Those street-level maps we see on television during tornado warnings could be a little misleading. The National Weather Service says it's noticing a trend during our stronger storms for the tornado to touch down up to a mile away from where the main rotation is showing up on radar. That's because those storms are tilted. And relying on radar could give people a false sense of security thinking a tornado is passing them by because their neighborhood isn't in the path of the storm as depicted on TV. NWS says it's another reason for anyone anywhere near a tornado to take cover.
We all know it was a wet winter in Mississippi. And the National Weather Service says it'll go down in the record books at the fourth-wettest in history in Jackson-- with rainfall almost 12 inches above normal. It's the sixth-wettest winter in Hattiesburg. And the big concern is this-- several of our unusually-wet winters have been followed by major spring floods.
People living in mobile homes are always being warned to leave and go to a safe place during a severe weather threat. But many people may not feel like they've got a lot of options. Miss. Emergency Management director Robert Latham says some perfectly good safe places aren't being used. More than $182 million has been spent to build 63 community storm shelters since Hurricane Katrina, most of those in south Mississippi. But Latham says many of them are sitting empty during severe storms. He's encouraging local officials to open those shelters on a regular basis to give people living in mobile homes a safe place to ride out a storm. Latham says some people think the shelters were designed to house hurricane evacuees but that's not the primary reason they were built.
Latham is now working with the Department of Education on a pilot program to teach storm safety to students-- in hopes that they'll convince their parents to take steps at home to better protect the family. He says fire safety has been taught to kids for years-- and now it's time to focus on disaster preparedness.
We usually don't get long-track tornadoes in Mississippi during December. But the Christmas Day 2012 storm that formed in Pearl River County produced a 61-mile path of damage across four other counties, finally dissipating in western Greene County. UPDATE; The tornado that ripped through Kemper and Noxubee counties April 11, 2013 was the third-longest storm track in the past 21 years-- more than 68 miles.
Initially, we thought the tornado that hit Hattiesburg Feb. 10 might have been on the ground for more than 50 miles, all the way from Marion County. But NWS says the storm lifted back into the clouds for nine miles before touching down again in Lamar County. It'll be classified as two separate tornadoes. The one in Lamar County was a multiple-vortex tornado producing EF-4 damage with winds estimated at 170 mph.
The EF-3 tornado that hit Scott and Newton counties Oct. 18 was the strongest storm to touch down in Mississippi during the month of October in 45 years. The tornado was on the ground for more than 16 miles with winds that reached 140 miles an hour. It's only the second October storm in Mississippi history to get the third-strongest classification. The other one was on the coast in 1967. It was a strange year for tornadoes-- none in Mississippi during three of the most dangerous months (April, May and November).
Crystal Springs United Methodist Church is the first Mississippi-based employer to win a national award for its support of the National Guard and Reserves. The Freedom Award was presented in Washington. The church's senior pastor, John Mark Branning, is a chaplain in the Guard and was deployed to Iraq last year. The church paid the difference in his salary during his deployment, helped his family cover its bills and arranged for a video hook-up so Branning could witness the birth of his child. Church leaders say they considered his deployment a mission opportunity and say Branning has delivered a lot of good sermons based on his experiences in Iraq.
A rare event indeed on the Barnett Reservoir Aug. 19. A waterspout, a phenomenon that occurs more often on the Coast. The National Weather Service says it was the result of a rainshower (not a severe thunderstorm) getting caught up in some wind shear associated with a frontal boundary, resulting in some weak rotation that produced the waterspout. Even though it wasn't technically a tornado, NWS went ahead and issued a tornado warning just in case it held together once it reached shore-- which it didn't.
And have you ever heard of a "landspout"? That's the term that NWS says best applies to the weak tornadoes that hit Lamar and Jones counties Dec. 9. They didn't form from a severe thunderstorm like most tornadoes. Instead, they resulted from some heavy rainshowers and favorable wind conditions.
Are you enjoying football season? These women are. Check out the story below-- "Ladies Day".
It was one of the darkest days in Jackson's history-- April 24, 1996, the day a disgruntled firefighter went on a shooting rampage killing four of his comrades at Central Fire Station downtown and wounding two others. Now, there's a book about it. Former division chief and arson investigator Dave Berry and the widow of one of the firefighters who died have written personal accounts of that tragic day and some of the events leading up to it. The title, "White Shirts", is a reference to the uniforms worn by the chiefs and ranking officers who were Kenneth Tornes' targets. Berry chased Tornes out of the building and fired shots at his car as he drove away. The book co-authored by Noraine Moree is available online from Cannon Ridge Publishing.
