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March, 2020 Storm Report
 
Short Weather Summary
 
It was mild and wet in March, and this kept the soil saturated and rivers high. For the first time since January, there were tornadoes counted (eight of them) during the month. One of the tornadoes (rated EF3) was the strongest across Arkansas in six years.

 

Record Temperatures
 
There were numerous record high temperatures broken on March 26th and 27th. Check out the records below.

 

Site Record High (Date of Occurrence)
Batesville 87 (03/26)
El Dorado 90 (03/26), 90 (03/27)
Fayetteville 89 (03/26), 79 (03/27)
Fort Smith 92 (03/26)
Harrison 91 (03/26)
Hot Springs 89 (03/26)
Jacksonville 89 (03/26)
Little Rock 88 (03/26)
Monticello 86 (03/26), 86 (03/27)
Mount Ida 87 (03/26)
North Little Rock 87 (03/26)
Russellville 89 (03/26)
Stuttgart 86 (03/26)

 

Mild and Wet/Some Record Heat/Several Tornadoes
 
Ninety six hour (four day) precipitation through 600 am CST on 03/05/2020.
In the picture: Ninety six hour (four day) precipitation through 600 am CST on 03/05/2020.
 

March began with a near miss in Arkansas on the 2nd/3rd. Several inches of rain were in the forecast across the region, which was nothing new. Wet weather was the norm going all the way back to 2018, and this much precipitation in a short period of time would have led to widespread flooding. In the end, while one to two inches of rain fell in southern sections of the state, the expected deluge shifted toward the Gulf Coast. Two to over five inches of rain dumped from eastern Texas to Georgia.

 

Deadly tornadoes were spawned in central Tennessee late on 03/02/2020 and early the next morning.
In the picture: Deadly tornadoes were spawned in central Tennessee late on 03/02/2020 and early the next morning.
 

We were also very fortunate to dodge the severe weather episode that unfolded to the east. Three deadly tornadoes were spawned in middle Tennessee between 1105 pm CST on the 2nd to 157 am CST on the 3rd.

It appears the tornadoes were generated by one parent supercell (storm with rotating updrafts). One of these tornadoes (rated EF3) lasted for just over 60 miles, and ripped through downtown Nashville, TN. Homes and businesses were heavily damaged by this tornado, and six people were killed. About an hour to the east, another tornado (rated EF4) cut a swath through areas just west of Cookeville, TN. At least thirty homes were completely destroyed, resulting in eighteen fatalities and more than eighty injuries. This was the deadliest tornado since the Lee County, AL tornado on the same day in 2019 (23 deaths).

 

There was a split flow on 03/13/2020. The northern branch of the jet drove cold fronts toward Arkansas. A ridge of high pressure ("HIGH") in the Gulf of Mexico slowed the southward progress of the fronts and they stalled. The southern branch of the jet brought pieces of a large storm system ("LOW") over the southwest United States. These pieces of energy interacted with the front, and resulted in several rounds of active weather.
In the picture: There was a split flow on 03/13/2020. The northern branch of the jet drove cold fronts toward Arkansas. A ridge of high pressure ("HIGH") in the Gulf of Mexico slowed the southward progress of the fronts and they stalled. The southern branch of the jet brought pieces of a large storm system ("LOW") over the southwest United States. These pieces of energy interacted with the front, and resulted in several rounds of active weather.
 

It was somewhat quiet for awhile, but it did not last. The pattern became unsettled heading into the middle of the month. Stalled fronts from the north interacted with pieces of energy from the southwest, and this led to several rounds of heavy rain and severe weather from the 11th through the 14th.

