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On this day 46 years ago (Sunday February 21, 1971) , a devastating tornado outbreak struck portions of the lower Mississippi Valley. Over 120 lives were lost, 118 of them dying in three violent, long track tornadoes that tore a path across western and northern Mississippi, southern Tennessee, and northeastern Louisiana.
Known as the 1971 Missssippi Delta Tornadoes, they were spawned by a very intense storm system that also produced blizzard conditions in western Oklahoma and central/ western Kansas. Snow depths of 2 to 3 feet occurred in northwestern Oklahoma
The three primary killer tornadoes began late that balmy Sunday afternoon as temperatures soared to 80 and dewpoints near 70 in the warm, unstable air mass south of a warm front across Mississippi......and just ahead of the vigorous "triple point" low pressure center that tracked from central Texas to near Monroe, Louisiana then toward Memphis.
Morning Surface Chart, Sunday February 21, 1971
Surface Map at 2100z (4 PM CST) as killer tornadoes were on the ground
Late Afternoon 500 mb upper air chart
The first killer tornado touched down at 3:50 PM CST near Delhi, Louisiana. 11 died in Louisiana then another 36 in western Mississippi......as Delta City and Inverness were devastated. This monster was rated an F5, and is both the only F5 tornado to ever occur in Louisiana and the only February F-5 tornado of record. As this tornado churned northeastward, two other violent tornadoes touched down in western Mississippi.
A second vicious killer tornado touched down at 5 pm CST and tore a 500 yard wide path from Cary, Mississippi to near Greenwood and Oxford, Mississippi before crossing into Tennessee and finally dissapating near Middleton. It was on the ground for 203 miles and killed 58 people. A third violent (F4) tornado touched down just after 6 pm CST, and tracked from just east of Vicksburg to Yazoo City before dissapating near Lexington, Mississippi.......killing 13 people along a 63 mile long path.
February 21, 1971 Tornado Track Map
Even though the tornadoes tracked across sparsely populated areas and no large population centers were struck, the death toll was ghastly. Entire families were wiped out, some victims blown for miles......a few were found dead in rural lakes and farm ponds.
F4 Devastation in Inverness, Mississippi
Read more about this deadly tornado outbreak here