State Trooper Marvin Henderson lost part of his left leg in a motorcycle accident, but it hasn't kept him from continuing his law enforcement career. In fact, he recently was hailed as a hero for stopping an armed robbery and chasing down one of the suspects. I had the opportunity to talk to Henderson about what he's gone through to overcome his disability. The story is posted below-- "Super Trooper".
Mississippi has added four more names to the state's law enforcement officers memorial. Two of the officers died in the line of duty last year-- in Madison and Grenada. The other two go back a long way-- at least a hundred years. A sheriff who was killed in 1912 and a town marshal shot to death in 1891 have been added to the wall, bringing the number of names to 216. Pearl police investigator Mike Walter's name will be included next year.
Mississippi now has 62 smoke-free communities. That's cities and towns with a comprehensive ordinance prohibiting smoking in public places. But health groups say the state still needs a statewide smoking law-- because even if every community passed its own ordinance, much of Mississippi wouldn't be covered. Legislation to establish that statewide policy never even got out of committee at the Capitol this year. But supporters plan to try again next year.
He was a wounded veteran of the war in Iraq. He was there when Marine Cpl. Dustin Lee was killed in a rocket attack in 2007, refusing to leave Lee's side until pulled away by medics. He retired from the military and moved in with Lee's parents, living in Quitman and traveling the country visiting schools, veterans groups and military hospitals. Now, Lex the German shepard has died. He was the first military working dog to be retired from active duty and given to the family of a fallen Marine. But it wasn't his war wounds that killed Lex. It was cancer. See the related story below, "Dustin's Dad".
It's good to see a list in which Mississippi doesn't rank at or near the bottom. The Center for Public Integrity ranks the state sixth nationally in its State Integrity Investigation. The study looks at the risk of public corruption in each state, focusing on factors like government accountability, political financing, state budget procedures and the public's access to information. Even though only five other states ranked higher, Mississippi's grade on the center's report card was just a C-plus. No state got an A. New Jersey ranked the highest, Georgia the lowest.
I had an opportunity to be one of the first Mississippians to visit the new National
9-11 Memorial in New York. I've visted the World Trade Center site annually for the
past eight years and was disappointed in the lack of progress. Last year, things
really began to take shape and now, with the memorial finished and construction well
underway on the Freedom Tower and other buildings, it's a much more positive
experience. Posted below is the story about my visit, "The National Memorial".
UPDATE: This story has been named winner of a national Edward R. Murrow Award for best Use of Sound among entries from small-market radio stations across the U-S and Canada.
The eight straight days of measurable rainfall in Jackson during July almost made the record books. If the streak had gone one day longer, it would have been the longest ever in July and among the longest for any month in Jackson. On the other hand, Hattiesburg-- where it also rained eight days in a row-- has had three other Julys with lengthier rainy streaks, including 14 consecutive days in 2003.
What a difference a year makes. Last April, Mississippi set a record with 67 tornadoes. This year, we had none. This is the first time in 11 years we've had a tornado-free April. And there were no tornadoes during May either, marking the first time since 1993 that we got through both months without a single tornado.
Last year, Mississippi had the distinction of having the first tornado in the country. The storm touched down in Attala County a couple of minutes past midnight on New Year's Day. This year, our first tornado was on Jan. 17. The EF-2 twister in Marion County was the 18th nationwide so far in 2012. Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee all recorded tornadoes before we did.
It's rare for the FBI to issue a warning about a scam. But the bureau's Jackson office was getting so many inquiries from the public about a telephone scam involving phony government grants that it felt a warning was necessary. People are getting calls from someone with a foreign accent claiming that the "U-S Grant Department" is offering grants of up to $10,000 for residential purposes. But the caller says recipients have to pay a "processing fee". The FBI says nobody actually gets a grant and people stand to lose any money they send in.
Misssissippi's film industry is in a position to really take off now. The state has new tax incentives to attract moviemakers, one of the largest sound stages in the South, a new community college training program for jobs in the industry and lots of good publicity surrounding the release of a major motion picture filmed entirely in Mississippi last year. The head of the state film bureau, Ward Emling, says the success enjoyed by Dreamworks Studios in shooting "The Help" shows the people in Hollywood that they can do a major film in Mississippi-- and shows people here the economic impact the movie business can have. Emling says six new movie projects are in the works-- and some of those films could start shooting in Mississippi later this year. UPDATE: Being nominated for four Academy Awards and winning one is another feather in the state's cap now).
I'm now a graduate of the FBI Citizens Academy. The six-week program
gives the public an inside look at the bureau, including how the special agents
fight terrorism, white collar crime and health care fraud. I joined 18 other
citizens for those Thursday night classes, the highlight of which was a visit
to the FBI firing range for an opportunity to shoot some of their special weapons
including the M4 carbine and MP5 submachine gun. A story about the
program is posted below-- "Inside the FBI".
