It is known as the “Candlestick Park” tornado, named after a shopping center in south Jackson, MS, which was completely destroyed. Per the SPC, the path length was 202.5 miles. It moved through portions of MS and then into AL. The maximum width was 900 yards. There were 518 injuries, and 58 fatalities reported—57 deaths in MS and 1 in AL.
We gathered the information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the March 1966 Storm Data Narrative, Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes, and from a detailed summary from the NWS Jackson, MS.
The main discrepancies with this event are:
- Was this a single path or a family of tornadoes?
- What counties should be included in the path?
- There are no counties listed in the SPC database because the tornado crossed state lines, so I plotted the official beginning and ending path points provided by the SPC and drew a straight line from start to end. This gave me an idea of the counties which should be in the path. Those counties are as follows:
MS: Hinds, Rankin, Scott, Leake, Neshoba, Kemper, Noxubee
AL: Pickens, Tuscaloosa
- I tried to grab all of the NCDC entries for each county in the path to see if I could fine-tune the track. The NCDC entries are not complete. There is no entry for Scott, Neshoba, Kemper, or Noxubee Counties in MS. The timestamps are incorrect. Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties are listed as occurring before Leake County, MS, for example.
- I compared what I had found so far with Storm Data. They had an entry that listed all of the counties in MS except Noxubee. They mention the tornado traveled 50 miles in Alabama. There is a separate entry for Pickens & Tuscaloosa, but you would not know that it was considered a part of this major tornado by reading it.
- Grazulis has an entry for Hinds, Rankin, Scott, and Leake, MS. He states this may have been a family of tornadoes and lists the path length as 75 miles. He has a separate entry for Pickens/Tuscaloosa as an F2 tornado.
- Finally, one of the best resources for figuring out where/how this tornado tracked was with the NWS Jackson summary. You can find that here. Below the map, I present their analysis of this devastating F5 tornado’s movement and the damage that occurred.
From the NWS Jackson Summary Page of the "Candlestick Park" Tornado
- 4 pm: The tornado touched down in the Adams community in southern Hinds County and traveled through the rural areas along Dry Grove Road, Midway Road, and Springridge Road.
- At approximately 4:30 pm: The tornado then moved into the Jackson city limits, destroying the Candlestick Park shopping center and several homes and businesses in this same area. Eyewitnesses reported cars thrown more than a half of a mile and pavement scoured off of the ground.
- Once in Rankin County, the tornado passed through what was then a very rural area. The tornado caused very heavy damage to an industrial area near Flowood, in the Flowood Drive area.
“At the Continental Can Co. in Flowood, salesman Don Clunion, 23, herded fellow employees into the firm’s big vault after seeing the tornado ‘like a big, black ice cream cone.’
‘I guess the whole thing lasted 10 seconds’ he said, ‘Through the crack in the vault door we could see the building coming down around us. It happened so fast nobody could think.'” -Delta Democrat-Times Newspaper
Much of the most intense damage in Rankin County occurred in the areas south and southwest of the Leesburg community. Six people were killed in these areas.
Some of the worst devastation appears to have taken place in Scott County. The destruction was particularly catastrophic in the area north of Branch and near Forkville in northwest Scott county. Houses were destroyed to the foundation, large swaths of trees were annihilated, and chicken houses were completely obliterated. Eyewitnesses reported road pavement scoured out by the force of the tornado. The tornado continued east-northeast, with additional heavy damage near the Midway community in north-central Scott county. The tornado would kill 26 people in this county alone.
Crossing the county line along Highway 35 south of Walnut Grove, the tornado moved closer to the northeast through southeastern Leake County. Six people were killed in the area between the Madden and Salem communities as more than 40 homes and buildings were totally destroyed.
- Significant tornado damage continued into southwest Neshoba County, where nearly a dozen homes were heavily damaged or destroyed. The historic Carolina church, which was more than 100 years old, was completely leveled. One person was killed near the Dowdville community.
Reports indicate that the tornado weakened and may not have had a continuous path after this point. However, official records indicate a single track through the remainder of Neshoba County and into Kemper and Noxubee Counties.
The tornado did produce additional F2 damage in Pickens and Tuscaloosa Counties in Alabama. One person was killed in Pickens County.
Event Details from Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes in MS
- Tornado first touched down south of Learned and moved ENE into the city of Jackson.
- Dozens of homes were leveled and well over 1000 were damaged across Jackson and rural areas of four counties.
- The Candlestick Shopping Center in Jackson was destroyed.
- Twelve people were killed at that shopping center and about 100 were injured as several entire stores were actually leveled to the ground.
- Wide swaths of concrete blocks stretched across the parking lot and into neighboring lots.
- Nineteen people were killed in Hinds County, mostly in Jackson.
- Six died in rural Rankin County, 26 people died in rural homes of NW Scott County, and six die in Leake County.
Event Details from Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes in AL
- Moved NE from near Dancy, to near Vienna, Benevola, the Coker-Buhl area, and to Lock-15 on the Warrior River, 10 miles No of Tuscaloosa.
- Eight homes were destroyed, 30 damaged.
- Six barns were demolished and eight more damaged.
- A highway patrolman was killed in his home near Coker.
Photos from the NWS Jackson Summary
March 1966 Storm Data Publication
Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 1079.
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