What happens when a warm trench of water collects in the Pacific Ocean west of South America? It’s called El Niño, the time documented for centuries and named for the Christ child as the warm weather brings better fishing south of the Equator roughly around Christmas. North of it…at least in the American south and midwest, it brings winter tornadoes.
Wednesday afternoon and evening December 23, 2015, put a large chunk of the American heartland under a tornado watch. Warm weather moved the jet stream to spring formations and as is expected when warm air from the Gulf of Mexico collides with northern cold fronts, HUGE weather systems roll through. This year, the resulting storms, including F-1 level tornadoes in the states of Mississippi and Indiana killed four people just days before one of the holiest feasts in the Christian calendar.
Television images showed the tornado appeared to be on the ground for more than 10 minutes. Interstate 55 was closed in both directions as the tornado approached, the Mississippi Highway Patrol said.
After an EF-1 tornado struck the south Indianapolis suburb of Greenwood, television stations showed pictures of damage including a portion of a roof blown off a veterinary office.
The biggest threat for tornadoes was in a region of 3.7 million people in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas and parts of Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky, according to the national Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma.
Those of us living in the states mentioned were quite aware of the danger given the mild conditions. This is an annual fear in winter months when mild temperatures meet cold air from the north. Conditions at this time are far more spring like than winter given the El Niño conditions.
The state of Mississippi has yet to reveal details of three dead there other than a man and a woman died. A dog was killed as well. The EF-1 that hit that state was on the ground for more than ten minutes – an eternity when waiting out a tornado.
As the winter months progress and the mild weather precipitated by a strong El Niño persists, tornado fears will continue to be an issue. In the meantime, December 2015 is proving to be deadly with four killed so farñ in the winter tornado season.