The memory sometimes fails. It wasn't the end of January 1997 that a tornado outbreak killed more than two dozen people across the state. It was the end of February that year.
The memory sometimes fails. It wasn’t the end of January 1997 that a tornado outbreak killed more than two dozen people across the state. It was the end of February that year.
Arkadelphia and Benton were ground zeroes on that day, but other communities suffered, too.
And if the memory doesn’t quite accurately make it back through the mist to 1997, it does recall a balmy December night about five years ago when tornadoes roared through South Arkansas in wave after wave. From the vantage point of a ramshackle hunting cabin, the certainty of the next day seemed a coin flip at best. Lightning lit up the sky to the southwest, and the radio blared warning after warning. Hours would pass before a cold breeze signaled the all clear.
Last year, the tornado that killed five near Vilonia came in April. As the shaken woman explained, she was sitting at her computer when her son called to say that the weatherman estimated the storm would hit the town at 7:30. She looked at the clock on her computer — 7:25. Just then, the power went out. She made it through the storm. Her house mostly did. The home and small business building next door did not.
In 1968, a twister killed 34 in Jonesboro in May. Another twister caused a ton of damage in 1973.
A March tornado in 1984 killed several people in tiny Fisher, and there remains today in City Hall a picture of a sea of debris that seems to stretch for miles.
The point? Tornadoes and Arkansas go hand in hand every month of the year.
More proof of our state’s propensity to conjure tornadoes outside the “normal” spring and fall windows came Sunday night.
The day started as cool in all parts of the state — mid-40s from south to north — but gradually warmed up, and by the early evening hours, severe storms were popping up and following their traditional northeasterly pattern. Possible tornadoes caused significant damage in Fordyce and near Stuttgart.
No part of our state is immune historically. Washington County and Sebastian County have been hammered time and again. As for municipalities, Clinton and Marmaduke have particularly stormy pasts.
As technology has improved, warning of tornadoes has improved. Today, we can watch in real time as the super-duper radars pinpoint which street corner is most in danger at any given moment.
Our cell phones go berserk with alarms if we subscribe to such services (usually free of charge), and we all know that our best warning network is usually Mom, who keeps as much of an eye on the weather as any slicker-clad Weather Channel reporter.
We are heading toward our annual tornado season. Anyone who has lived in Tornado Alley for any time at all knows how to best keep safe. Have a plan. Put aside supplies (batteries, water, etc.). Don’t tempt fate.
The “where” part of the response equation is critical. What might seem to be sturdy and immovable often becomes missilelike in Mother Nature’s fury. Boxcars get tossed around like the combine in “Twister.” Air gets sucked out of the tires of huge tractors. Mobile homes land hundreds of yards from their original location.
Put another way — an interior room might not be enough. Somewhere underground is the best option.
Now is the time to put those plans together. Don’t wait until the TV radar turns purple.
At the end of the stormy day, though, if a twister is coming over the hill, there’s not a lot any of us can do to stop it. We can only ride it out as best we can.
And as we know, those storm clouds can come at any time, on any day, in any month.
• • •
Rick Fahr is publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org