Wednesday’s topic for severe weather awareness week is tornadoes. Tornadoes are the second deadliest aspect of severe weather behind flooding. First, let’s talk about tornadoes in the Natural State.

Arkansas receives an average of 37 tornadoes a year. Since 2000, there have been over 900 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. Stronger tornadoes (EF-2, EF-3, EF-4, and EF-5) are much rarer but still occur.

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 corridors 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 National Weather Service.

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.

Below is an explanation of how tornadoes form.

Here’s what you can do to stay safe if you are under the threat of a tornado.

1: If you are driving 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 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 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 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.

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 caregiver for these people.

Stick with the Arkansas Storm Team for details on the rest of this week’s topics for severe weather awareness week. If you missed yesterday’s topic, follow the link below!

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