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Severe Storms/Heavy Rain on March 17, 2021
 
The forecast indicated a moderate to high risk of severe weather from eastern Arkansas and northeast Louisiana to southwest Tennessee, much of Mississippi, and Alabama on 03/17/2021. Historical guidance (based on past events) from the Cooperative Institute for Precipitation Systems (CIPS) showed that severe storms were favored in the same areas, and maybe a little farther to the south. The forecast was courtesy of the Storm Prediction Center, and the guidance came from Saint Louis University.
Forecast from SPC (03/17)  |  CIPS Historical Guidance (03/17)
In the pictures: The forecast indicated a moderate to high risk of severe weather from eastern Arkansas and northeast Louisiana to southwest Tennessee, much of Mississippi, and Alabama on 03/17/2021. Historical guidance (based on past events) from the Cooperative Institute for Precipitation Systems (CIPS) showed that severe storms were favored in the same areas, and maybe a little farther to the south. The forecast was courtesy of the Storm Prediction Center, and the guidance came from Saint Louis University.
 

It looked ominous on March 17th. A strong storm system was incoming from the southern Plains, and a springlike environment (warmth/moisture) promoted the development of severe thunderstorms. It looked bad enough to warrant a high risk of severe weather from northeast Louisiana to Alabama. It was the first March high risk area issued by the Storm Prediction Center (in Norman, OK) since 2012.

 

 

In the video: Scattered to numerous showers and thunderstorms developed across Arkansas during the morning of 03/17/2021, but severe weather was spotty. Severe storms (including tornadoes) were more common in the afternoon south/east of the state from Louisiana to Alabama.
 

In Arkansas, the fireworks started early (during the predawn hours) on the 17th. Isolated storms unloaded large hail, including golf ball size hail just east of Scranton (Logan County), and quarter size hail at Atkins (Pope County) and Johnsville (Bradley County). After that, it turned into a bunch of heavy rain.

 

Twenty four hour rainfall through 700 am CDT on 03/18/2021.
In the picture: Twenty four hour rainfall through 700 am CDT on 03/18/2021.
 

Tornado Watches were in effect much of the morning, but severe storms took a break. Torrential downpours became the focus. Two to more than three inches of rain dumped from Corning (Clay County) and Paragould (Greene County) to Jonesboro (Craighead County), Newport (Jackson County), and North Little Rock (Pulaski County). These places are in central and northeast sections of the state.

The cloudbursts were nothing new in the north. Heavy rain fell on the 12th through the 15th in the northern two rows of counties including Harrison (Boone County). Monthly precipitation totals (through the 17th) in parts of the north were one to more than two inches above average.

 

Precipitation in March, 2021 (Through the 17th)
Site Amount Normal +/- % of Normal
Fayetteville (NW AR) 1.56 2.09 -0.53 75%
Harrison (NC AR) 4.39 1.97 +2.42 223%
Jonesboro (NE AR) 4.19 2.37 +1.82 177%
Fort Smith (WC AR) 1.12 2.03 -0.91 55%
Little Rock (C AR) 1.85 2.49 -0.64 74%
West Memphis (EC AR) 3.51 2.76 +0.75 127%
Texarkana (SW AR) 1.60 2.34 -0.74 68%
El Dorado (SC AR) 2.90 2.71 +0.19 107%
Pine Bluff (SE AR) 1.53 3.03 -1.50 50%

 

The pond next to the police station in Sherwood (Pulaski County) rarely overflows, but it did during the morning of 03/17/2021. A deluge resulted in roughly 2.25 inches of rain, most of which fell in an hour. The photo is courtesy of Misty Raper.
In the picture: The pond next to the police station in Sherwood (Pulaski County) rarely overflows, but it did during the morning of 03/17/2021. A deluge resulted in roughly 2.25 inches of rain, most of which fell in an hour. The photo is courtesy of Misty Raper.
 

It came down so hard so fast that roads flooded on the southeast side of Jonesboro (Craighead County). Vehicles stalled in high water, and people had to be rescued. Several roads were closed. Water was also over roads in North Little Rock and Sherwood (both in Pulaski County). At the latter location, a pond near a police station overflowed, and there was water everywhere.

At Searcy (White County), lightning struck a clinic and caused damage to electronic equipment. Power was knocked out to the facility temporarily.

