Tornadoes—destructive, violently spinning vortices of air extending from high within severe thunderstorms to the surface of the earth—are more common in the United States than anywhere else on the planet. They are particularly prevalent in the area known as “Tornado Alley,” where the proper ingredients come together: a combination of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico pulled northward by storm systems dragging strong continental cold air from Canada. While Arkansas is not normally included on maps of the infamous Tornado Alley, which is usually considered to stretch from north Texas northward through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, the state has suffered many devastating tornado outbreaks.

In January 1999, Arkansas recorded the most tornadoes on any individual January day in any state (fifty-six on January 21, 1999); the most tornadoes in the month of January; and the largest single outbreak ever to strike the state. One deadly recent outbreak occurred on March 1, 1997, and resulted in twenty-five Arkansas fatalities. The deadliest outbreak in Arkansas history, however, occurred on March 21, 1952, when 112 people lost their lives. Bald Knob (White County) and Judsonia (White County) were the hardest hit, suffering over fifty fatalities. Cotton Plant (Woodruff County) also lost twenty-nine people in one of seventeen tornadoes that day, twelve of which were deadly.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, about 622 tornadoes in Arkansas killed thirty-nine people, injured approximately 540, and caused more than $650 million in damage. Notable tornadoes during this period include a historic February 5, 2008, strike in which an EF-4 tornado tore a 123-mile-long path through seven counties in north-central Arkansas, killing twelve, injuring at least 140, and damaging or destroying 880 homes and 100 businesses. This path set an Arkansas record for length; Clinton (Van Buren County) and Atkins (Pope County) were among those suffering severe damage, while a second, shorter tornado devastated the town of Gassville (Baxter County).

Other large outbreaks in the twenty-first century occurred on December 18, 2002, May 16, 2003, and November 27, 2005. And while hurricanes usually bring only heavy rain to the state, on September 24, 2005, the remnants of Hurricane Rita spawned seventeen tornadoes that moved from southeast to northwest—an unusual state of affairs.  While the average Arkansas tornado is on the ground less than a mile, tornadoes in this outbreak reached path lengths of seventy-five and sixty-seven miles, with others of over twenty miles.

In April and May 2011, sixty-two tornadoes were reported, killing at least eleven people. On April 25 and 26, 2011, twenty-five tornadoes touched down, the most deadly of which struck Vilonia (Faulkner County) on April 25, killing four; this tornado had a path length of more than fifty miles. On May 25, 2011, a forty-seven-mile-path tornado tore through Johnson and Franklin counties.

The state’s fatality rates are also far higher than expected for a state with relatively low population density. From 1950 to 2006, the state ranked fourteenth in both number of tornadoes (1,407) and tornadoes per 1,000 square miles (26.6); it ranked second in the number of fatalities per 100,000 people (13.9), behind Mississippi (19.2). Counts from the Storm Prediction Center may not tell the entire Arkansas tornado story. Many researchers consider this tornado count far lower than the actual number due to Arkansas’s rural nature (low population densities) and conditions that make seeing and counting tornadoes difficult (hills, trees, and low cloud decks). If the number of tornadoes counted in more populated areas of the state were extrapolated across the entire area, Arkansas would likely be depicted on maps along with the more well-known Tornado Alley states. However, this method would not take into account local variations in topography that might account for increased or decreased tornado numbers. Interestingly, some of the same conditions that make counting difficult may also explain Arkansas’s relatively high fatality counts—geography or obstructions might prevent one seeing, and thus seeking shelter from, a tornado. Socioeconomic status may also play a role, especially in the past: lower incomes result in more manufactured homes or less sturdy housing stock, and lower overall educational level can affect understanding of climate cues or warnings. There are also fewer sturdy shelters, such as basements, in Arkansas. These indicators have steadily been improving in the state over the fifty-six-year period for which tornadoes are assessed here, but they are still counted by researchers as factors that increase vulnerability.

While April suffers the most tornadoes on average (291), late fall and winter tornadoes are not at all uncommon in Arkansas. The state also suffers many night tornadoes, in part due to early sunsets during the winter; this factor could also contribute to the state’s fatality rate. Tornadoes in Arkansas occur primarily between the hours of 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.

