The fierce tornadoes that ravaged Central Arkansas on Sunday were just the beginning. As the death toll of 16 Arkansans and one person from Oklahoma was confirmed on Monday morning, several other southeastern states prepared for a cluster of twisters as the devastation moved east and claimed more lives.
The residents of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee are reeling in the wake of roughly 100 reported twisters that have swept through this part of the country between Sunday and Monday, according to The National Weather Service. As of Tuesday morning, the overall death toll was reported as 28 people. Some of the larger reported twisters were eating up the land with 190-mile-per-hour winds, which is almost as severe as they get.
Although the rest of the country is buzzing about the news of the latest storms, and reflecting in awe at the magnitude of the damage, the brutally long winter resulted in the slowest start of the tornado season in one hundred years. Prior to the Arkansas twisters, the 2014 season had only seen 20 small tornadoes, which is the lowest number since 1915. The average number of tornadoes by this time of year is something closer to 200, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Severe Storms statistics.
The storm systems that create tornadoes often take place somewhere else in the country before eventually creating an effect in the southeastern states where the climate is ripe for tornado funnels. According to meteorologists, the storm responsible for the Arkansas tornadoes originated in the Rocky Mountains. A cold front moved across the Great Plains as a result, kicking off what looks like the true beginning of this year’s tornado season.
It is not over, either. The Arkansas tornadoes are just the beginning of a large swath of the nation at risk. According to Alex Sosnowski, an AccuWeather meteorologist, the U.S. population currently at risk spans much farther than those in the states typically thought of as “danger zones.” Over 60 million people from southeastern Michigan down to the central Gulf coast and east to the Carolinas and southern Virginia are at risk of severe tornadoes all throughout today.
Arkansas, although just the first state in the path of these deadly tornadoes, is among the many beginning to assess damages and remembering loved ones who were unfortunate casualties in Sunday and Monday’s natural terrors.
Jon Zieske, a resident of Little Rock, found a tooth while he searched for keepsakes among the rubble.
Daniel Wassom, a resident of Vilonia, was killed while protecting his wife and two young daughters in a huddle in a hallway of their home when he was hit in the neck by a large piece of flying lumber.
“Dan always put his family first,” his grandmother Carol Arnett said through tears in an interview with the Associated Press. “They’re just good people. They love God and their children.”
President Obama addressed the nation from a news conference in the Philippines, offering his sorrow to the families in the 80-mile stretch of damage caused by Arkansas tornadoes that only accounted for just the beginning of this week’s weather tragedies. Obama has ordered FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to manage the federal response to the damage in Arkansas and likely also the other states affected. Mississippi and Alabama will remain as states for the highest risk of severe weather that may still be to come.
By Erica Salcuni