On Saturday, March 28, 2020, ten minutes after the National Weather Service issued its warning, a strong tornado with top winds estimated at 140mph, plowed a twelve mile long path through portions of Jonesboro, AR. It damaged or destroyed more than 200 homes and businesses, including Turtle Creek Mall and the city airport.
No Fatalities Reported
Eighteen people were injured, but amazingly, no one was killed. Isolation due to the COVID-19 coronavirus meant the mall and other businesses were much less crowded than they would have been on a typical Saturday afternoon. Most importantly, the tornado warning was issued at 4:47 pm and the twister touched down at 4:57pm, meaning those ten minutes allowed everyone plenty of time to seek shelter and survive.
Tracking the Tornado
The National Weather Service damage survey found that the twister touched down just north of Interstate highway 555, produced EF-2 damage at the Mall, then strengthened to EF-3 force as it destroyed buildings and airplanes at the Jonesboro Airport and beyond. At its widest, the funnel left a swath of damage one-third of a mile across, along a path of more than twelve miles.
Early Warning Was Key
Occurring on a March day (the middle of Arkansas’ tornado season), just before 5pm (the most common time of day for Arkansas tornadoes), and two hours after Tornado Watch #68 had been issued for the area, the tornado was not unexpected, meaning the people of Jonesboro were well aware of the day’s severe weather risk. Warnings from the National Weather Service via weather radio and cell phone, combined with outstanding on-air coverage by local television and radio stations undoubtedly saved lives. As the 2020 tornado season kicks in, everyone can learn a good lesson from the Jonesboro tornado: know your risk for severe weather, have multiple redundant methods of receiving warnings, watch your local TV station’s storm coverage, and have a practiced, well-understood plan of action to get to your safe place.
Every home, school, and business should have a NOAA Weather Radio. As the official “Voice of the National Weather Service”, it keeps you informed and alerted no matter what you’re doing. Buy it, plug it in, and be prepared.