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Tornadoes Produce Catastrophic Damage, Prompt Search And Rescue Efforts

Several large and destructive tornadoes tore through multiple states on Friday, prompting several tornado emergencies 

Several large and destructive tornadoes tore through multiple states on Friday, prompting several tornado emergencies and the evacuation of one National Weather Service office.

The tornadoes were part of a larger system that wreaked havoc from Arkansas to Iowa and Illinois and moved into Tennessee by the evening.

Photos from the damage in Little Rock showed downed trees, flipped cars and a handful of damaged buildings. One photo showed the gutted insides of a store, the roof torn from the structure and the insulation strewn across the remaining debris.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., posted over Twitter Friday evening that at least 24 people were hospitalized due to the storm. Earlier that day, a spokesperson for the Baptist Health Medical Centers in Little Rock and North Little Rock, Arkansas, had said that the hospitals were treating 21 people for injuries suffered in the large tornado that tore through the city, five of whom were in critical condition. Scott reported there were no known fatalities at the time.

Meteorologists at the NWS office in Little Rock moved to a tornado shelter on Friday when it became evident the tornado was approaching. The office in Memphis took over issuing warnings for the area and monitoring the weather in their place.

The interior of a store was damaged after a severe storm swept through Little Rock, Ark., Friday, March 31, 2023. ANDREW DEMILLO/ACCUWEATHER

The tornado that tore through Little Rock was a part of one of the four tornado emergencies to be issued Friday evening. These alerts are typically reserved for rare situations when a severe threat to human life is imminent or ongoing, catastrophic damage is imminent or ongoing and reliable sources confirm a tornado, according to the National Weather Service.

The burst of these rare alerts comes a week after four tornado emergencies were issued in Mississippi amid a dangerous tornado outbreak that killed at least 23 people and spawned an EF4 tornado near the town of Rolling Fork.

As of March 31, there have been 15 tornado emergencies in 2023, according to AccuWeather Senior Weather Editor Jesse Ferrell. In comparison, the first tornado emergency issued in 2022 didn’t come until April 5.

The other three tornado emergencies issued in Friday’s severe weather outbreak traveled with a storm near Wynne, Arkansas, that moved into Tennessee.

“Widespread damage in Wynne. I’ve been in touch with local officials for updates and to direct state resources. Please follow the direction of local authorities,” Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter.

A state of emergency was declared Friday afternoon ahead of the tornado in Wynne, and the Arkansas National Guard was activated shortly after.

Wynne city officials said the area experienced “a severe tornado,” and search and rescue operations were underway.

Homes damaged by a tornado are seen on March 31, 2023 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Tornados damaged hundreds of homes and buildings Friday afternoon across a large part of Central Arkansas. Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency after the catastrophic storms that hit on Friday afternoon. According to local reports, the storms killed at least three people. BENJAMIN KRAIN/ACCUWEATHER

AccuWeather meteorologists had highlighted two “extreme” risk zones for Friday’s severe weather, the first of which stretched from Little Rock, Arkansas, to the east of Memphis. This area also covered Wynne, which sits roughly 40 miles west of Memphis.

AccuWeather has four severe risk categories, ranging from some (which is the lowest threat level) to extreme (the highest threat). While AccuWeather forecasters have issued extreme risk categories before, they are far and few between, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sojda.

The second “extreme” risk zone issued by AccuWeather stretched from far northeastern Missouri to northwestern Illinois.

At least two tornadoes were reported in Illinois on Friday afternoon, one of which was spotted near Eureka, about 17 miles northeast of Peoria. The second was spotted in Pleasant Plains in Sangamon County, west of Springfield.

The NWS Storm Prediction Center counted over two dozen preliminary tornado reports Friday across Arkansas, Tennessee, Iowa and Illinois.

“Now tornado warned supercell earlier on approach to Peoria, IL. Take cover in Peoria! Eyre dangerous storm,” Aaron Jayjack said in a coverage of a storm on Twitter

As the storms continued to ramp up Friday evening, a tornado watch was issued at 8 p.m. EDT for parts of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan, covering nearly 8 million people. The watch is set to expire at 3 a.m., local time.

Produced in association with AccuWeather

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