Tupelo tornado: The view from under a concrete bridge (w/video)

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – I didn’t hear Monday’s tornado, but I sure saw that nasty gray monster.

The radar picture looked ominous and radio chatter exploded on the police scanner, when Daily Journal Chief Photographer Thomas Wells drove by the office and picked me up in his battered red Jeep.

We drove up Highway 45 and stopped just north of Highway 78. Vehicles sped by us as we looked to the southwest.

Someone on the scanner reported a tornado touched down at West Main Street and the Natchez Trace. We thought we saw a relatively small funnel cloud hit the ground then go back up.

“No, no,” Thomas said. “To the right.”

It was hard to see at first. We assumed the rain was obscuring it.

But the big mass started moving and so did we. We took the Barnes Crossing exit and parked under the bridge.

Thomas yelled at a woman to get out of her car and under the bridge.

People say a tornado sounds like a train, but I wasn’t close enough to hear it.

But I can report that tornados on TV and in movies get it right: A giant bowl of swirling shades of gray connecting earth to sky and moving at a rate that somehow seemed both fast and slow.

Thomas handed me his phone, so I shot video while he took photographs.

The tornado moved across Highway 45 near the 45/78 interchange. I tracked it until high-speed, horizontal rain rushed in on us.

Those of us assembled under the bridge were never in danger, but I knew – and I’m sure everyone else knew – the potential for tragedy in the tornado’s wake.

I’ll never forget the split trees and busted homes Thomas and I found later when we toured Gloster Street, Bristow Acres and the Joyner neighborhood. As we saw more and more destruction, familiar places no longer matched up with their memory. A type of shock set in.

But the sight of the tornado, itself?

Someone asked me what it was like, and I said “awesome,” which felt like a stupid word to use.

But I didn’t mean it in a slang way.

I meant it as a sense of reverence, fear and wonder. Everyday life was put on dramatic hold while I hid under a concrete bridge and witnessed the true meaning of awesome.

It might be a while before I misuse the word again.

scott.morris@journalinc.com.

  • james

    they also fail to mention that the phone lines and cable lines were also taken out. no mention as to when those will be back up.

  • Starquest

    That’s exactly where they tell you NOT to shelter.

  • David Vaughn

    Never, and I dress NEVER seek shelter under a bridge. The potential of debris forced in by wind shear makes common sense easy to say NEVER. Thanks for posting the exact opposite of everything law enforcement officials, meteorologists and anyone with common sense urge others to not do for safety sake.

  • Bruce Smith

    This is a wonderful piece of writing–vivid, gripping, even poetic in the presence of a great cataclysm of Nature. If Scott Morris and Thomas Wells had to shelter under a bridge for Scott to produce this stirring account, it was worth it.

    • Jimmy Williams

      Personally I think they are stupid for even showing this pic much less taking cover under the bridge to get it. They tell you every year not to get under an overpass and what do thee 2 SO CALLED professionals do? Get under an over pass. Id like to hit them in the mouth because now idiots will see this pic and think,Well if they did it we can too mentality. So NO Bruce it wasn’t worth it if it gives the wrong information.

  • Perry Williams

    Unfortunately this video will get people killed in the future…..just as the 1991 video from the Kansas Turnpike did. Ya’ll were EXTREMELY fortunate that this tornado didn’t make a direct hit…..and that it wasn’t more intense. If it had, I seriously doubt any of you would be alive today.