 

Forecast maps showed a stalled front over Arkansas that eventually exited to the north and was followed by a new cold front from the Plains in the thirty hour period ending at 700 pm CDT on 03/12/2020. Surrounding the fronts, there was some severe weather, areas of heavy rain, and wild temperatures swings.
Forecast Map at 100 pm (03/11)  |  Forecast Map at 700 pm (03/11)
Forecast Map at 100 am (03/12)  |  Forecast Map at 700 am (03/12)
Forecast Map at 100 pm (03/12)  |  Forecast Map at 700 pm (03/12)
Loop
In the pictures: Forecast maps showed a stalled front over Arkansas that eventually exited to the north and was followed by a new cold front from the Plains in the thirty hour period ending at 700 pm CDT on 03/12/2020. Surrounding the fronts, there was some severe weather, areas of heavy rain, and wild temperatures swings.
 

Early on the 11th, a front was parked over southern Arkansas, with a storm system approaching from the west. The system set off a large area of showers and thunderstorms in Kansas that tracked along and north of the front through northeast Oklahoma and into our neck of the woods.

 

In the video: The satellite showed a large cluster of showers and thunderstorms or an MCS (mesoscale convective system) arriving in Arkansas from the Plains during the morning of 03/11/2020. The MCS tracked along the north of a stalled front draped across the region. The video is courtesy of William Churchill via Twitter.  
 

Between 600 am and 800 am CDT on the 11th, severe storms cranked out quarter size hail at Bella Vista (Benton County), Jerusalem (Conway County), and just northwest of Walnut (Newton County). At least 2.00 inches of rain was unleashed from the clouds at Center Hill (White County), with 1.98 inches at Damascus (Van Buren County), and 1.40 inches at Marianna (Lee County).

The front exited to the north on the 12th, and it warmed up markedly. Afternoon temperatures were in the 70s and 80s. Readings peaked at 88 degrees in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), 85 degrees at Fayetteville (Washington County), and 84 degrees at Harrison (Boone County).

 

In the picture: At least quarter size hail was collected at Horseshoe Bend (Izard County) during the afternoon of 03/12/2020. The photo is courtesy of Rebecca Koelling via Twitter.
 

So much warmth destabilized the atmosphere. All that was needed was a trigger to spark more thunderstorms. In this case, the trigger was a new cold front surging into the region from the Plains.

Scattered severe storms bubbled up across the northern and western counties. A couple of storms showed signs of rotation (supercells) from Fulton into Sharp Counties (in the Ozark Mountains), and from Polk into Montgomery Counties (in the Ouachita Mountains). Fortunately, no tornadoes were spawned. Instead, there was large hail.

Up to golf ball size hail pelted locations near Ash Flat (Sharp County), with ping pong ball size hail close to Pearcy (Garland County), and half dollar size hail at Fawn Park (Baxter County), Horseshoe Bend (Izard County), and Pine Ridge (Montgomery County).

 

Link of Interest
View of a Supercell East of Choctaw (Van Buren County) at Greers Ferry Lake (photo courtesy of Vickey Armstrong)

 

Very mild conditions (temperatures in the 70s/80s) on 03/12/2020 were replaced by much cooler conditions a couple of days later following the passage of a cold front.
High Temperatures (03/12)  |  High Temperatures (03/14)
In the pictures: Very mild conditions (temperatures in the 70s/80s) on 03/12/2020 were replaced by much cooler conditions a couple of days later following the passage of a cold front.
 

Storms on the 12th consolidated south of Little Rock (Pulaski County) and became widespread during the overnight hours. One to more than two inches of rain was measured at Antoine (Pike County), Cane Creek State Park (Lincoln County), Fordyce (Dallas County), Monticello (Drew County), Mount Ida (Montgomery County), Murfreesboro (Pike County), Nashville (Howard County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and Pine Ridge (Montgomery County).

The front eventually came to a halt over northern Louisiana, and much cooler air followed. By the 14th, high temperatures were only in the 40s and 50s in the northern half of the state. It was only 43 degrees at Harrison (Boone County) and Mountain Home (Baxter County), and 46 degrees at Jonesboro (Craighead County) and Newport (Jackson County). Meanwhile, readings were in the 70s across the far south.

