By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

This past weekend Northeast Mississippi residents were confronted with several strong storms that brought lightning, heavy rains and some flooding.

The storm, which moved into the state on Thursday and stalled, dumping up to 4 inches of rain in some places, was expected to move out of Northeast Mississippi Monday night and this morning.

Dr. Charles Wax, state climatologist and head of the Geosciences Department at Mississippi State University, said this type of weather is typical for this time of year. From February to middle May heavy storm systems are prevalent. “But in Mississippi we can have severe weather at almost any time,” Wax said.

During those heavy storms the biggest threat, he said, would be from high winds generated from either thunderstorms or tornadoes. A Carroll County teen died Saturday when strong winds slammed a tree into his mobile home about five miles south of Carrollton on Mississippi Highway 17.

Wax said heavy rains caused flooding of streets and have raised the levels of creeks and rivers. Tupelo received 2.48 inches of rain Friday through Sunday, said a spokesman with the National Weather Service in Memphis.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Memphis are predicting about an about 80 percent chance of rain this morning with clearing skies this afternoon and highs in lows 70s. Forecasters are not calling for any rain up to Friday.

When lightning strikes

The “biggest killer” during heavy storms is lightning,” Wax said. He said with this latest storm lightning was responsible for numerous downed trees, however, no deaths have been recorded this season because of lightning strikes.

But lightning is thought to be the culprit in two house fires reported Sunday morning as a series of severe storms thundered their way through Northeast Mississippi Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Capt. Gary Gray at Fire Station No. 2 in Tupelo said a fire was reported at 5:58 a.m. Sunday at 1297 Windwood Cove. The dwelling was an unfinished condominium belonging to Mitch Hunter, a real estate developer. A neighbor reported that he saw lightning strike the roof over the garage of the house. A brick fire wall prevented the fire from spreading to a neighboring condominium, Gray said.

The fire was under control within a few minutes of the arrival of engines from Fire Station Nos. 2, 6 and 1, Gray said. No one was injured in fighting the blaze and the fire damage was confined to the roof of the house, he said.

An attic fire was reported at 10:58 a.m. Sunday at 1706 Tulip Road, according to Capt. Butch Riley at Tupelo Fire Station No. 3. The house is owned by Tupelo attorney Jimmy Doug Shelton and was being occupied by James Robertson. Riley said the fire could have been started by an electrical surge caused by lightning.

The fire was under control shortly after engines from Fire Station Nos. 3, 5 and 1 arrived. No one was injured in the fire and damage was contained to the attic of the home, Riley said.

The electrical storms caused some confusion with other emergency and law enforcement personnel as in Tippah County where the storms knocked out the county’s E911 computer system for the better part of the day, according to emergency personnel. By late Sunday afternoon, most of the computer systems were back on line.

When lightning storms are around residents should remember to stay indoors and away from windows, Wax said. If a person has to be outside stay away from trees and tall objects and try not to be the tallest object in an open field.

According to Wax, the top three dangerous places to be during a lightning storm are on a golf course, driving a tractor in an open field and riding a bicycle.

Tornado threats

These heavy storms also bring the threat of a tornado. Nowadays, he said, residents have access to various watches and warnings to alert them about bad weather. A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for severe weather. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or that severe weather is close and occurring at that time, he said.

On Sunday the emergency sirens sounded in Tupelo between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., alerting residents that funnel clouds had been sighted near and in Lee County and that residents should take cover, said Bennie McDow, director of the Lee County Civil Defense.

McDow said weather spotters reported seeing funnel clouds – funnel-shaped clouds that project from the base of a thundercloud and often become the formation of a tornado – in three locations. A Pontotoc County sheriff’s deputy spotted one in the Furrs community of Pontotoc County; one was sighted near the Nettleton and Richmond community; and one was spotted between Tupelo and Saltillo.

Once a funnel cloud is spotted, the Civil Defense sends out warnings through a variety of sources, including the sirens, calling volunteer fire departments and other organizations that can warn residents, he said.

When the sirens are sounded residents should seek cover in a basement, preferably on the southwest corner of the building, he said. McDow said if there is no basement residents should seek cover on the first floor of their home in a closet, bathroom or narrow hallway. Residents should stay away from windows.

If residents are outside they should seek cover in a ditch or low spot in the ground. Also if they are on a highway they can seek cover under overpasses, McDow said.

Daily Journal staff writer Jane Hill contributed to this report.

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