Mississippi was the 20th state to join the union and was named after the Mississippi River. The name originates from a Ojibway Indian word "messipi” that translates to “large river” or “gathering of waters”.
Mississippi is nicknamed the Magnolia State in honor of its official state flower and state tree, the magnolia.
The state is rich in culture and is known for having played a key role during the US Civil War. It’s also the home of:
- Root beer
- Blues music
- Mississippi mud pie
- The term “teddy bear”. It originated from a cartoon that pictured President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt refusing to kill a defenseless bear. The original stuffed animal was called “Teddy’s bear”.
- The birthplace of Elvis Presley
Nearly 65% of Mississippi is covered in forests. It has around 34,700 tree farms, more than any other state in the nation, and is known for its highly fertile soil, making agriculture its top industry.
The Magnolia State has a humid subtropical climate. You can expect hot and humid summers and temperate winters with precipitation that coats the state evenly. Much like the rest of the United States, it experiences a variety of natural disasters as a result of its weather patterns.
What natural disasters does Mississippi have?
Mississippi’s most common natural disasters include severe storms, hurricanes, extreme heat and drought, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, winter storms, power outages, landslides, and earthquakes.
Between 1953 and 2019, Mississippi declared 75 major disasters, of which severe storms and hurricanes happened the most according to FEMA.
1. Severe Storms
Due to the location and climate of Mississippi, the state experiences many powerful and destructive thunderstorms. The Magnolia State averages 81 days of severe storms annually, however, the southern part receives more thunderstorm activity than the north. For instance, Pearl River County averages 121 stormy days per year whereas Montgomery County only averages 56.
Storms are classified as severe when it contains at least one of the following: it brings in wind gusts of over 57.5 mph, it produces hail of one inch or more, and/or it causes a tornado. The largest hail stone ever found in the state measured 4 inches in diameter.
Mississippi ranks 19th in the nation when it comes to lightning-related fatalities. State records show that most storms produce an average of 10,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes annually per county, but each location varies.
For example, storms in Jackson County amounted to 19,446 lightning strikes whereas storms in Choctaw County only amounted to 5,459 strikes. In any case, these lightning strikes prove to be very costly for Mississippi, as they are responsible for causing $650,000 worth of economic damages every year.
Severe storms can be dangerous and even life-threatening. In the event of thunderstorms and lightning, seek indoor shelter immediately and wait half an hour after the storm passes before resuming outdoor activities. Lightning can strike outside of the boundaries of the storm.
Hurricane season in Mississippi begins on June 1st and ends on November 30th. Since 1895, eight hurricanes have made landfall in the state. Tropical storms and hurricanes bring in heavy precipitation, strong gusty winds, historic flooding, and extreme coastal flooding due to storm surge.
Several hurricanes have deeply impacted the Magnolia State, but two of them stand out among the rest.
- Hurricane Camille made landfall on August 1969 near Waveland as a category 5 storm. As it was approaching the coastline, the electricity went out throughout Mississippi. Once it made landfall, it created a storm surge that reached up to 25 feet in some areas. The coastal communities experienced near-complete devastation as far as four or more blocks inland. Low-lying areas were flooded with 15 or more feet of water. Highway 90, which is near the coast, sustained major damages and was covered by sand in many areas. More than 3,800 homes and businesses were destroyed. The total cost of damages was estimated at $1.42 billion (1969 USD), of which Mississippi alone calculated losses at $950 million.
- Hurricane Katrina made landfall twice as a category 3 storm in August 2005. The first time it made landfall in southeast Louisiana, and the second time in Hancock County along the Mississippi coast. Much like Hurricane Camille, Katrina brought in a storm surge that reached upwards of 20 feet. It caused widespread damage as well as 238 deaths plus an additional 67 who remain missing. Hurricane Katrina was Mississippi’s deadliest natural disaster.
In order to become prepared for a hurricane, you should safeguard your home with window shutters (or plywood that has been measured and cut to size). Your emergency kits should be well-stocked with any necessary supplies, considering you may have to shelter-in-place (or evacuate) for several days and there is the possibility of long-term power outages.
