SPC Stats

Path length: 75.09 miles

Width:  1300 yards

Fatalities:  9

Injuries:  36

Rating:  EF4

County:  Tate, Marshall, Benton, Tippah (MS) / Hardeman, McNairy (TN)

31 tornadoes occurred on December 23, 2015.  The strongest and deadliest of the day was a long track EF-4, the second in a tornado family that caused damage through parts of northern Mississippi into southeastern Tennessee. 

Per the SPC, this tornado began in SE Tate County, MS. However, satellite imagery shows powerful but sporadic microburst damage to the forest in this area, with no evident tornado swath until just after crossing into Marshall County and 2.9 miles SE of Chulahoma. The tornado began to rapidly intensify, blasting trees down in highly convergent patterns and rolling a mobile home. Just two miles after the tornado formed, it had become powerful enough to hurl snapped and debarked trees in excess of 60 feet long into fields and violently scour the ground. Low lying shrubbery was also ripped up and shredded. Several poorly constructed homes were completely destroyed in the Chulahoma area, and a church partially collapsed.

The tornado grew to over 1,600 yards in width (9/10ths of a mile) and completely destroyed the Marlow Church of Christ. Damage to the structure was estimated to be around EF4 strength. Several more homes were severely damaged or destroyed near the church. Several mobile homes were also disintegrated. A 12-year-old boy was thrown 300 yards from one of these trailers and miraculously survived. Sadly, nearby, a 7-year-old boy was killed when the tornado struck the car he was in.

The most impressive tornado damage in 2015, if not the most impressive ever recorded in the month of December, occurred as the tornado moved through the Holly Springs Motorsports Park. The surveyor, Meteorologist Chris Lisauckis of Eyes to the Sky Environmental Services, said it was some of the most intense damage he had ever seen in his 24 years of experience. He believed it was indicative of at least a highest level EF4. Three cinder block restrooms were destroyed. Two were wiped clean with all plumbing fixtures removed. A two-story cinder block office building was also completely destroyed. A 15-ton motor home was bounced roughly 110 yards and deposited on the remains of the building, and shredded vegetation was plastered against the foundation. Multiple large vehicles were moved more than 220 yards. Trees and smaller vegetation (including juvenile southern pines, which are highly resistant to tornado winds) were stripped and partially debarked. A drinking straw was embedded in a tree. As much as several inches of topsoil was removed by the tornado. Intense granulation of even strong building materials was also noted. A well-anchored steel frame garage was swept cleanly away. This included even a large anchored steel engine winch. The concrete around the anchor bolts of the engine winch was left fractured. Large aluminum grandstands were twisted into spiral lumps of metal and thrown over 500 yards. Perhaps most impressively, a 25-foot section of steel-reinforced dragstrip safety wall was knocked loose and split, most likely from a large vehicle impact. Satellite imagery indicated that a badly warped cargo container was moved 620 yards from where it had been sitting just beyond the Motorsports Park. The owner of the track, Terry Forsythe, was interviewed by Dragstrip Illustrated. He shared a remarkable story about one of his possessions that was taken by the tornado:

“The real ‘Twilight Zone’ moment happened when I received a call from my mother’s first cousin several days after the tornado, telling me that my mom’s obituary was found in their yard. My mom died in October a couple months before the tornado and the funeral home made me this nice laminated copy of her obituary. I kept it in my Bible as a bookmark. After the tornado, my Bible was never found, but my mom’s obituary landed in her first cousin’s yard, 70 miles away in the town of Parsons, Tennessee.”

Almost all of the tornado’s remaining path in Mississippi was through unpopulated areas of Marshall County. It was also smaller and weaker during this time. In the county, there were 2 fatalities and 36 injuries. Roughly 200 homes sustained some form of damage.

Almost immediately upon crossing from Marshall into Benton County, the tornado once again intensified. It remained about 900 yards across (½ of a mile) with an extremely intense core only 35-60 yards in width. Peak intensity was likely reached three miles west-northwest of Ashland near the intersection of Cherry Brown and Lamar Roads. Many cars were hurled far distances, with a few being rendered completely unrecognizable. A pickup truck’s body was severely mangled, and this itself had been torn from the chassis. The engine block was also torn from the body and chassis and deposited elsewhere. Large areas of low lying shrubbery were annihilated. Extreme pockets of ground scouring and gouging were plainly visible on satellite several months later, and several homes were wiped out. There were several fatalities in this area. A 40-yard long section of asphalt on Lamar Road was removed and repaved after a large portion was ripped out.

