“Despite the swiftness of the blow, the frightful loss of life, the staggering destruction of property, the people of that city have lifted their heads from grief to face the future in an unconquerable determination to rebuild a better, greater, and fairer city. Such an unquenchable spirit makes them neighbors to the rest of the world.”
Those words were penned by William Clifford Morse, Ph.D, Mississippi State Geologist in his bulletin about the devastating Tupelo, MS tornado of April 5, 1936. This significant tornado was part of a larger two-day outbreak. It occurred on Palm Sunday during the evening.
Per the Monthly Weather Review of May 1936, there were 17 tornadoes across 6 states April 5-6. In a separate summary, we analyze another event from this outbreak: The Gainesville, GA Tornadoes.
Information for the Tupelo event were gathered from the following resources:
- Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes
- May 1936 Monthly Weather Review
- Mississippi State Geological Survey Bulletin 31 – William Clifford Morse, Ph. D.
- Newspaper articles via newspapers.com
Here are the stats on this event from Thomas Grazulis:
Hit at 2055 local time. There were 700 injuries and 216 fatalities. The path length was 15 miles through parts of Lee & Itawamba Counties. He lists this was more than likely part of a tornado family. The width was estimated at 1000 yards. Rating given: F5.
Per The Storm Prediction Center, the Tupelo Tornado is the 4th deadliest in US History. There is a question on the number of people that died during this event. The official record lists 216 fatalities. Per Thomas Grazulis, when this death toll was set, “there were still over 100 people in hospitals in three states.” William Clifford Morse, Mississippi State Geologist at the time listed a death toll of 233 in his Bulletin about this event. He noted that hundreds were still injured. Per Grazulis, “Since only the names of the white injured were published in newspapers, it is not possible to follow up on the fate of the black injured. This racial aspect of tornado documentation was common until the late-1940’s, and occasionally present, in some form, until the mid-1950’s.
Here are the details from Significant Tornadoes on the path and damage from the Tupelo tornado:
- Part of a tornado family that began near Coffeeville (Yalobush County).
- Moved ENE through Central Lee County, passing through residential areas in northern half of Tupelo.
- 200+ homes were leveled, many constructed well on west side of town.
- There were poorly constructed homes several miles west of Tupelo and on the NE side of town that were “completely swept away”.
- Entire families were killed, up to 13 in a single home.
- Approximately 150 box cars served as temporary housing.
- A movie theater was transformed into a hospital. The popcorn machine was used to sterilize instruments.
Images from the Mississippi State Geological Survey
Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 865.
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