March 1997 tornado outbreak

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March 1997 tornado outbreak
Type Tornado outbreak
Duration February 28 - March 1, 1997
Tornadoes confirmed 39 confirmed
Max rating1 F4 tornado
Duration of tornado outbreak2 32 hours
Damage $115 million-$120 million (1997 USD)[1]
Casualties 27 deaths, 464 injuries
Areas affected Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee

1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

2Time from first tornado to last tornado

The March 1997 tornado outbreak was a major tornado outbreak that struck portions of the central and southern United States on March 1–2, 1997. Affecting areas mostly from Arkansas to Kentucky, the outbreak produced 58 tornadoes, including three violent (F4) tornadoes, and killed at least 27 people, including 25 in Arkansas alone and one death each in Mississippi and Tennessee. This was Arkansas' deadliest tornado outbreak since May 15, 1968, when 34 were killed in Jonesboro.[citation needed] Severe flooding also occurred across the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys,[2] resulting in 16 Ohio counties and 44 Kentucky counties being declared disaster areas.[citation needed] The flash floods and damaging wind elsewhere caused 34 deaths across six states including 19 in Kentucky, five in Ohio, five in Tennessee, two in Texas and three in West Virginia. Damage estimates were about $1 billion (1997 USD)[2] while 75,000 homes were damaged.[citation needed]

Meteorological synopsis[edit]

On March 1, 1997, very unstable air invaded much of the affected area while much warmer temperatures were recorded. Temperatures across most of Arkansas which normally at that time are below 60 °F (16 °C) reached the mid to upper 70s °F (24 °C). A cold front was approaching from the Midwestern Plains and was associated with a strong low further north. Strong temperature contrasts were observed on either side of the front. In addition, wind near the ground and aloft were very strong and significant shear was noted before given additional ingredients for extreme severe weather across the Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys on March 1, 1997. On February 28, 1997, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had issued a Day 2 moderate risk of severe weather for much of Arkansas and a tornado watch was issued for the western and central part of the state during the morning hours of March 1.[3] Early on March 1, the SPC issued a tornado watch for portions of the Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys.[4] Throughout the day, the National Weather Service office in Little Rock, Arkansas, issued 57 weather warnings, including 34 tornado warnings. Areas affected by the deadly tornadoes had tornado warnings with lead time estimated at between nine and 28 minutes.[3]

Outbreak death toll
State Total County County
Arkansas 25 Clark 6
Greene 1
Jackson 3
Pulaski 5
Saline 10
Mississippi 1 Pontotoc 1
Tennessee 1 Dyer 1
Totals 27
All deaths were tornado-related

Confirmed tornadoes[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 12 11 8 5 3 0 39

February 28 event[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F0 NE of Brownsville Hinds 2230 1 miles
(1.6 km)
Damage was limited to trees.
F0 SW of Flora Madison 2240 2 miles
(3.2 km)
Damage was limited to trees.
F0 N of Kearney Park Madison 2255 1 miles
(1.6 km)
One tree was blown down.
F0 NE of Myrleville Yazoo 2315 2 miles
(3.2 km)
Damage was limited to trees.
Source: Tornado History Project - February 28, 1997 Storm Data