3. Extreme Heat & Drought
Mississippi has a humid subtropical climate where hot and humid summers are the norm between May through September. Summer temperatures can average 90°F with 90% humidity. It’s no wonder that the Magnolia State is ranked as one of the hottest states in the United States! The hottest temperature recorded in the state was 115°F in Holly Springs on July 29, 1930.
Currently, over 120,000 residents are vulnerable to extreme heat conditions. Another issue is the possibility of droughts. According to States At Risk, Mississippi may see a 140% increase in drought over the next 30 years.
The longest period of drought endured to date began on April 20, 2010, and ended on May 1, 2012. In total, it lasted 107 weeks. As of the writing of this article, Mississippi is not under any level of drought.
Extreme heat isn’t just dangerous, but it can be deadly. Knowing the symptoms of heat illness and knowing what to do under such circumstances can save your or someone else’s life.
Mississippi is located in the tornado region known as Dixie Alley. On average, the Magnolia State experiences 43 tornadoes. History indicates that several deadly tornadoes passed through the state, including a few with the maximum intensity of F5. This leaves clues for what we can expect to see in the future.
While tornados can occur any time of year, the majority of them happen in the spring and late fall. Mississippi leads the nation when it comes to tornado path length and damage estimates exceed $15.2 million each year.
The deadliest tornado in Mississippi was an F5 tornado that struck Vicksburg on December 5, 1953. It injured 270 people, killed 38, and caused at least $25 million (1953 USD) in damages.
The widest tornado in state history (and third widest in the nation’s history) occurred during the Easter Sunday Tornado Outbreak of 2020 and measured at least 2 miles wide. The EF 4 tornado had wind speeds of 190 mph and traveled approximately 60 miles from Jefferson Davis County to Clarke County. During the outbreak, at least 140 tornadoes were recorded, lasting over 37 hours. Over 4.3 million people lost electricity, homes, trees, and other structures were heavily damaged, destroyed, or flattened completely, and 14 people died.
Tornadoes are inevitable in Mississippi, therefore it’s important to monitor the weather, especially during peak seasons. Turn to your local news outlets or the NOAA weather radio to stay aware of developing tornado funnels, and take warnings seriously.
During a tornado warning, go to the lowest floor of your home and stay in an interior room without exterior windows, and stay there until the storm has passed.
Nearly 20% of housing units in the state are mobile homes, which are highly susceptible to being tossed around during tornado-force winds. If you live in a mobile home, consider building or getting a storm-proof shelter where you can take refuge until the threat passes.
Mississippi is located on the lower section of one of the largest river basins in the world. This area receives water from 41% of the contiguous US! During the spring and summer, or when snowmelt and heavy precipitation are combined, the rivers swell to unpredictable heights.
The Mississippi River is not only vulnerable to overflowing but it’s known for its epic floods. Thereby its nearby communities are at an elevated risk of inland flooding. Based on recorded data, it appears that the risk has increased over the past decade and that trend may continue.
Coastal flooding is also a major risk during tropical storms and hurricane seasons. Currently, there are 75,000 people at risk of coastal floods but that number is expected to increase by 13,000 over the next thirty years. Heavy localized rain that accompanies these storms makes flooding in low-lying areas more severe.
One of the worst floods in state history was the Mississippi River Flood of 1927, commonly known as the Great Flood. This turned out to be the most destructive river flood in US history. Several months of rain caused the Mississippi River to reach never-before-seen levels. One by one, every levee system along the river began to break. More than 27,000 square miles of land became inundated across seven states, some residential areas were submerged in under 30 feet of water, approximately 750,000 people became displaced, and at least 246 people died. It took more than two months for the floodwaters to subside completely. This flood caused over $400 million in damages.
In order to prepare for a flood, you should know your risk level. Due to the ever-changing topography and climate, it’s recommended that you run a risk analysis every few years.
Depending on that, you can determine the best ways to mitigate future damage to your home and property. In this flood guide, you can learn about some practical strategies as well as tips on how to stay safe.
Mississippi is covered in about 20 million acres of forest land. In an average year, the Mississippi Forestry Commission responds to 3,000 wildfires. These burn a combined estimate of 50,000 acres.
