State warns Arkansans to prepare for spring severe weather

Alex Gladden
Fort Smith Times Record

As spring rolls in, Arkansans need to take steps to prepare for severe weather events. 

This week marks the National Weather Service's Severe Weather Awareness Week with the goal of informing people about the threats severe weather pose as well as where to go for information on severe weather events. 

The National Weather Service's efforts focus on flooding, lightning, tornados, severe thunderstorms, watches and warnings and general storm reports.  

“Flash flooding is probably the most common threat," said Dennis Cavanaugh, a National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist. 

Severe weather tips

In the event of flash floods, stay off the roads and avoid driving through any standing water.

When lightning occurs, as it does in most thunderstorms, stay indoors. 

If you find yourself outside at sporting games or practices when lighting occurs, you should and immediately go inside. 

“If there’s lightning nearby, it’s just not safe to be out on the field," Cavanaugh said. 

Cars sit stacked in a pile of rubble Sunday, March 29, 2020, on Elizabeth Lane in Jonesboro, Ark. after a tornado hit the night before.

While severe thunderstorms produce the most lightning, sometimes storms that don't produce a lot of lightning can be the most dangerous because people aren't as cautious. 

“But a lightning strike is a lightning strike," Cavanaugh said. 

Arkansas has around 35 to 36 tornados in an average year and residents should be prepared if they strike and that includes designating a specific place inside the homes to go during a tornado. 

The center of their home, where there are the most walls between them and outside, is often the best place to stay. 

“We can rebuild the homes," Cavanaugh said. "We can't rebuild the people inside the homes." 

During severe thunderstorms, get inside as soon as possible. 

This year, the National Weather Service is separating severe thunderstorms into three categories. The new system does into effect April 28. 

A storm is rated severe if winds are 60 mph or more or if the storm produces hail that is at least 1 inch in size. 

The National Weather Service marks a storm as a considerable damage threat if winds are 70 mph or more or if the storm produces hail that is the size of or larger than a golf ball. 

A storm is a destructive storm if its winds are 80 mph or more or if the storm produces hail that is the size of or larger than a baseball. 

“Destructive thunderstorms are pretty rare. They’re as rare as tornados," Cavanaugh said. 

People in the area will receive alerts on their phones about the threat of a destructive storm. 

Arkansans should treat a destructive storm like they would a tornado: Go to the innermost part of the home with the most walls between them and outside. 

Destructive storms have the capacity to rip roofs off houses and knock down trees. 

Cavanaugh explained that a storm or tornado watch means that people should be prepared, while a storm or tornado warning means that people should take action. 

Cavanaugh also expounded on the importance that people report storms and tornados to the National Weather Service as it helps people prepare for storms in other areas. 

It's also important that to keep emergency kits in the home, said Melody Daniel, a public information officer for the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management. 

Kits should include drinking water and food and Daniel recommends keeping enough on hand for seven days, which means one gallon of water per person, per day. 

“Now is a good time to get in there and think about if you have enough food and water," Daniel said. 

Kits should include a change of clothes, any medicines that people might need, flashlights, extra batteries and a manual can opener, Daniel said. 

Last year, Arkansas experienced 45 tornadoes, one death because of thunderstorm wind gusts and hundreds of reports of flash flooding, according to a press release from the National Weather Service and the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management. 

During 2020, Arkansas had the most tornados occur in August in state history and was also impacted by three tropical cyclones.