North of the front, a narrow band of heavy rain (two to three inch amounts) setup from around North Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Cabot (Lonoke County), Des Arc (Prairie County), and West Memphis (Crittenden County). Hit and miss thunderstorms deposited quarter size hail near Pleasant Valley (Perrty County), and pennies at Cabot (Lonoke County).

 

Ninety six hour (four day) precipitation through 700 am CDT on 03/15/2020.
In the picture: Ninety six hour (four day) precipitation through 700 am CDT on 03/15/2020.
 

For the event (ninety six hour time frame ending at 700 am CDT on the 15th), one to more than three inches of precipitation was common in Arkansas. There were lesser amounts toward the Louisiana border, including 0.13 inch at El Dorado (Union County) and 0.71 inch at Texarkana (Miller County).

 

The forecast maps showed a cold front barreling toward Arkansas from the Plains on 03/19/2020. Showers and thunderstorms were expected ahead of the front. A secondary front followed from the north the next day, with Canadian high pressure ("H") and cooler air to follow.
In the pictures: The forecast maps showed a cold front barreling toward Arkansas from the Plains on 03/19/2020. Showers and thunderstorms were expected ahead of the front. A secondary front followed from the north the next day, with Canadian high pressure ("H") and cooler air to follow.
 

By mid-March, with severe weather season in full swing, there had yet to be any tornadoes during the month. Our string of good luck was about to change on the 19th as another cold front barreled into the area.

 

In the video: The WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) showed strong to severe thunderstorms along a line north and west of Little Rock (Pulaski County) at 930 pm CDT on 03/19/2020. Some storms exhibited rotation, and Tornado Warnings were issued at times.
 

A line of strong to severe storms developed ahead of the front, with the most robust storms closest to the Missouri border after 600 pm CDT. One storm in particular went from southeast Boone County into southern Marion County and northwest Baxter County.

 

 

Two tornadoes (rated EF1/EF2) were confirmed in Baxter, Boone, and Marion Counties on 03/19/2020.
In the picture: Two tornadoes (rated EF1/EF2) were confirmed in Baxter, Boone, and Marion Counties on 03/19/2020.
 

The storm had strong rotation at times and it headed quickly to the northeast at 40 to 50 mph. There was plenty of chaos in the path of the storm, and no doubt that one or more tornadoes were in play.

 

 

A house was damaged east of Everton (Boone County), and power lines were downed. Between Pyatt and Bruno (both in Marion County), several homes were damaged or destroyed with an injury reported. A school was also affected. A tree fell through a house west of Mountain Home (Baxter County).

In the end, two tornadoes (rated EF1/EF2) were spawned in a three county area. Three more weak tornadoes (all rated EF1) were confirmed with separate storms from five miles north of Hector (Pope County) to six miles west-southwest of Rupert (Van Buren County), and from four miles northeast of Evening Shade to four miles north of Poughkeepsie (both in Sharp County). These tornadoes toppled trees and hit a couple of barns and outbuildings.

 

Link of Interest
Damage Survey Information

 

In the table: Through 03/19/2020, there were eleven consecutive days with measurable rain at Little Rock (Pulaski County).
 

This event did not feature a lot of rain, and there was only 0.01 inch measured at Little Rock (Pulaski County) on the 19th. But, this was enough to make it eleven consecutive days with measurable precipitation. It was one day away from tying the all-time record of twelve days in a row. A trace of rain on the 20th ended the streak.

 

Record high temperatures on 03/26/2020.
In the picture: Record high temperatures on 03/26/2020.
 

Toward the end of March, it started feeling like summer on the 26th. A warm front exited to the north of the state, and ushered in well above average temperatures in the 80s to lower 90s.

The high of 91 degrees at Harrison (Boone County) shattered the previous daily record of 81 degrees set in 2012. At Little Rock (Pulaski County), the mercury hit 88 degrees. It had not been this toasty since 1907 on this day when it was 85 degrees.

It is days like this that pushed monthly temperatures well above normal. Average temperatures in March were four to eight degrees warmer than usual.

