The super outbreak of 2011 was the worst outbreak that I have witnessed. I’ve loved learning about the weather since I was 5 years old. I studied it for many years and now hold a degree in Geoscience and Operational Meteorology, but I do not think that anything could have prepared me for what I went through on Wednesday, April 27th, 2011, at 3:44pm.

A severe weather and tornado outbreak was not something unusual in any way for April 25-28. April is our main month for severe weather and tornadoes in the Southeast. I first learned of the potential for a major outbreak the week before, and I had looked at all of my weather resources to see if anything had changed. The 4-day outbreak started on April 25 and ended on the 28.

Monday, April 25, 2011, was the first day of the outbreak. We had a few storms that day in Northeast Mississippi, but the bulk of the severe weather was back off to our west. While we did get some rain, we had little severe weather. Most guidance was saying that Tuesday would be the worst day for severe weather. So, I decided that we were in for a rough day on Tuesday.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011, was the second day of the outbreak. The day started off with the remnants of showers and thunderstorms that moved through the night before. Later that day, storms began to fire up again. That night the tornado sirens went off. I got up and began to look on my computer at the radar. We were under a tornado warning until 2 or 2:30 am. The sirens kept going off, but that storm passed us by.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011, was the third day of the outbreak. I got up at 6 that morning and began my regular review of radars and NWS guidance. At that point, I had no idea that the day would be extremely deadly and would cause catastrophic damage. However, I definitely had an uneasy feeling about the day. I went on with my morning routine and hoped that the anxious feeling would go away. I prayed that nothing major would happen with this system. Dr. Greg Forbes, the severe weather expert at the Weather Channel, had a TOR:CON (Tornado Condition Index) value of a 9 out of 10 chance for North Mississippi. That meant that we had a 90% chance of seeing a tornado within a 50 mile radius. I had seen him give a 9 out of 10 chance before for our area. For the first time ever, I disagreed with him on this TOR:CON value. I believed that he should have given a 10 out of 10 for North MS. This is a 100% chance of seeing a tornado within a 50 mile radius. The Storm Prediction Center had their tornado probability at a 45% chance within a 25 mile radius. They had also issued a high risk, which was not unusual for them to issue when you have a major tornado outbreak. I expected that they would later issue a PDS (Particularly Dangerous Situation) Tornado Watch for our area at some point that day.

A little later, I looked at the radar, and there was nothing except a small storm to the south of our area. I didn’t think much of it. I was in the 11th grade in 2011, and I typically got to school at around 7:30 am. That morning when I arrived, I noticed that none of the students were outside. I figured that the bell had already rung, and I had to get to class fast. I quickly figured out what had actually happened when one of my friends told me that we all had to get out in the hallway. That storm down south of our area had rapidly intensified and prompted a tornado warning for our area. I was astonished that it happened so fast. We stayed in the hallway for a couple of minutes, and then we were told that the storm had passed. We went into our first period class, and my friends were asking me if we were going to see a tornado that day. The only answer that I could give them was it’s possible.

As the day went on, my uneasiness did not go away and was getting stronger every minute. Later that day, in my last period class, we were told that due to bad weather, school would be dismissed at 2:30. As I left class, my teacher asked me if we would were going to see a tornado here. I told him that given our location, in all likelihood, Smithville, MS, would be hit by a tornado at some point. Little did I know that what I said would come true later that day. By 2:30 that day, my sister and I were on our way to our grandparents’ house. Storms were popping up everywhere and prompting tornado warnings. Just after 3 pm, my dad came by, and we headed to our house, less than a mile from my grandparents’ home. As we turned into our driveway, the tornado sirens went off. I ran into the house, put my stuff down, and ran to look at the weather. I read the tornado warning. It said that a strong tornado had been spotted south of Calhoun City, MS. I was thinking of what could happen in our area, which is 60 miles to the northeast of that sighting.

Radar of the storm around 3 pm CDT.

Just then, my dad called us to come outside on the back porch. He had spotted some rotation over the house. At that moment, I heard a strange rumble and looked towards the Tenn-Tom Waterway, located just 400 yards to the west of our home. I couldn’t see what was coming. A huge oak tree in our backyard was blocking my view. The winds started to pick up. Suddenly, my dad yelled, “Get inside!” My sister and I got into the hallway and immediately did what the teachers had always taught us to do in school. We crouched down on our knees and covered our heads with our arms. However, my dad grabbed us and threw us into the bathroom, which was just off the hallway where we were huddled. No sooner had we gotten in there than the door to my parents’ bedroom came flying down the hallway. Glass from windows and wood paneling followed behind it. We could feel ourselves momentarily lifted off the floor.

The tornado lasted no more than 10 seconds. Miraculously, we all got up and walked out of our house, which was now severely damaged. I walked out to what used to be our front porch. It was now covered with bricks and all manner of debris. What I saw was complete devastation. The only word that can describe how I felt was shock. It was hard to absorb what had just happened. It would be days later before my dad told us what prompted him to forcefully hurl us out of our “tornado drill” positions in the hallway and into the nearby bathroom. He said that he heard a voice in his head, very clear, very emphatic. It just said, “Move!”

My mom was on her way home from work when the EF-5 passed over us. She could see it on the ground in front of her as she frantically drove to reach us. The last text message that I sent to her was, “get home now”. She was one of the first people on the scene. She pulled over and parked her car at the waterway entrance road because she could not go further in a car. Power lines were blown down. Debris was everywhere. She ran up the highway to get to our house. She began calling our names. When she saw us emerge from the remains of our home, she was overjoyed. I went around to the back of our house, where only two walls of my room were left standing. I was amazed – and pretty thrilled -to see that all of my clothes were still hanging in my closet. Right after the tornado came through, there was almost total silence. Not a sound, except for the sirens of the police coming up the highway. This tornado certainly changed my perspective on the weather, but it only strengthened my desire to have a future in the weather field.

Thursday, April 28, 2011, was the fourth and final day of this extremely deadly outbreak. The cold front was pushing off the east coast and caused some additional tornadoes. There were some tornado watches and warnings issued, but not as many as on April 27th. I hope that we never see another outbreak like we saw on the 27th, but it will remain a possibility.

Images from Johnny Parker

Johnny's home.
Johnny Parker in front of his home.
Damage near his home. There is a mangled car near the center.
An uprooted tree on the property.
Johnny Parker’s Obi-Wan and Darth Vader lightsabers. He said that they were the only two in his room that survived. Note the dirt still splattered on them from the tornado.

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