While Arkansas is not normally included on some maps of the infamous “Tornado Alley”, a path known for devastating cyclone activity which is usually considered to stretch from north Texas northward through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, the Natural State has suffered its share of many devastating tornado outbreaks. Not only known for tornadoes, Arkansas has also felt the brunt of flash floods and, surprisingly, earthquakes due to the state’s positioning on the New Madrid Seismic Zone.
1. December 16, 1811: What is now known as the New Madrid Earthquake was a large earthquake with an epicenter in northeast Arkansas that affected about 1 million square miles. Because of the sparse population in the region, damage and fatalities were largely avoided.
However, the New Madrid Seismic Zone, which has been mostly inactive ever since 1811-1812, remains of interest to geologists. A similar event, would it happen today, would certainly cripple an enormous portion of the United States.
2. June 5th, 1916: One of the worst tornado outbreaks in Arkansas history was in the late tornado season month of June.
This particular storm pattern had 34 tornadoes and 87 fatalities.
3. Great Flood of 1927: The most destructive and costly flood in Arkansas history covered about 6,600 square miles and put 36 out of 75 of the state’s counties under water during the summer of 1927. More than 100 people died.
Ultimately, damages were estimated at about $1 billion.
4. April 10, 1929: A cyclone ranked as F5 (the maximum intensity on the Fujita scale of tornado intensity) struck northern Jackson County.
The tornado has come to be known as the "Sneed Tornado". The death toll was listed as 23, with at least another 59 people injured.
5. March 21, 1952: The ninth deadliest tornado outbreak in the history of the United States, this storm pattern produced 209 deaths, 50 of which were related to a single tornado in Arkansas.
30 people alone were confirmed dead in Judsonia, Arkansas. The tornado passed through Judsonia's business district. In the town, 385 homes were destroyed and 560 exhibited damage. The tornado killed 10 people in the eastern portions of Bald Knob, and nine fatalities were reported in rural locales. A person also died near Russell, Arkansas. The tornado became the fourth deadliest in the Natural State.
6. May 15, 1968: Producing 46 tornadoes, this outbreak that struck most of the central and southern United States killed at least 72 people including 45 in Arkansas alone. It was one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in the United States during the 1960s.
One of the tornadoes touched down west of Jonesboro, Arkansas before hitting the Craighead County city itself at around 10 PM CDT. The tornado caught most residents by surprise since most of the warning systems failed and killed at least 34. One more person was killed in neighboring Jackson County.
7. March 1, 1997: Affecting areas mostly from Arkansas to Kentucky, this tornado outbreak produced 58 tornadoes, including seven violent (F4) tornadoes, and killed at least 27 people, including 25 in Arkansas alone.
Five of the seven F4s hit Arkansas. The most significant and deadliest tornadoes recorded in the state were two F4s that were also the deadliest tornadoes of the outbreak. The deadliest tornadoes affected parts of Saline and Pulaski counties, kiling a total of 15 people.
8. January 21, 1999: On this date Arkansas recorded the most tornadoes on any individual January day in any state.
Fifty-six tornadoes were recorded; this record marked the most tornadoes in the month of January and the largest single outbreak ever to strike the state of Arkansas.
9. February 5, 2008 : Tornadoes tore through five states, including Arkansas, during the Super Tuesday Tornado Outbreak. All told, 13 people in Arkansas were killed and several were injured across the Natural State.
The EF4 tornado caused an estimated $120 million in damage to the state of Arkansas.
10. June 11, 2010: Known as the Albert Pike Flash Floods, these floods caused by six to eight inches of locally heavy rain swept through campsites, including the Albert Pike Recreational Area, located in the Ouachita National Forest.
Some 20 people were confirmed dead, and more than 20 others were missing.
11. April 25, 2011: Hot Springs and Vilonia, Arkansas were among areas that saw destruction in the April 2011 regional outbreak. These same storms that produced tornadoes and caused five deaths and millions of dollars in damage in Arkansas in the early stages of the outbreak would later kill nearly 240 people in Alabama.
A month later on May 25, 2011, a forty-seven-mile-path tornado tore through Johnson and Franklin counties in Arkansas.
12. April 27, 2014: One of the worst tornado disasters in recent Arkansas memory, this storm activity began when a weak tornado touched down in Pulaski County, Arkansas. Within a minute, the tornado dramatically intensified, continuing its way into Faulkner County.
EF4 tornado damage took place in Mayflower, parts of Conway, and a large part of Vilonia, Arkansas. This area saw multiple homes and businesses severely damaged or destroyed. Overall, the tornado remained on the ground for an hour. Sixteen people lost their lives due to the tornado and 193 others were injured.
Most Arkansans can recall a moment where they caught a glimpse of a funnel cloud and nearly all of us know the familiar sound of a storm siren. Ask around Arkansas and you’ll hear stories of dashes to cellars, storm shelters, and even ditches or quick runs with a heavy mattress to a bathtub!