Several more homes were swept away in very rural portions of Benton County, along with continued sporadic ground scouring and severe tree debarking. The tornado may have weakened slightly as it struck a large, “well-built” two-story home 8 miles northeast of Ashland. The slab was almost entirely wiped clean including fixtures and a large portion of sill plating and flooring. This structure was given an EF4 rating. The tornado reached its maximum width, 1,880 yards (a little over a mile across), in this area. There were six fatalities in Benton County. Despite reports of injuries, none are officially listed in Benton County. In addition, 17 homes and 15 mobile homes were destroyed, with 15 homes and three mobile homes suffering major damage.

The tornado gradually lost much of its strength as it moved through Tippah County, MS. Several homes were damaged in the Three Forks Community. Over 100 homes were affected in this county and there was one fatality.

The tornado moved across the state line state lines into Hardeman County, TN. A large metal agricultural building was destroyed at EF3 intensity. Analysis of satellite imagery taken several months after the event indicates the original tornado almost certainly dissipated about 1.25 miles south of Pocahontas. The Damage Assessment Toolkit (DAT) shows a 20-mile gap in this area without any surveyed damage points, so it is likely this was missed. A second swath of tornado damage began out of a cluster of microburst felled trees about 5.7 miles northeast of Pocahontas in McNairy County TN. This relatively intense swath of tornadic tree damage was mostly relegated to forested wilderness areas before scraping southern portions of Selmer near the end of its life. 15 homes were damaged or destroyed south of Selmer, with EF3 damage noted to a poorly anchored home. This probable second tornado dissipated after a 9.4-mile track, achieving a maximum width of 660 yards (slightly over 1/3rd of a mile).

Note: A special thanks to Meteorologist Chris Lisauckis of Eyes to the Sky Environmental Services for providing us with some amazing photos.

Tornado Path

SPC coordinates:  Start: 34.5955 / -89.7055      End: 35.1496 / -88.5666

Note:  Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.

Damage Photos via the Damage Assessment Toolkit

At left, a porch marks the spot where a mobile home once stood near Chulahoma. Purportedly, all five occupants survived. Note the intense tree stripping and debarking in the background. At right, the complete destruction of the Marlow Church of Christ SW of Holly Springs.
At left, the remains of a home that was leveled along Lamar Road. At right, the spot where a poorly constructed home disappeared in the Ashland area, killing several people.
At left, a car that was completely mangled beyond recognition in the Ashland area. At right, the area where pavement was removed from Lamar Road, with ground scouring also visible.
The remains of a large, well-built two story home far northeast of Ashland.

Damage Photos of the Holly Springs Motorsports Park provided by Meteorologists Chris Lisauckis

A motorhome that was rolled and thrown 110 yards onto the foundation of a two story cinder block office building. Stripped vegetation was plastered against the side of the slab.
The foundation of a cinder block restroom. Plumbing fixtures were removed from the foundation, and large pieces of deeply buried wood designed to stop vehicles from driving into the restroom were either bent or left holes in the ground where they had once stood.
A well anchored steel frame garage that was ripped out of its slab and twirled into a mass of metal.
A panoramic view of extreme damage and scouring at the Holly Springs Motorsports Park.
A drinking straw embedded in a tree.
Severe granulation of all manner of building materials. This type of granulation is uncommon and a staple of the most powerful kind of tornadoes.
A textbook scene of violent tornado vegetation damage, with the hillside left largely barren.
A 25-foot section of steel reinforced dragstrip safety wall that was knocked loose and split. Closely spaced rebar was sheared off.
A cargo container that was tossed and twisted. The owner described in an interview with Dragstrip Illustrated that it was “the kind you couldn’t dent with a sledge hammer.”

Imagery from Google Earth

Ground scouring and extreme tree damage can be seen along the centerline of the tornado in satellite imagery from February of 2016.
A vast swath of forest broken down by the tornado northeast of Ashland. Satellite imagery taken in March of 2016.
An area of extremely intense damage northeast of Ashland. Satellite imagery was taken in March of 2016. Near center left, deep gouges in the land barren of any regrowth can be seen. At center, a grove of low lying shrubbery was obliterated. The homes at center bottom were destroyed, but new houses can be seen in their place. At top right, freshly paved road can be seen where asphalt was scoured from Lamar road.

Tweets

Videos

Newspaper Clippings

Discrepancies:

We gathered information for this event from the SPC and NCDC Databases, the December 2015 Storm Data Publication, the NWS Memphis Summary, the DAT, and analysis of satellite imagery by Nelson Tucker and found the following differences:

Number of Tornadoes:

  • Satellite imagery indicates that the official tornado track actually consists of two separate tornadoes, with a 6.25 mile gap between the paths. This large discrepancy is partially explained by the fact that the first tornado dissipated and the second formed in a 20 mile stretch that the NWS did not appear to survey.
    Path Width:
    • Official sources list a maximum width of 1,300 yards. Analysis of satellite imagery indicates a maximum width of 1,880 yards in forested areas.  

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