Jerome Lee's son, Dustin, was a Marine who was killed in Iraq five years
ago. And Lee would have given anything to have been in Newton County
last April as the state's Persian Gulf War Memorial was dedicated. But he
couldn't be there. Because HE was in Iraq. Lee is a criminal investigator
with the Miss. Highway Patrol and a master sergeant with the Air National
Guard. He volunteered to go to Iraq to "complete" his son's
mission. Lee served at an air base about 60 miles from Fallujah where
Dustin was killed in 2007. My story is posted below--
You've heard of green power. How about brown? As in The Big Muddy.
The Miss. Department of Transportation is working on a pilot project to
generate electricity from the free-flowing current of the Mississippi River.
It's called hydrokinetic energy. MDOT will use its first turbine to light an
American flag display at the Vicksburg Welcome Center. If it's found to
be feasible, the department hopes to expand the project to light one of
the river bridges.
If you're having a problem getting a cell phone signal-- in some places, it could be intentional. The Federal Communications Commission
is looking into the possibility that some businesses may be using illegal
jamming devices to prevent people from making phone calls and sending
texts. The FCC has launched a nationwide crackdown on the jammers,
which are available on the internet. A gas station in south Mississippi was
caught using a jammer to prevent employees from making calls during work.
But it interfered with the whole neighborhood. The FCC says the devices
can even jam police and fire communications. They're different from the
filters used at Parchman to block inmates from using cell phones. Those
filters allow authorized calls to go through. The jammers block everything.
It would cost the state of Mississippi at least a half-Billion dollars a year if it had to pay the 13,000 volunteer firefighters who risk their lives in communities from
the Delta to the Coast. State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney is hoping, within the next
few years, most counties will be providing disability and accidental death insurance
to those volunteers. About a third of the counties already are, using state insurance
tax rebates to cover the cost. The risk those unpaid firefighters face was highlighted
recently when two volunteers died and another group of firefighters was attacked at a fire scene.
Mississippi had the dubious distinction in Aprii of 2011 of becoming the first state in
21 years to record two EF-5 tornadoes on the same day. The twister which destroyed
Smithville and a tornado which cut through four counties in east-central Mississippi
both earned the National Weather Service's top rating with winds estimated at over
200 mph. The storm in Smithville ripped plumbing out of the ground as it tore
houses apart and the other one gouged holes two feet deep in fields and tore
hunks of asphalt out of roads.
The National Weather Service says the tornado which hit the Terry area in March of 2011 shows why people should take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously. NWS says the storm didn't show a lot of rotation on radar as it moved into Hinds County and no tornado warning was issued until it pushed into Rankin County. Hinds County
was under a severe thunderstorm warning when the tornado hit, damaging several
homes. A survey rated the tornado as EF-2. NWS says it should be a reminder that
severe thunderstorms often produce tornadoes quickly.
When an EF-2 tornado touched down in Hinds County on New Year's Eve 2010 enroute
to Rankin County, the National Weather Service didn't just issue a tornado warning.
It declared a tornado emergency. This higher-level alert had been used just three
times previously in Mississippi for tornadoes in Rankin County in 2005, in Jackson
in 2008 and for the big storm that tore through Yazoo City in April of 2010.
They're only used for confirmed tornadoes on the ground which have the potential to
cause significant damage, injuries and deaths. The first tornado emergency was
declared in Oklahoma City in 1999 as forecasters looked for a way to make the public
understand the danger a huge tornado posed as it cut through the city. Since then,
NWS has developed guidelines for how they're to be used.
As the holidays approach:
A word about rebates. During the holiday shopping season, some of the
best-sounding offers come with mail-in rebates. Over the years, I've had plenty
of experience with how the process works and consider myself somewhat of an expert
on the subject. Here's some information you may find useful:
-- Make sure you get the rebate form before you leave the store. At larger stores,the form may be printed out with your receipt, but at some places, you'll have
to peel one off at the point of sale or ask the cashier.
-- Follow the directions on the rebate form carefully. Most will ask for a copy of the
receipt but some demand the original. Almost all will require you to cut out the UPCs
from the package to send in.
-- Make copies of everything you submit. If there's a problem, you'll need this evidence to get your rebate.
-- Don't wait too long to submit your request. There's a deadline and if you miss it,
you're out of luck.
Here's what I know about rebates:
-- They're based on the concept that a sizeable number of eligible customers won't receive them because they forget about the rebates, wait too long to send in the
request or think it's too much of a hassle.
