Severe Weather Outbreak
Saturday March 1, 1997

 

On Saturday, March 1st, the Mid-South area experienced its most significant outbreak of severe weather in many years. The outbreak came at the end of an extended period of severe weather that affected the area from February 26th through March 2nd. During that time, forecasters at the NWS Forecast Office in Memphis issued 94 tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings. Most of the warnings were issued on March 1st. During the same time period, amateur radio storm spotters manned the radios at the NWS office almost continuously from 500 PM on Feburary 28th until 300 AM on March 2nd.

With guidance from forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, meteorologists in Memphis had been watching for the potential for severe weather several days in advance of the outbreak. With each new run of the computer models, it became more apparent that severe weather, including tornadoes, might affect parts of the area on Saturday.

At 1232 AM, the Storm Prediction Center issued Tornado Watch number 74 that included parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. The watch mentioned that "supercells and tornadoes are possible with these storms." Supercells did develop shortly after the watch was issued, and a couple of these supercells producing damaging and killer tornadoes in north Mississippi. This bout of severe weather continued into the daylight hours, with a tornado affecting the Ramer area of McNairy County around 6 AM.

Most of the Mid-South saw a lull in severe weather activity during the late morning and early afternoon hours. In fact, the sun came out and many residents enjoyed a warm, breezy spring-like afternoon. Long-time residents of the area knew, however, that the nearly 80 degree temperatures, high humidity and strong southerly winds might spell trouble later in the day.

Severe storms exploded over sections of central and southwest Arkansas, and soon the SPC had issued Tornado Watch number 76 for the entire Mid-South region. Again, SPC forecasters were concerned about tornadic supercells, and this concern would prove to be valid as round two of severe weather began around 2 PM. Severe thunderstorms, most with strong radar indications of tornadoes, erupted and moved into eastern Arkansas. Damaging tornadoes affected parts of Northeast Arkansas and West Tennessee during the late afternoon and early evening hours. Classic supercell thunderstorms developed over Crockett and Gibson counties in west Tennsessee as well as Lawrence and Greene counties in northeast Arkansas and the same parent thunderstorm that produced violent tornadoes in Arkadelphia and Little Rock produced large tornadoes along a path from Hickory Ridge, Arkansas to Dyersburg Tennessee. In addition to tornadoes, this storm system dumped extremely heavy rain which resulted in widespead flooding over a large part of the Memphis County Warning Area.


 

  1. Crockett, Gibson County Tornado

  2. Lawrence, Greene, Clay County Tornado

  3. Cross, Poinsett, Craighead, Mississippi, Dyer County Tornado

  4. Calhoun/Pontotoc County and Union County Tornadoes


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