Tornado intensity has traditionally been measured according to the Fujita Scale (F-scale), which was based on damage to structures. It ranges from F0 (weak) to F5 (extreme). While this method is not a good measure of intensity, in that strong tornadoes may not hit a structure and variability in structure strength can produce wide variances in damage, it was, until the recent development of the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the only measure. As is the case across the country, the average Arkansas tornado since 1950 is very weak (F1.25); there has been only one recorded F5 tornado in the state, on April 10, 1929. Of the 336 fatalities in the state that occurred between 1950 and 2006, 211 took place in F4 tornadoes, of which there were only forty; only two fatalities took place in F0 and F1 tornadoes combined (962 total).

Death tolls since the advent of Weather Service tornado warnings in 1952 have been plummeting nationwide. In Arkansas, rates have generally declined (from sixty-eight fatalities per 100 tornadoes in the 1950s to only 6.3 fatalities per 100 tornadoes) but remain too high. As a comparison, Kansas saw about twenty fatalities per 100 tornadoes in the 1950s and only about two fatalities per 100 tornadoes in the 2000s. Each recent tornado, however, has brought about large expenditures for community sirens, and more recently, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) monetary incentives to build tornado-proof safe rooms in homes. ADEM has also been key in supplying and stressing to the public the need for warning-activated National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radios, while also vastly increasing weather radio coverage to rural areas using new transmitters.

The following chart lists those documented fatal tornado strikes that occurred in Arkansas. Other fatal tornadoes no doubt occurred and were not recognized as such, especially during the nineteenth century and earlier. This chart is a work in progress and will be amended as further information is uncovered.