-- While most redemption companies seem to be honest and efficient, a few seem to
go out of their way to make it difficult to claim the rebate. I once received a postcard
claiming I had missed a deadline for submitting my request when I clearly hadn't.
I suspect these cards were sent to everyone requesting a rebate in hopes that some
wouldn't pursue it any further.
Here's what I believe about rebates:
-- There's no reason it should take 8 to 10 weeks to process a request. I suspect the
money is earning interest in a short-term account which the company keeps after mailing the checks.
Another tip: make sure to remember the rebate amount. On more than one occasion
I've been shorted and had to demand a second check for the balance.
There's never been a September in Jackson any drier than 2010. The
National Weather Service says the city's official rainfall total for the month--
.04 inch-- was matched only by September of 1956. Meridian had its driest
September in 28 years and the fifth-driest on record.
The state agency regulating the telephone companies is still interested in
finding dead spots in cellular coverage in Mississippi. The Public Service
Commission launched a campaign called Zap the Gap about three years ago,
inviting the public to report places where cell phones have trouble getting
a signal. The PSC says some of the gaps have been closed with the
installation of new towers. But central district commissioner Lynn Posey
says they realize problem areas remain, mostly in rural parts of the state.
Posey believes, within the next few years, Mississippians should be able to
get a cell connection practically anywhere in the state. You can check out
Zap the Gap at www.psc.state.ms.us
UPDATE: In light of a new study showing Mississippi with the second-highest
number of cell-only households in the country, the PSC says "zapping the gap"
is more important than ever.
I was among the witnesses for Mississippi's first back-to-back executions
in almost half a century in 2010. Paul Woodward's lethal injection was briefly delayed,
but Gerald Holland's execution went right according to schedule. Both men
quoted scripture in their final statements-- Woodward reciting the Lord's Prayer
and Holland reading the 23rd Psalm. Holland expressed remorse for his crime,
but Woodward didn't. Both men spent about 24 years on Death Row for raping
and murdering young women.
The tornado that cut a 149-mile path through Mississippi in April of 2010 was the fourth-
longest in state history and the widest ever recorded. A tornado which slammed
into the Glade community in Jones County in 1987 was previously the widest--
1.25 miles. The tornado which ripped through Yazoo and Holmes counties was
1.75 miles wide. The National Weather Service says it was probably one of the ten-widest in U-S history. There have been a few tornadoes in other parts of the country which were more than 2 miles wide.
Despite the storm's 170-mph peak winds, it was a survivable tornado. NWS points
out that none of the 10 people killed had taken shelter in a sturdy structure. Six
were in mobile homes, two were in vehicles and two were outdoors.
Mississippi continues to issue Silver Alerts. The new law outlines a
process to notify the public when Alzheimer's patients and other elderly people
are reported missing. In some respects, it's similar to the AMBER alert program
which is used when children are kidnapped. The Miss. Department of Public
Safety is in charge of both programs. But the Emergency Alert System, which is
activated for AMBER, will not be used for Silver Alerts. EAS sends emergency
information to broadcast stations statewide. Most Silver Alerts are expected to be
localized events which won't require a statewide notice. The first use of the Silver
Alert helped locate a missing senior from Meadville who had driven off in his car
and gotten lost in Florida.
The 4.7 inches of snow officially recorded in Jackson Feb. 12, 2010 ranked among the city's
top 10 snowfall events-- and went down in the record books as the second-largest
February snowfall in history. For the winter season (December through February)
Jackson's 5.5 inches of snow ranked as the ninth-highest since weather records
began in 1896.
The National Weather Service has also done some calculations regarding winter
temperatures in Jackson and Meridian, the two Mississippi cities which have the
longest recorded weather histories. The average winter 2010 temperature in Jackson
was 42.8 degrees, tying 1939-40 as the fourth-coldest. In Meridian, it was 42.1
degrees, the third-coldest. For February 2010, Jackson's average temperature,
40.8 degrees was the fifth-coldest on record, while Meridian shivered through its
fourth-coldest February at 41.0 degrees.
The early January 2010 freeze may not have resulted in any record lows
in Mississippi, but at least one record high was tied. But it's not the
kind of record high we normally think about. Jackson's high of 27
degrees on Jan.8 tied the coldest high temperature on record. The
only other time it didn't get any warmer than that on that date was
in 1988. The National Weather Service says the most significant
thing about the Arctic outbreak was the length of time-- in some
places, 3 and a half days-- during which temperatures stayed below the
UPDATE: Parts of north Mississippi endured another 72-hour freeze
in 2011. They dropped below freezing the evening of Jan. 11 and
didn't reach 32 degrees until late in the day on the 14th.
