On March 3, 1966, one of the most devastating tornadoes in Mississippi history occurred. This tornado would come to be known as the “Candlestick Park” tornado, named after a shopping center in south Jackson which was totally destroyed by the tornado.
This tornado initially developed near the old Adams community, several miles south southwest of Raymond in Hinds County, at about 4 pm on March 3rd. It moved east northeast, moving across the rural areas along Dry Grove Road, Midway Road and Springridge Road. Along with heavily damaging homes and farms, the tornado also destroyed at least one large radio/TV antenna tower structure in this area. The tornado then moved into the Jackson city limits, destroying the Candlestick Park shopping center and a number of homes and businesses in this same area, which is along Cooper Road near Cany Creek. Pictures from the Candlestick Park area show businesses and homes leveled to the ground, and eyewitnesses reported cars thrown more than a half of a mile and pavement scoured off of the ground. All of this is indicative of violent (F4 or F5) tornado damage. After moving through this area, the tornado passed across the Pearl River into Rankin County. Nineteen people were killed in Hinds County, most at Candlestick Park or nearby.
Once in Rankin County, the tornado mainly passed through what was then a very rural area. The tornado did cause very heavy damage to an industrial area near Flowood, in the Flowood Drive area. The tornado then crossed the Cooper and Luckney Roads area, before heading out into eastern Rankin County. Much of the most intense damage in Rankin County, as well as casualties, occurred in the areas west and southwest of the Leesburg community, which is in northeastern Rankin County. Six people were killed in these areas.
The tornado then moved into Scott County, where the tornado’s worst devastation appears to have taken place. The destruction was particularly catastrophic in the area north of Branch and near Forkville in northwest Scott county. Pictures and video from this area show houses destroyed to the foundation, large swaths of trees totally annihilated, and chicken houses obliterated. Eyewitnesses again reported road pavement scoured out by the force of the tornado. The tornado continued east-northeast, with additional heavy damage near the Midway community in north-central Scott county. Before moving out of Scott County, the tornado would kill 26 people in this county alone.
After causing the destruction in Scott County, the tornado moved into Leake County, crossing the county line along Highway 35 south of Walnut Grove. The tornado moved closer to due northeast through southeastern Leake County. Six people were killed in the area between the Madden and Salem communities as more than 40 homes and buildings were totally destroyed. Significant tornado damage continued into southwest Neshoba County, where nearly a dozen homes were heavily damaged or destroyed, and the historic Carolina church, which was more than 100 years old, was completely leveled to the ground. One person was killed near the Dowdville community.
Reports indicate that the tornado weakened and may not have had a continuous path after this point, although official records do indicate a single track through the remainder of Neshoba County, and into Kemper and Noxubee counties. The tornado did produce an additional path of F2 damage in Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties in Alabama, and one person was killed in Pickens County. The official track for the tornado shows a continuous, 202.5 mile track from Hinds County, Mississippi to Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The tornado dissipated about 745 pm near Tuscaloosa.
When all was said and done, the “Candlestick Park” tornado would go down in history as the second deadliest, most damaging, and longest track (202.5 miles) tornado in central Mississippi during the 20th century, and as one of only two documented F5 (the most violent on the Fujita scale) tornadoes to strike Mississippi in the 20th century. A total of 58 people were killed (57 in Mississippi; 1 in Alabama) and over 500 were injured. It is one of only two tornadoes in the United States since 1960 to kill more than 50 people.