 

Average Temperatures in March, 2020
Site Avg Temp +/-
Fayetteville (NW AR) 56.1° +8.0°
Harrison (NC AR) 54.3° +5.5°
Jonesboro (NE AR) 54.9° +4.7°
Fort Smith (WC AR) 58.6° +5.6°
Little Rock (C AR) 57.2° +3.8°
West Memphis (EC AR) 57.2° +5.7°
Texarkana (SW AR) 61.1° +5.1°
El Dorado (SC AR) 61.9° +6.1°
Pine Bluff (SE AR) 58.3° +3.9°

 

There was an enhanced to moderate risk of severe weather to the north of Arkansas on 03/28/2020, and a slight risk locally. The forecast is courtesy of the Storm Prediction Center.
In the picture: There was an enhanced to moderate risk of severe weather to the north of Arkansas on 03/28/2020, and a slight risk locally. The forecast is courtesy of the Storm Prediction Center.
 

It was still very mild on the 28th, and there was at least some potential of tornadoes (although tornadoes were most likely from Iowa to Illinois and Indiana). Precipitation behaved for the bulk of the day (not much happening). A large area of showers crossed Arkansas during the afternoon, and there were rumbles of thunder at times. But as rain headed into eastern sections of the state, things got interesting.

 

 

The WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) showed a supercell (storm with rotating updrafts) and its classic kidney bean shape near Amagon (Jackson County) at 418 pm CDT on 03/28/2020. The radar detected inbound winds (green) adjacent to outbound (red) winds, indicating turning aloft. A Tornado Warning was in effect at the time. This storm tracked to the northeast and arrived in Jonesboro (Craighead County) shortly before 500 pm CDT.
In the picture: The WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) showed a supercell (storm with rotating updrafts) and its classic kidney bean shape near Amagon (Jackson County) at 418 pm CDT on 03/28/2020. The radar detected inbound winds (green) adjacent to outbound (red) winds, indicating turning aloft. A Tornado Warning was in effect at the time. This storm tracked to the northeast and arrived in Jonesboro (Craighead County) shortly before 500 pm CDT.
 

Rotation picked up in one storm near Tupelo (Jackson County), and a Tornado Warning was issued at 359 pm CDT. About twenty minutes later, there were reports of roofs off of homes between Algoa and Amagon (both in Jackson County). Farm equipment storage buildings were dismantled, and trees were uprooted.

A tornado was to blame, and was given a rating of EF1 (110 mph winds) by the National Weather Service in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The tornado dissipated close to the Poinsett County line (a path length of just over five miles).

 

 

In the video: A tornado was captured (forty seconds into the clip) along Interstate 555 at Red Wolf Boulevard in Jonesboro (Craighead County) shortly before 500 pm CDT on 03/28/2020. The tornado widened quickly before tearing through the south/east side of town. The video is courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Transportation.
 

Rotation weakened temporarily, but cranked up again (30 miles to the northeast) as the storm arrived on the south/east side of Jonesboro (Craighead County) shortly before 500 pm CDT. Numerous homes and businesses (including a mall) were heavily damaged or destroyed, and cars were tossed like toys. Hangers and planes were ripped up at the airport, and a 74 mph gust was measured by observing equipment. Just north of the airport, a train was derailed. At least twenty people were injured, but there were no casualties.

 

 
In the pictures: Damage was extensive in Jonesboro (Craighead County) following a tornado (rated EF3) on 03/28/2020. The photos are courtesy of the Jonesboro Police Department via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TheJonesboroPD/posts/534831167425802).
 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was not much going on around town. Stores were either closed or experiencing much lighter than normal traffic. According to officials, areas that were affected by the tornado would have been crowded, and this situation (from a fatality/injury standpoint) could have been much worse.

The nightmare did not end at Jonesboro (Craighead County). The storm traveled through Brookland (Craighead County) and just east of Paragould (Greene County), and caused more mayhem.

