LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The year 1999 was the busiest year on record for tornadoes in Arkansas with a total of 107 tornadoes throughout the year. However, there was one event that accounted for nearly half of the 107 tornadoes.

22 years ago in late January, a strong storm system swept across much of the south, resulting in a large tornado outbreak. 127 tornadoes were spawned in ten states including Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia.

On January 21-22, 1999, the largest tornado outbreak in state history occurred in Arkansas with a total of 56 tornadoes. The previous state record for one outbreak was 34 tornadoes on June 5, 1916.

Most of the 56 tornadoes formed along the I-30 and US 67/167 highway corridors, from southwest to central and northeast Arkansas.

Credit: National Weather Service, Little Rock

According to data from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Little Rock, 30 tornadoes tracked across 15 counties. White County (10 tornadoes) and Independence County (6 tornadoes) were hit the hardest.

Tornado formation peaked between the hours of 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. CST. Severe storms started developing, also threatening baseball to grapefruit sized hail.

Credit: National Weather Service, Little Rock

By the end of the event, Little Rock’s office of the NWS issued 48 tornado warnings, 80 severe thunderstorm warnings and 22 flash flood warnings.

Eight tornadoes were rated F-3. The strongest, however, was an F-4 in Clay County (far northeast Arkansas).

Credit: National Weather Service, Little Rock

An F-2 tornado in Joy, AR (White County) caused serious damage to a volunteer fire station. Meanwhile, another F-2 in Newark (Independence County) took out several roofs of homes and businesses.

Credit: National Weather Service, Little Rock

The city of Little Rock also took a direct hit when an F-3 tornado severely damaged several homes, including destruction at the Governor’s Mansion downtown. A local grocery store was also ripped apart. Three people were killed in the area.

As a result of this natural disaster, eight people perished and an additional 140-150 people suffered injuries.


The F-Scale or Fujita Scale was developed in 1971 and used to estimate tornado wind speeds based on damage left behind from a tornado. In 2007, it was replaced by the EF Scale or Enhanced Fujita Scale which takes into account more variables than the original scale including building type, structures and trees.

Credit: National Weather Service