 

High temperatures were in the mid 60s to mid 70s on 03/17/2021. Lows the next morning were in the 30s and 40s.
High Temperatures (03/17)  |  Low Temperatures (03/18)
In the pictures: High temperatures were in the mid 60s to mid 70s on 03/17/2021. Lows the next morning were in the 30s and 40s.
 

Heading into the early afternoon, the rain mostly ended. Clouds thinned, and this allowed the sun to pop out. Temperatures warmed into the lower to mid 70s across much of southern and western Arkansas. This added fuel to the atmosphere for any additional thunderstorms.

 

Severe weather headlines were in place across the mid-South (including portions of Arkansas) at 345 pm CDT on 03/17/2021.
In the picture: Severe weather headlines were in place across the mid-South (including portions of Arkansas) at 345 pm CDT on 03/17/2021.
 

A new Tornado Watch was posted for the northwest counties through early evening as the aforementioned system neared. Most storms that popped up were in southwest Missouri. A weak tornado (rated EF1) was spawned to the southwest of Springfield, MO, and destroyed some outbuildings. Hail to the size of hen eggs was reported.

 

In the video: The WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) showed hit and miss strong to severe thunderstorms in southeast Arkansas at 447 pm CDT on 03/17/2021. Additional storms were trying to form in the northwest.
 

There were a few more storms to monitor in far southeast Arkansas. Rotation ramped up in one of the storms, and a Tornado Warning was disseminated at 430 pm CDT for eastern Drew and southern Desha Counties. At 437 pm CDT, a brief tornado (rated EF0) was witnessed in a farm field about a mile southeast of McGehee (Desha County). It was the first tornado of 2021 in the state.

 

Link of Interest
Damage Survey Information

 

Severe storm reports in the forty eight period ending at 700 am CDT on 03/18/2021. The graphic is courtesy of the Storm Prediction Center.
In the picture: Severe storm reports in the forty eight period ending at 700 am CDT on 03/18/2021. The graphic is courtesy of the Storm Prediction Center.
 

But the worst of the event was to the southeast of the region in Alabama and Mississippi. There was no rain in the morning to contaminate the setup. Storms tapped into air that simmered all day, and was just right for tornadoes.

 

In the video: A tornado was captured by drone near Silas, AL on 03/17/2021. The video is courtesy of Brian Emfinger via Twitter.
 

In a Public Information Statement (PNS), the National Weather Service in Birmingham, AL stated: "Sufficient instability and strong wind shear caused many tornadoes to develop. It will take days to complete damage surveys for this historic event."

 

All signs (debris ball, rotation, and lofted debris) on the WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) pointed to a tornado to the southwest of Clanton, AL at 520 pm CDT on 03/17/2021.
In the picture: All signs (debris ball, rotation, and lofted debris) on the WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) pointed to a tornado to the southwest of Clanton, AL at 520 pm CDT on 03/17/2021.
 

The WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) showed all of the classic signs (rotation, debris ball, and lofted debris) of tornadoes. At least two dozen tornadoes (given preliminary ratings of EF0 to EF2) were counted from southern Mississippi into central Alabama. The strongest of these left swaths of damage from Strengthford, MS to northwest of Waynesboro, MS (a 13 mile track), from east of Waynesboro, MS to Putnam, AL (a 35 mile track), and between Selma, AL and Clanton, AL (two tornadoes with 5 to 6 mile tracks).

 

In the picture: Following mutlple tornadoes in central Alabama on 03/17/2021, there were no fatalities. This was reported by the National Weather Service in Birmingham, AL via Twitter.
 

While structural damage was extensive, and there were injuries, no fatalities were noted. That is rare given so many tornadoes. Another factor to consider (pending final damage survey results) was a lack of high end tornadoes (rated EF3 or higher). It's these twisters that often increase the death toll.

Here at home, it turned colder during the overnight hours of the 17th/early on the 18th. Temperatures dropped into the 30s and 40s. There was enough moisture to squeeze out some snowflakes, with up to two inches of snow in southwest Missouri, and a dusting at a few high elevation spots in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas.

 

Storm Reports
Preliminary reports of severe weather and flash flooding in the Little Rock County Warning Area on March 17, 2021 (in red).
Submit a storm report.
There were several reports of large hail, flash flooding, lightning, and a tornado on March 17th. For a look at the reports, click here.
 
Link of Interest
Plot Reports
In the picture: Preliminary reports of severe weather and flash flooding in the Little Rock County Warning Area on March 17, 2021 (in red).