 

In the picture: A damage survey team from the National Weather Service in Memphis, TN confirmed two tornadoes in northeast Arkansas on 03/28/2020. The Jonesboro (Craighead County) tornado was given a preliminary rating of EF3 (maximum winds around 140 mph).
 

A damage survey by the National Weather Service in Memphis, TN confirmed an EF3 tornado (140 mph winds) at Jonesboro (Craighead County). This was the strongest tornado in the state since the EF4 monster twister that pummeled Mayflower and Vilonia (both in Faulkner County) on April 27, 2014. A separate tornado (rated EF1) was identified in southeast Greene County (a total of three tornadoes during the event).

 

 

In the video: The WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) showed rain and embedded thunderstorms building over Arkansas from the west during the evening of 03/30/2020.
 

March ended with more rain on the 30th. Precipitation became heavy at times during the overnight hours. One to more than two inches of liquid was noted over much of Arkansas. The heaviest totals (two to three inches) were in central and southern sections at Alum Fork (Saline County), Cabot (Lonoke County), Conway (Faulkner County), El Dorado (Union County), Hattieville (Conway County), Monticello (Drew County), and Russellville (Pope County).

 

Rivers in southern and eastern Arkansas were running high (widespread minor flooding) to end March, 2020. This included the Black, Cache, Ouachita, and lower White Rivers.
In the picture: Rivers in southern and eastern Arkansas were running high (widespread minor flooding) to end March, 2020. This included the Black, Cache, Ouachita, and lower White Rivers.
 

Because rain was spread out over a twelve to twenty four hour period and not all at once, there was no flash flooding reported. However, rivers stayed high over the south/east, which was a common theme through the first three months of the year.

Interestingly, before this event, some areas that got the most rain were running behind (drier than average) in March. Through the 29th, precipitation was 0.69 inches and 0.80 inches subpar at Little Rock (Pulaski County) and El Dorado (Union County) respectively. The deficits were wiped out, and replaced with surpluses.

 

Precipitation in March, 2020
Site Amount Normal +/- % of Normal
Fayetteville (NW AR) 7.19 3.95 +3.24 182%
Harrison (NC AR) 5.54 3.79 +1.75 146%
Jonesboro (NE AR) 6.03 4.50 +1.53 134%
Fort Smith (WC AR) 5.97 3.85 +2.12 155%
Little Rock (C AR) 5.42 4.68 +0.74 116%
West Memphis (EC AR) 9.86 4.94 +4.92 200%
Texarkana (SW AR) 6.07 4.20 +1.87 145%
El Dorado (SC AR) 5.96 4.75 +1.21 125%
Pine Bluff (SE AR) 5.26 5.40 -0.14 97%

 

Soil moisture was very high/well above average in many areas east of the Rockies on 03/25/2020.
In the picture: Soil moisture was very high/well above average in many areas east of the Rockies on 03/25/2020.
 

Precipitation surpluses in 2020 were leading to very high soil moisture levels. Since the ground was unable to hold much additional water, it was the perfect setup for significant flooding down the road, and a potential delay to the beginning of the growing season. That had a lot of forecasters concerned.

 

Links of Interest
March 2-4, 2020 (a near miss)
March 11-15, 2020 (severe storms/areas of heavy rain)
March 19, 2020 (severe storms)
March 26-28, 2020 (record heat/severe storms)
March 30-31, 2020 (heavy rain)

 

Additional March Details
 
For more details about March, 2020...go to the "Temperatures and Precipitation" section below.

 

Temperatures and Precipitation
Temperatures were below average in March. Readings at North Little Rock (Pulaski County) are shown to right. March, 2020 Temperatures in North Little Rock

 

March, 2020 Precipitation in North Little Rock Precipitation was mostly below average in March, but above average in parts of southern Arkansas. Amounts at North Little Rock (Pulaski County) are shown to left.

 

To right, a look at precipitation across the state. March, 2020 Precipitation in Arkansas

 

For a look at actual temperatures and precipitation in Arkansas as measured by the cooperative observer network, click here.