Date Counties Affected Fatalities
February 17, 1871 Phillips 1
April 25, 1871 Sebastian 1
March 7, 1875 Drew 1
April 8, 1875 Lonoke 4
November 1879 Washington, Crawford 1
April 18–19, 1880 Sebastian, Franklin, Yell, Washington, Faulkner, White, Carroll, Crawford 10+
May 15, 1882 Benton 2
June 1882 Pike 4
August 2, 1882 Ouachita 1
April 5, 1883 Garland, Hot Spring 5
April 14, 1883 Franklin, Faulkner 3
November 20, 1883 Johnson 2
November 21, 1883 Izard 11
October 2, 1884 Pulaski 4
November 16, 1892 Boone 2
April 1893 Scott 7
April 19, 1893 Cleburne 2
May 6, 1893 Ouachita, Howard 3
May 24, 1893 Independence 2
May 30, 1893 Lee, Phillips, St. Francis, Woodruff, Monroe 4
October 6, 1893 Union 5
March 19, 1894 Miller, Hempstead 5
October 28, 1894 Pulaski 4
January 2, 1897 Saline, Miller 2
March 31, 1897 Lincoln, Cleveland, Jackson 3
April 1, 1897 Lincoln 4
January 11, 1898 Sebastian, Crawford 55
March 18, 1899 Jefferson, Desha 1
October 31, 1900 Columbia 1
November 27, 1900 Monroe, Phillips, Lee 1
March 9, 1901 Little River, St. Francis, Greene, Faulkner, Mississippi 16
April 7, 1903 Cleburne, White, Jackson, Van Buren 10
February 5, 1904 Searcy, Baxter, Marion, Fulton 8
March 25, 1904 Greene, Newton, Marion 7
April 24, 1904 Jefferson 2
February 28, 1907 Hempstead 1
March 2, 1907 Hempstead 1
May 6, 1907 Hempstead 2
April 23, 1908 Little River, Pope, Montgomery 5
April 26, 1908 Sevier, Howard, Little River, Pope, Montgomery 5
April 26, 1908 Phillips 14
May 4, 1908 Prairie, White, Faulkner, Independence, Pulaski 10
November 24, 1908 Franklin, Johnson, Crawford, Garland, Sebastian, Carroll, Columbia, Lafayette, Polk 16
February 6, 1909 Lonoke, White, Phillips, Arkansas, Garland 2
February 24, 1909 Lonoke, Prairie, Woodruff, Poinsett 13
March 8, 1909 Monroe 60
April 29, 1909 Montgomery, Crawford, St. Francis, Johnson, Lee, Crittenden, Pope, Cleburne, Pike, Garland, Logan, Van Buren, Independence 38
June 9, 1910 Pulaski, Jefferson, Crawford 2
April 12, 1911 Conway, Faulkner, Pulaski 3
February 25, 1912 Lonoke, Jefferson, Arkansas, St. Francis 15
March 19, 1913 Chicot, Lincoln, Nevada, Desha, Arkansas, Little River, Hempstead 1
March 25, 1913 Johnson, Searcy, Craighead, Poinsett 2
April 27, 1914 Pike 1
June 22, 1915 Sebastian, Pulaski, Phillips, Faulkner, Conway, Clark, Prairie, Whie, Searcy, Union, Fulton 1
November 25, 1915 Garland, Lafayette 23
June 5–6, 1916 Franklin, Garland, Washington, Prairie, Monroe, Conway, Faulkner, Cleburne, Cleveland, Jackson, Lawrence, Randolph, St. Francis, Izard, Dallas, Pulaski, Lonoke, Cross, Poinsett, Independence, White, Sharp, Arkansas, Clay, Lee, Crittenden 76
August 13, 1916 Crittenden 2
December 26, 1916 Jefferson, Prairie, Lonoke 17
March 20, 1917 Clark, Dallas, Phillips, Grant, Jefferson 7
March 29, 1917 Hempstead 1
March 31, 1917 Yell, Pope 1
May 27, 1917 Mississippi 6
April 8–9, 1919 Little River, Hempstead, Howard 6
April 19, 1920 Logan, Johnson, Yell, Franklin, Boone, Search 14
April 15, 1921 Hemptead, Miller, Pope, Pike, Yell, Hot Spring, Benton 57
November 17, 1921 Polk, Hot Spring, Clark 11
December 23, 1921 Crittenden 9
January 4, 1922 Pulaski, Newton 5
March 15, 1922 Jefferson 6
March 28, 1924 Faulkner, Poinsett, Howard, Union 2
April 29, 1924 Miller 1
May 29, 1924 Washington 1
December 7, 1924 Woodruff, Bradley, Craighead 5
June 15, 1925 Lonoke 1
February 24, 1926 Chicot 5
August 17, 1926 Mississippi 2
November 25, 1926 Cleburne, White, Pulaski, Grant, Jackson, Jefferson 30
March 18, 1927 Pike, Saline, Conway, Logan, Johnson 12
March 19, 1927 Carroll 18
May 7, 1927 Phillips 2
May 9, 1927 Faulkner, Pulaski, Lonoke, Prairie, Woodruff, St. Francis, Cross, Lawrence, Randolph, Cleveland, Lincoln, Madison, Independence, Union 71
May 28, 1927 Greene 1
September 27, 1927 Crawford, Fulton 1
October 12, 1927 Mississippi 4
April 2, 1928 Washington, Benton 4
June 9, 1928 Benton, Carroll, Jackson, Boone, Craighead 2
February 2, 1929 Arkansas 2
April 10, 1929 Independence, Jackson, Lawrence, Cross, Izard 23
April 21, 1929 Desha, Drew, Van Buren, Pope 13
May 18, 1930 Phillips 16
November 19, 1930 Yell 1
December 11, 1931 Miller 2
December 13, 1931 Ouachita, Union, Columbia 1
March 30, 1933 Union 1
April 30–May 1, 1933 Chicot, Fulton, Columbia 10
May 14, 1933 Randolph, Izard 5
April 12, 1945 Crawford, Boone, Carroll, Madison, Logan, Johnson 21
January–November 1952 Arkansas, Miller, Logan, Howard, Woodruff, White, Columbia, Sharp, Lawrence, Lonoke, Scott 112
November 15, 1955 Madison, Cleveland, Independence, Perry, Lawrence, Washington, Madison 1
December 19, 1957 Columbia, Ouachita, Jefferson 2
May 6, 1960 Conway, Faulkner, Van Buren, Pulaski, Nevada, Cleveland, Lincoln, White, Mississippi 1
May 5–8, 1961 Pope, Garland, Faulkner, Pulaski, White, Jackson, Independence, Searcy, Marion, Baxter, Hot Spring 3
April 10, 1965 Faulkner 6
May 15, 1968 Baxter, Fulton, Independence, Jackson, Craighead, Miller 45
April 20, 1973 Logan, Boone 1
April 14, 1996 Stone, Izard 5
April 21, 1996 Marion, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, Searcy, Washington 2
March 1, 1997 Pulaski, Jackson, White, Hempstead, Nevada, Clark, Hot Spring, Saline, Independence, Craighead, Lawrence, Greene, Clay, Cross, Poinsett, Baxter, Lonoke, Yell, Conway, Van Buren, Stone 25
April 16, 1998 Mississippi 2
January 21, 1999 Faulkner, White, Greene, Independence, Monroe, St. Francis, Clay, Jefferson, Pulaski, Cleburne, Lonoke 8
November 23–24, 2001 Franklin, Logan, Johnson, Newton, Boone, Marion, White, Chicot, Ashley 4
November 27, 2005 Yell, Pike, Montgomery, Garland, Hot Spring, Sharp, Van Buren, Searcy, Saline, Conway, Perry, Pope, Stone, Baxter, Pulaski, Faulkner, Cleburne, Fulton, Izard, white 1
April 2, 2006 Sharp, Lawrence, Randolph, Grant, White, Woodruff, Cross, Crittenden 2
January 8, 2008 Pope, Conway, Van Buren, Cross, Poinsett, Mississippi 1
February 5, 2008 Yell, Pope, Conway, Van Buren, Stone, Izard, Sharp 13
May 2, 2008 Conway, Van Buren, Cleburne, Grant, Saline, Pulaski, Lonoke, Dallas, Woodruff, Prairie, Monroe, Mississippi, Cross, Crittenden, Chicot 6
April 9, 2009 Polk, Howard, Miller, Pike, Ashley 3
April 30–May 1, 2010 Marion, Conway, Van Buren, Grant, Stone, Saline, Pulaski, Lonoke, White, Howard, Jackson, Dallas, Calhoun, Bradley, Cleveland, Woodruff, Cross, Poinsett, Nevada, Craighead 1
December 31, 2010 Washington, Benton, Carroll, Stone 4
April 15, 2011 Pulaski 7
April 25, 2011 Faulkner, Pulaski, White 4
May 24–25, 2011 Franklin, Johnson, Logan 5
December 10, 2011 Poinsett, Craighead, Jackson, Miller, Woodruff 2
April 27, 2014 Pulaski, Faulkner, White, Jackson, Independence 16
March 31, 2023 Pulaski, Lonoke, Cross 5


