The last couple of days, we have read a lot about Elvis’ 75th birthday. Did you know that, at the age of 15 months, Elvis Presley and his mother were nearly killed in the Tupelo, Mississippi tornado of April 5, 1936? The tornado, which struck around 8:30 in the evening, killed 216 white residents of the town. Fatalities of black people were often not included in tornado statistics until the 1950′s. It is likely the total number of fatalities from this tornado was more than 400. The Tupelo tornado was retrospectively rated F-5, the highest intensity on the Fujita Scale.
Twelve hours later, a rare morning tornado struck Gainesville, Georgia. The death toll in that tornado was 203 with 40 “missing” (the large number of “missings” is due to the extensive fires that made identification of the dead impossible in many cases). This tornado was rated F-4.
The tornado death toll for the entire United States for the year 2009 was 21. That’s not a typo, just 21. The tornado warning system is one of the most successful scientific endeavors in history. I tell the fascinating story of how the tornado, hurricane and wind-shear (fatal airline crashes) warning systems came to be in Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather. I’m sitting at my kitchen table doing the final edit right now. I it turn into my publisher the first of the week. We are still on track for the May 1 release.
UPDATE: Dramatic photos of the Gainesville tornado aftermath here.