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

Arkansas receives an average of 37 tornadoes a year. Since 2000, there have been 852 tornadoes in Arkansas. 83% of them were rated as EF-1 or EF-0 which means 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 maximum winds around 170 mph) tracked over 26 miles through Monette (Craighead County) and Leachville (Mississippi County) on December 10th. The tornado went another 54 miles or so through southeast Missouri and northwest Tennessee. The tornado was responsible for two fatalities in Arkansas. Monster tornadoes like this are rare. There is only one EF-5 tornado on record in Arkansas.

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

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

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

…Outdoor Tornado Sirens…

Many towns and counties in Arkansas have acquired outdoor warning sirens to alert the public when tornadoes threaten. When these sirens are kept in proper working order, they do their job as expected to warn the public to go inside to seek information of the emergency. That’s when you will find the Arkansas Storm Team on-air covering the Tornado Warning, if that is the emergency. While sirens may sound for Tornado Warnings, the National Weather Service does not have any control over the sirens. The decision to blow the sirens is made by designated city or county officials.

…What You Can Do to Protect Yourself – Tornado Safety Rules…

1: Avoid taking shelter under a highway overpass. Rotating winds surrounding a tornado can hit you with a lot of debris, and blow you out from beneath the bridge.

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 are 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 great for this. Battery-powered NOAA Weather Radios are also an excellent way to keep up with the weather, even if your power has gone out.

5: If you are going to be at a large gathering, such as at a school, stadium or place of worship, make sure that someone is keeping an eye on the weather.

6: A tornado shelter, tornado cellar, or a safe room is the safest place to be, but these are not found in most homes. The next safest place is usually a basement, but these are not common in Arkansas. If you do not have any of these, go to an interior room on the lowest floor of a house or building. Put as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible and stay away from windows. Many businesses, such as large stores, shopping malls, hospitals, nursing homes, and schools have pre-arranged safety plans and designated safe areas. 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 if tied down, offer little protection during a tornado, and should be abandoned.

8: Keep in mind the elderly, the very young, and people with physical or mental challenges will often need more time to get to safety. Make special provisions if you are a care-giver for these people.