971
  • Candlestick Park Tornado 1966
  • Natchez Tornado 1840
  • Super Outbreak (reached 200 mph) 2011

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About the Author

Rebecca is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on plants and geography. Rebecca has been writing and researching the environment for over 10 years and holds a Master’s Degree from Reading University in Archaeology, which she earned in 2005. A resident of England’s south coast, Rebecca enjoys rehabilitating injured wildlife and visiting Greek islands to support the stray cat population.

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