For additional information:
Burkett, Lucille Tucker. “The Story of a 1929 Tornado and Its Effect on a Woodruff County Family.” Rivers and Roads and Points in Between 12 (Spring 1984): 23–30.

Craig, Robert D. “Sneed’s F-5 Tornado of 1929.” Stream of History 47 (August 2014): 17–25.

Farrar, Clay. “A History of Tornadoes in Garland County, 1912–2012.” The Record (2012): 111–124.

Grazulis, Thomas. Significant Tornadoes, 1880–1989. 2 vols. St. Johnsbury, VT: Environmental Films, 1991.

Hanley, Ray. “Death Wind on the Grand Prairie of Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 54 (Summer 1995): 163–184.

Heard, Kenneth. “Tornadoes Increasing in Arkansas Due to Climate Change, Researcher Says.” Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, June 6, 2021. (accessed May 16, 2023).

Hebda, Dwain. “Twist of Fate.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 1, 2022, pp. 1E, 3E. Online at (accessed May 16, 2023).

Karpinski, Marisa R. “Typing Tornadoes by Storm Mode in the Southeast United States.” MS thesis, Louisiana State University, 2020. Online at (accessed May 16, 2023).

Leslie, James W. “Terror in the Wind.” Jefferson County Historical Quarterly 27 (December 1999): 4–17.

Leibovich, Marvin. “The December 2, 1982, Tornado of Saline and Pulaski Counties: Implications for Injury Prevention.” Journal of the Arkansas Medical Society 80 (July 1983): 98–102.

The Online Tornado FAQ. Storm Prediction Center. (accessed May 16, 2023).

Porterfield, Jan. “1926 Tornado.” Cleburne County Historical Journal 30 (Winter 2004): 122–141.

———.”March 30, 1938, Tornado.” Cleburne County Historical Journal 31 (Winter 2005): 1–9.

Rogash, Joseph A., and Richard D. Smith. “Multiscale Overview of a Violent Tornado Outbreak with Attendant Flash Flooding.” Weather and Forecasting 15 (August 2000): 416–431. Online at (accessed May 16, 2023).

Titsworth, Elizabeth. “The Terrible Tornado of 1945.” Wagon Wheels 17 (Fall/Winter 1997): 12–19.

Watts, J. Carter. “Jefferson County’s Deadliest Tornado.” Jefferson County Historical Quarterly 10.4 (1982): 4–9.

Mary Sue Passe-Smith
University of Central Arkansas


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