My story, "Shadow Soldiers", is
about the 1st Battalion, 204th Air Defense Artillery-- a Miss.
National Guard unit based in Newton which completed two tours of duty in Washington, DC-- helping to guard against another
9/11-style terrorist attack. I had the opportunity in 2009 to visit
with the unit's commander, Lt. Colonel Les White of Madison and
several of his soldiers in Washington to talk about their secretive
The 204th was the first Guard unit in the country to be assigned the
Avenger missile system, capable of shooting down any type of
aircraft which might threaten the White House, Capitol, Pentagon
or any other target in Washington. It's part of a multi-layered air
defense which also includes fighter jets, helicopters and other assets.
The 204th represents the last line of defense. If other efforts to
divert or neutralize a threat fail, it could be called on to take the
aircraft out of the sky with a Stinger missile. White couldn't talk about
the specifics of the mission or take me on a tour of the missile sites.
But he noted that some of the missiles are hidden, you might say,
in plain sight.
"Shadow Soldiers" is posted below.
UPDATE: The 204th served another mission in Iraq in 2011.
Scam Alert: Attorney General Jim Hood says con artists are trying
to take advantage of the publicity the economic stimulus package
has gotten-- offering to let people cash in. Hood is passing along
a warning from the Federal Trade Commission about bogus websites
and emails encouraging the public to sign up for a share of the
stimulus payments. Hood says some of the emails ask for bank
account or personal information which the crooks can use to steal money
or identities. Others provide a link which can download malicious
software or spyware. And the attorney general says some of the
scams ask for a small credit card payment-- as little as $1.99-- but
thieves can use those card numbers to make bigger purchases--
or victims may unknowingly be signing up for long-term payments.
Any of these scams should be reported to the FTC and the attorney
general's Consumer Protection Division.
UPDATE: The FBI has joined with the AG to warn the public about
a variety of scams, including a jury duty con. Mississippians are
being called and told that they've been selected for jury duty-- and
are asked for their social security numbers. Those who refuse are
often threatened with "contempt of court" charges. Actual jury
duty notifications are handled through the mail, not by phone.
If you have credit cards, you need to check your monthly statements
closely. Several Mississippians have called the Better Business Bureau
complaining about small, unauthorized charges from a company
calling itself "Adele Services". Usually, the charges are for around 25-cents.
The BBB says there's no record of such a company-- and the charges
could be from someone who's testing the validity of credit card accounts,
possibly in preparation for a much larger charge. It says cardholders
who don't challenge the tiny charges could be setting themselves up
to become victims of a much larger scam. The BBB says it's not clear
how the con artists have gotten access to the card numbers. It says they
may have been stolen or the numbers may have been picked randomly.
One other possibility-- that the scam is an attempt to rack up a significant
amount of money, one quarter at a time.
Check out my story about one of the oil and gas surveys
conducted in the Jackson area in 2008. A company worked
in and around Clinton to see if any significant deposits could be found.
I went along with dynamite crews and vibrator trucks as they
sent sound waves into the ground to create a seismic map
which geologists will use to see if there's potential for development.
If you missed the story when it aired, it's now posted below.
Look for "An Oil Well in My Own Backyard?"
UPDATE: This story was named a winner of a national Edward R. Murrow
Award for Feature Reporting among small-market radio.
At the bottom of the page, I'm continuing to post some of my favorite
stories, old and new. From 2010-- there's a feature about
the 60-year-old man who became the oldest person to play junior college
football at Holmes Community College. Look for "Alan Moore: Alive and
Kicking." And a story about the volunteers who rushed to Yazoo City after
the deadly tornado hit in April of 2010. Look for "Volunteer City". Finally
from 2010, there's a feature about Clinton becoming the first community
in Mississippi with a citywide railroad "Quiet Zone". UPDATE: "Volunteer City
was named the winner of a national Edward R. Murrow Award-- the top
hard news story among small market radio stations in the U-S and Canada.
There's "A Visit to Holsten's", a story about the
place in New Jersey where the final scene in the final episode of HBO's
"The Sopranos" was filmed. And, there's a story from 2007 about
a World War Two legend who has since died-- "Jack Lucas,
American Hero"-- and a story, "Mickee the Medic" about a local
ambulance company employee who's saving lives after almost losing
his own. Finally, there's "British Baseball Fan", a story from 2007 about
an Englishman who visited Trustmark Park as part of his quest to see a
baseball game in every state in America. This story won a national
Edward R. Murrow Award in 2008, honored as the best example of sports
reporting among small-market radio stations.