March 1 event[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F1 Shepard to NW of Sherman Calhoun, Pontotoc 0647 25 miles
(40 km)
1 death - One mobile home was destroyed, killing its 50-year-old occupant, who was thrown 75 yards (69 m). Pieces of the mobile home, including its metal frame, were scattered for some distance.[5] 25 barns, two mobile homes, and two homes were destroyed. Nine homes were damaged. Two horses were killed as well.[2]
F3 N of Banner to NW of Graham Calhoun, Lafayette, Pontotoc, Union 0835 50 miles
(80 km)
Long-track tornado. 91 homes were damaged along the path, 49 of them heavily. The worst damage occurred near Martintown.[2]
F0 N of Bowling Green Warren 1026 0.5 miles
(0.8 km)
Damage was limited to trees.
F2 S of Gamaliel Monroe 1036 4 miles
(6.4 km)
Two homes and several barns were destroyed.[2]
F0 S of Valley Hill Washington 1759 5 miles
(8 km)
Damage was limited to trees and a car.[2]
F1 N of Stanton Powell 1950 6 miles
(9.6 km)
A hangar, a prop plane, and two other aircraft were destroyed. Some homes and barns were damaged as well.[2]
F0 SW of Pomeroyton Menifee 2015 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
Brief tornado with no damage.
F0 NW of Nuckols McLean 0001 0.3 miles
(0.5 km)
Brief tornado with no damage.
F1 W of Hardyville Warren 0400 0.5 miles
(0.8 km)
Two barns and a silo were destroyed while one home, one mobile home, and one barn were damaged.[2]
F0 SW of Crailhope Metcalfe 0525 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
Damage to trees and power lines.
F0 Stanton area Powell 0620 1 miles
(1.6 km)
Damage to two greenhouses, a barn, several houses, and several businesses.
F0 SW of Scranton Menifee 0630 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
Damage was limited to trees.
F2 N of Napier Lewis 0725 3.9 miles
(6.2 km)
Five homes were damaged and one barn was destroyed.[2]
F2 SE of Ashland Wayne, Lawrence, Lewis 0732 7.8 miles
(12.5 km)
Four homes were damaged and three trailers were destroyed.[2]
F2 Selmer area McNairy 1145 5 miles
(8 km)
48 homes and two businesses were damaged or destroyed.[2]
F2 SW of Alamo to McKenzie Crockett, Gibson, Carroll 2202 30 miles
(48 km)
Several businesses and 67 homes were damaged, and a storage shed was destroyed as well.[2]
F3 Hope to NE of Prescott Heampstead, Nevada 1955 18 miles
(28.8 km)
Numerous homes, buildings, mobile homes, and vehicles were heavily damaged or destroyed.[2]
F1 NW of Salesville to N of Jordan Baxter 2010 5 miles (8.0 km) This tornado struck south of Briarcliff. A storage building was destroyed and a mobile was overturned.[2]
F4 W of Beirne to Arkadelphia to W of Fenter Clark, Hot Spring 2020 51 miles
(81.6 km)
6 deaths - Much of downtown Arkadelphia was completely destroyed, with 60 blocks severely damaged. 56 out of 57 mobile homes were destroyed in one trailer park. About 250 homes, 90 mobile homes, and 45 businesses were damaged or destroyed.[3] More than 100 homes and businesses were destroyed in Clark County,[6] including many in Arkadelphia, where 60 blocks were severely damaged.[2][3] The Clark County courthouse lost its capstone and clockwork.[6] Five of the fatalities were in Arkadelphia and the sixth on Interstate 30 southwest of the city.[2] Homes and buildings were destroyed in Donaldson, which received F4 damage,[2] and damage was also noted at the Malvern Airport.[3]
F1 NW of Cabot Lonoke 2037 3 miles
(4.8 km)
Roofs of several buildings were damaged.[2]
F3 NW of Ward to W of Searcy White 2039 13 miles (21 km) This tornado passed near Antioch. Utility towers, a frame home, and trailers were destroyed.[2]
F1 NW of Belleville Yell 2055 1 miles
(1.6 km)
Damage was limited to trees.[2]
F1 N of Chickalah Yell 2105 1 miles
(1.6 km)
Several chicken houses were destroyed.[2]
F3 W of Velvet Ridge to E of Marmaduke White, Jackson, Independence, Craighead, Lawrence, Greene 2123 68 miles
(108.8 km)
4 deaths - This long-tracked tornado began in White County, where a mobile home was destroyed, injuring three people.[2] In Jackson County, the worst damage occurred in Jacksonport; two people were killed by a falling tree, and a third death was in a destroyed mobile home. Several mobile and frame homes had their roofs partly torn off, and numerous trees were downed or sheared off along the path.[2] In Independence County, the tornado also damaged many homes and downed trees.[2] In Craighead County, one home was damaged, injuring two people inside.[2] In Lawrence County, 13 homes and other structures, including a grain bin storing rice, were damaged. Two people were injured as their mobile home rolled over.[2] In Greene County, one person was killed as the tornado damaged or destroyed 20 homes and other buildings. The worst damage in Greene County was in Marmaduke, which was later hit by an F3 tornado in 2006.[2]
F4 S of Bauxite to SE of Mabelvale (SW Little Rock) to North Little Rock Saline, Pulaski 2125 25 miles
(40 km)
15 deaths - Developing near Benton, this tornado passed south of Bauxite and Bryant before striking Vimy Ridge, killing 10 people in Saline County. The Shannon Hills area was devastated, reporting F4 damage; 90 homes were destroyed and 175 homes were damaged. Nearby, a home improvement center was completely destroyed south of Little Rock.[2][3] It then entered Pulaski County and struck the southern and eastern portions of the Little Rock suburbs, killing five people and injuring nearly 200 others before it lifted near Adams Field Airport in College Station.[2][3] The storm traveled for about 27 miles and had a maximum width of .8 miles.
F1 N of Atkins to SW of Jerusalem to N of Cleveland Pope, Conway, Van Buren 2130 17.5 miles
(27.2 km)
In Pope County, a wood pallet plant, a tin shed, a hog farm, and a chicken farm were destroyed. A few homes also sustained roof damage. One trailer was overturned and destroyed, injuring a person.[2] The tornado also destroyed a shed and a hog farm near Jerusalem. Extensive tree damage occurred in the Ozark National Forest.[2]
F2 SE of Vimy Ridge Saline 2135 2 miles
(3.2 km)
Tornado formed just south of the Benton/Shannon Hills tornado and caused damage to homes in Vimy Ridge.
F2 S of College Station Pulaski 2147 5 miles
(8 km)
A second satellite tornado that formed south of the Benton/Shannon Hills tornado.
F2 N of Furlow Lonoke 2202 2.3 miles
(3.7 km)
One frame home was destroyed and a utility tower was blown down. Some homes sustained roof damage as well.[2]
F1 SW of Shirley Van Buren 2212 2.5 miles
(4 km)
Tornado began northeast of Clinton, which was hit by an EF4 tornado on February 5, 2008. A couple of sheds were destroyed, and some homes sustained roof damage.[2]
F0 E of Rushing Stone 2222 0.5 miles
(0.8 km)
Damage was limited to trees.
F1 E of Marcella Stone, Independence 2250 4.5 miles
(7.2 km)
Some trailers were damaged and trees were downed.[2]
F3 NE of Patterson to NE of Hickory Ridge Woodruff, Jackson, Cross, Poinsett 2254 19 miles
(30.4 km)
In Woodruff County, a frame home and a hunting club were destroyed. There was heavy damage to several homes, grain bins, and a farm shop.[2] In Jackson County, a house trailer was damaged and trees were downed. In Cross and Poinsett counties, the tornado damaged 67 homes and businesses, and a switching station was also destroyed.[2] Numerous trees were downed as well.
F1 Cave City area Sharp 2315 1 miles
(1.6 km)
Damage was limited to trees.
F4 Lennie to SE of Rutherford, TN Mississippi, Dyer (TN), Gibson (TN) 0020 45 miles
(72 km)
1 death - In Mississippi County, three mobile homes were destroyed or damaged.[2] 190 homes and a high school were destroyed or damaged in Dyer County, where the fatality occurred. Worst damage occurred in the Lake Luanna community, near Dyersburg.[7] Eight more homes were destroyed in Gibson County.[2]
Source: Tornado History Project - March 1, 1997 Storm Data

