Severe Weather Awareness Week: Tornadoes

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Monday, March 2, 2022: The National Weather Service, in cooperation with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, has proclaimed the week of February 27 through March 5 Arkansas Severe Weather Awareness Week. A different topic is discussed each day. Wednesday’s topic is tornadoes. These weak tornadoes accounted for only 3 fatalities.

Arkansas receives an average of 37 tornadoes per year. Since 2000, there have been 852 tornadoes in Arkansas. 83% of them were rated EF-1 or EF-0, meaning their maximum wind speed was no more than 110 mph.

In 2021, the busiest month was December with 12 tornadoes identified in northeast Arkansas. The strongest tornado of 2021 (rated EF4 and peak winds around 170 mph) traveled more than 26 miles through Monette (Craighead County) and Leachville (Mississippi County) on December 10. The tornado traveled about 54 more miles through southeast Missouri and northwest Tennessee. The tornado killed two people in Arkansas. Monstrous tornadoes like this are rare. There is only one recorded EF-5 tornado in Arkansas.

The largest known tornado outbreak in Arkansas occurred on January 21–22, 1999 when 56 tornadoes touched down along and near the I-30 Hwy 67/167 corridor in the middle of the state. Eight of the 56 tornadoes were rated at least F-3 on the Fujita scale. One, in Clay County, was rated F-4. (These ratings were assigned before the NWS switched to the Enhanced Fujita Scale in 2007). The 56 tornadoes in Arkansas were part of a larger outbreak of 129 tornadoes in ten states: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

January 21-22, 1999 Arkansas Tornado Tracks, Courtesy Little Rock NWS

Peak seasons for tornadoes are spring and fall. This is when warm and cold air masses most often collide, but this collision can occur almost any time of the year, even in winter, as the examples above show.

…Outdoor tornado sirens…

Many cities and counties in Arkansas have acquired outdoor warning sirens to alert the public when tornadoes are threatening. When these sirens are kept in good working order, they do their job as intended to warn the public to go inside for information about the emergency. That’s when you’ll find the Arkansas Storm Crew on the air covering the tornado warning, if it’s an emergency. Although sirens may sound for tornado warnings, the National Weather Service has no control over sirens. The decision to blow the sirens is made by the designated city or county authorities.

…What you can do to protect yourself – Tornado safety rules…

1: Avoid taking shelter under a highway overpass. Swirling winds surrounding a tornado can hit you with lots of debris and blow you below deck.

2: Know the difference between a watch and a warning. The National Weather Service issues a tornado watch when tornadoes are possible. A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been indicated on Doppler weather radar or has been sighted.

3: Know where you are. Counties and cities are mentioned in tornado warnings. If you’re new to an area, keep a map handy for reference.

4: Have a reliable way to receive weather information. The Arkansas Storm Team app is ideal for this. NOAA battery-powered weather radios are also a great way to track the weather, even in the event of a power outage.

5: If you are going to attend a large gathering, such as a school, stadium or place of worship, make sure someone is watching the weather.

6: A tornado shelter, tornado cave, or secure room is the safest place, but they’re not found in most homes. The next safest place is usually a basement, but that’s not common in Arkansas. If you don’t have one, go to an interior room on the ground floor of a house or building. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outdoors and stay away from windows. Many businesses, such as department stores, malls, hospitals, nursing homes and schools have pre-established safety plans and designated safety zones. If you are in one of these places, follow the instructions given inside these buildings.

7: If you are in a vehicle, your best option is to move to a sturdy building. Mobile homes, even tied down, offer little protection in a tornado and should be abandoned.

8: Bear in mind that the elderly, the very young and people with physical or mental difficulties will often need more time to get to safety. Make special arrangements if you are caring for these people.