The 2011 Super Tornado Outbreak remains the deadliest and most violent event in the 21st century. Between April 25-28, over 300 people lost their lives when around 360 tornadoes ripped across the eastern U.S. The most prolific day of the event (April 27) saw thousands of lives altered across the southeast.

April 27 alone saw 15 violent tornadoes. One, an EF5, struck Smithville, MS, where 16 people lost their lives. Through the destruction, stories of survival flooded the internet with hope as the daunting task of recovery began.

Smithville's welcome sign along MS-25. Photo taken by Zachary Reichle.

Loss of life could very well have been far worse in the Smithville community. But 16-year-old Johnny Parker, a local resident, undoubtedly saved lives that day. Below, Nelson Tucker describes Johnny’s credibility to the Smithville community in our summary of this event:

“This young man was skilled to such a degree, that he was in fact the most knowledgeable ‘weather guy’ in the community. This meant that a large portion of Smithville was subscribed to his social media for information about weather. Johnny had been closely following the storm that produced the Smithville tornado with increasing concern. He saw a report that a tornado had been spotted two miles west of Smithville; so he did something that surely saved many lives. Some people didn’t have a weather radio or have automatic alerts for severe weather; but Johnny could also contact them. To everyone who followed him he texted this: ‘Get to a safe place NOW!’”

Many people, including Johnny and his family, got to a safe place and survived.

We at Tornado Talk have been blessed to cover and bring light to the stories of those who have survived such events and to keep the memories of those lost to the storms alive. Over the years, our team has traveled to some of these locations to better grasp what occurred. Along the way, we have met some amazing and passionate people, including the Parkers.

Thirteen years later, on April 27, 2024, family members and friends of the Parkers gathered on the corner of Monroe and Elm Streets for a special occasion in Smithville. They honored Johnny with a street bearing his name, further acknowledging what he means to the community. Tornado Talk was able to cover this event. Seeing family members and friends gathered around was heartwarming and a testament to their resilience and kindness.

Johnny Parker stands in front of a new street sign bearing his name at the Elm Street and (formerly) Monroe Street intersection. Photo taken by Zachary Reichle.

Johnny expressed his emotions to the Monroe Journal in a May 8, 2024 publication. “This means a lot, and it is a blessing from God that me and my family are still here because we had no idea what would happen on this day 13 years ago. I also want to dedicate this moment to the 16 people we lost and to not forget how God’s hand worked since then,” he said.

Johnny also told Tornado Talk that he began his text-based forecasting program in September 2010. His warnings on April 27, 2011, were crucial. Over the following thirteen years, his text warnings remain a fixture in Smithville and surrounding areas.

As I drove around Smithville that morning, I couldn’t help but notice some of the signs that remained from that awful April day. The water tower, which survived the twister, still presents a significant dent from a vehicle tossed into it by the vortex. To me, the tower is a symbol of survival. Smithville refused to die. And they are more prepared now than ever. Smithville High School has a large dome shelter, big enough for the entire community to ride out future storms safely. Just last year, in 2023, two more tornadoes crept through the area. Johnny was on the job of keeping his community safe and plans to be for the foreseeable future.

The Smithville water tower. The dent is still present on the top right of the structure. Photo taken by Zachary Reichle.

Remembering Those Lost

The Smithville tornado memorial at Smithville Memorial Park along Johnny Parker Street. Photo taken by Zachary Reichle.

Support and Further Reading

Per his Patreon page, Johnny Parker is a meteorologist navigating the challenges of cerebral palsy with the help of faith, family and friends. He has been producing weather content and distributing customized local forecasts for over ten years. Please consider supporting Johnny’s work here.

Tornado Talk has a detailed summary series on this tornado. You can read the free overview here.

Questions or comments about this summary?  Contact us here!

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