The peak of the wildfire season begins in January and generally lasts through March, although sometimes into April. The top two causes of fires in the state are linked to arson and the careless burning of debris. Over the last few years, escaped debris burns have been the leading cause.
Studies suggest that 57% of the state population is living in an area that is at an elevated risk of wildfire. The good news is that each person can make a difference in prevention by not burning during the peak season and knowing how to control the flames during debris burns.
7. Winter Storms
Mississippi has short, temperate winters. Cold spells usually last a brief period, and measurable snow, sleet, or ice occur but it doesn’t stay on the ground too long.
One of the worst ice storms occurred in February 2021 when the state was pummeled by ice, snow, and below-freezing temperatures. Of Mississippi’s 82 counties, 74 reported ice. This storm caused major power outages and interrupted water services for several days.
Even though major winter storms are rare, historical events like the February Ice Storm of 2021 should serve as an example of why preparedness is important.
During winter weather, you should have supplies to keep you warm, fed, and hydrated. You should also consider alternatives to electricity since it’s likely that there could be long-lasting or rolling power outages. Learn how to become prepared for a winter storm here.
All states have some level of landslide risk. In Mississippi specifically, the southern half of the state and the region west of Interstate 55 have a high susceptibility and moderate incidence. Landslides are also common along the Mississippi River due to erosion and saturated soil.
If you live in a landslide-prone area, it is important to incorporate mitigation strategies to lower your risk of property damage and personal injury. Also, it’s important to understand that some landslides don’t occur suddenly, but rather leave clues indicating that an area is becoming unstable.
Mississippi does not lie directly on a fault line, however, a strong earthquake on the lower section of the New Madrid Fault would be significant enough to shake things up in the Magnolia State. The likelihood of the New Madrid Fault having a magnitude 6.0 or higher earthquake in the near future is 40% to 50%.
Between 1811 and 1812, Mississippi was devastated by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and aftershocks that occurred in the same fault zone. It was felt as far as New York City, Philadelphia, and even parts of Canada. The most unique thing that occurred was that the Mississippi River flowed backward for 24 hours.
The current threat is not whether the New Madrid Fault will rupture. Evidence suggests that this is bound to happen sooner than later. The real issue here is the infrastructure of Mississippi which isn’t built to withstand earthquakes. A significant shaker could cause major infrastructure collapse, including highways which could temporarily cut off access to goods and supplies coming from northeast Tennessee.
In this guide, we discuss the steps to help secure heavy and valuable items to prevent them from falling or breaking during an earthquake. Also, we highlight important tips that could ensure your safety in the event of a shaker.
Natural disaster resources for Mississippi
Mississippi is vulnerable to different disasters. We recommend you take advantage of some of the following resources to help ensure you feel prepared when they occur.
- Check out the NOAA Weather App if you want to receive real-time weather alerts. This app has benefitted me multiple times, including when I’m traveling because it automatically syncs to your location.
- Disasters are different in many ways but what they do have in common is that they’re powerful and destructive. Our mission is to help you feel peace of mind that your needs will be met no matter what disaster you face. For this, we’ve created unique guides per disaster type. You can find mitigation strategies, safety tips, recommendations for your emergency kits, free checklists, and much more. Find all of our disaster guides here.
- Emergency preparedness is an evergreen topic. There’s no way that only reading about it will provide all the knowledge you need to be ready to face a disaster. In an effort to strengthen communities, FEMA instituted the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). This organization provides free in-person training throughout the United States to help people like you gain experience in preparedness. Find your local CERT here.
- Disasters, as we know, are extremely difficult to recover from, especially for the hardest-hit communities. In an effort to help meet the immediate needs of those that have been affected, Mississippi’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) connects local businesses or organizations that have resources to help. If this sounds like something you would like to be a part of, visit their website and connect with them directly to get involved.
- Each state handles its emergency preparedness resources slightly differently. To determine what assistance is available in your state specifically, check out the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency website here.
I hope you enjoyed learning about natural disasters in Mississippi.
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Want to look up another state? Find out which disasters are likely to happen in other parts of the United States here!