Notable tornadoes[edit]

The most significant and deadliest tornadoes recorded in the state were two F4s that were also the deadliest tornadoes of the outbreak. The tornadoes affected parts of Clark, Hot Spring, Saline and Pulaski counties, kiling a total of 21 people.[3] These tornadoes were accompanied by satellite tornadoes during portions of their lives, which caused additional damage in the Vimy Ridge and College Station areas, but they did not cause any additional fatalities.[3] The two F4 tornadoes were produced by the same supercell thunderstorm that traveled through most of the state. The supercell alone killed 21 and injured several hundred others. Near the Tennessee border and across the Mississippi River, the same supercell produced three additional tornadoes, one of which killed a person near Dyersburg, Tennessee.

Another supercell north of the main storm produced several tornadoes north of Little Rock and Jonesboro. Among the towns affected was Marmaduke, which was also affected by an F3 tornado during the April 2, 2006 tornado outbreak.


11 counties across Arkansas were declared federal disaster areas by then-US President Bill Clinton for tornadoes while two others in were for flooding. Seven other counties in Tennessee were also declared disaster areas due to tornadoes.[citation needed] It was considered the worst tornado outbreak since the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1994, which killed 42 across Alabama and Georgia. In Kentucky, then-governor Paul E. Patton had initially declared 120 counties a state of emergency and deployed about 1100 National Guard troops to the flood-stricken regions. In Indiana, the Ohio River overflow its banks due to record rains.[citation needed] All 13 counties along the river between Evansville and Cincinnati were also declared disaster areas. In West Virginia, then-Governor Cecil Underwood declared state of emergencies for 14 counties, and 16 were later declared disaster areas as over 4 000 homes and other structures were damaged by the flooding.[citation needed]

Overall, across the state of Arkansas 1,200 homes were damaged or destroyed, including close to 400 in Arkadelphia alone.[3] Several areas that were hit by the tornadoes did not had any tornado sirens. After the outbreak several million dollars were invested to improve the siren system throughout the state for future tornado outbreaks, including the 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak, a similar but much deadlier and more widespread outbreak.[citation needed] 14 people in Arkansas were killed by that outbreak on February 5, 2008, and nearly 60 in total were killed across the Mid-South regions of the US.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "March 1, 1997, Arkansas tornado outbreak" (PDF). National Weather Service. Silver Spring, Maryland: United States Department of Commerce. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al "Storm Data and Unusual Weather Phenomena". Storm Data. Asheville, North Carolina: United States Department of Commerce. 39 (3). 1997. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Tornado Outbreak (March 1, 1997)". Little Rock, Arkansas: National Weather Service. 14 May 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "Severe Weather Outbreak Saturday March 1, 1997". Memphis, Tennessee: National Weather Service. 14 October 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  5. ^ "Storms Kill 15 in Arkansas and 5 in Other States". New York Times. New York City. The Associated Press. March 2, 1997. p. 28. 
  6. ^ a b Bragg, Rick (March 3, 1997). "Fierce Wind and Rain Tear Up Several States, Killing at Least 35". New York Times. New York City. p. A10. 
  7. ^ "Cross, Poinsett, Mississippi and Dyer County Tornado". Memphis, Tennessee: National Weather Service. 22 October 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 

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