Deadly EF-5 tornado destroys shopping center, WLBT tower

Published: Jun. 22, 2023 at 10:35 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Tornadoes are not unusual in Mississippi, but the most destructive kind, EF-5s as we call them now, are indeed rare.

And that’s a good thing, because the one that hit the Jackson area back in 1966 was catastrophic.

“About 4:30 this afternoon, a vicious tornado struck in south Jackson,” reported WLBT’s Forrest Cox, who was one of the first reporters on the scene and plainly described the destruction he was seeing.

“We understand that a number of lives have been lost,” he said. “In fact, you can see some of the automobiles that have been turned over. We understand that two people were killed in one of the cars that was sitting here in the parking lot of Candlestick Park.”

A Liberty supermarket, a Dog-n-Suds restaurant, and a drug store were among the businesses that were filled with customers when the storm came barreling through. A dozen people at Candlestick were killed.

But it wasn’t just the shopping center.

Before the twister got there, it took down WLBT’s 16-hundred-foot tall transmitting tower southeast of Raymond, knocking the station off the air.

It eventually crossed into Rankin County, leveling homes, trees, and farm buildings as it skipped across the landscape.

Statewide, the tornado was blamed for 57 deaths.

That storm ultimately led WLBT to acquire its own radar that could see bad weather long before it got here.

It was called “Radar 3,” and it was installed in 1970 with weatherman Woodie Assaf at the controls.

“Storms, bad weather, even tornadoes can be picked up 250 miles away from Jackson,” Assaf said.

Radar 3 remained in use for nearly 30 years until more powerful Doppler radar came along.

In 2002, Lorian Hemingway, granddaughter of the famous writer Earnest Hemingway, wrote a book about the Candlestick Park tornado. She had grown up in south Jackson and told reporter Bert Case she was always haunted by that storm.

A handful of people still gather each March 3 to remember those who died at Candlestick Park in 1966 and they’re grateful for the strides made in weather-prediction technology each year since.

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