These Natural Disasters Can Occur in Arkansas! Are You Prepared?

Natural disasters that can happen in Arkansas

Arkansas is a stunning state with a few quirks. For starters, it is prohibited (by law) to mispronounce the name, so make sure you get the pronunciation correct before risking sounding like a foreigner.

Some of the interesting things you can expect to see or experience in Arkansas include the Dover Lights phenomenon, the World Championship Duck Calling Contest, the Crystal Bridges Museum, and its 52 state parks.

Arkansas is referred to as the Natural State because it abounds in rivers, clear streams, beautiful lakes, and hot springs. With more than half of the state being covered in forestland, it attracts many outdoorsy people. The Ozark National Forest alone covers more than a million acres.

But there’s more— Arkansas produces diamonds too! Diamonds were discovered in the Natural State in 1906 and they continue to be mined today. The Crater of Diamonds Mine is the only active diamond mine in the United States and the only diamond-producing location in the world that is open to the public for digging up their own diamonds! Pretty cool, huh.

Arkansas is a fascinating place for sure, but just like any other state, it suffers from the impacts of natural disasters.

What natural disasters does Arkansas have?

Arkansas’ most common natural disasters include severe storms, floods, tornadoes, droughts, ice storms, landslides, and power outages. A less common natural hazard is earthquakes.

Between 1953 and 2019, Arkansas declared 74 major disasters, of which severe storms and floods happened the most according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

1. Severe Storms

Severe weather like thunderstorms, lightning, derechos, heavy rain, strong winds, hail, and remnants from tropical storms are all common in Arkansas.

The state averages 60 thunderstorms each year which occur the most during the summer months, particularly June and July. 

Arkansas averages more than 830,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year! It ranks 7th in the country for the most annual lightning flashes and 5th in the country for the most strikes per square mile. As for the number of fatalities caused by lightning, it ranks 10th in the country. 

Severe storms oftentimes bring in hail as well. The largest hailstone ever recorded in the Natural State measured a little over 5 inches in diameter! 

Aside from these astonishing facts, the reality is that storms like these are very dangerous and likely to cause extensive damage. 

East and Central Arkansas occasionally experience the remnants of a tropical storm, with rain and 73 mph winds or lower. The effects of these storms are off-season tornadoes, wind damage, severe damage to crops, and flooding.

In order to stay safe during severe thunderstorms, you should pay attention to watches, warnings, weather patterns, and sudden climate changes.

Thunderstorms can move in quickly and develop without much time. They usually are accompanied by high winds and lighting which can strike way beyond the boundaries of the storm. Never assume you’re in a safe place if you see lightning, no matter how far you may seem to be.

In the event of a storm system, find an indoor structure to take refuge in. If you’re swimming, get out of the water quickly. For more severe storm safety tips, check out our guide

2. Floods

Floods are oftentimes the result of heavy precipitation and rapid snowmelt. In Arkansas, they occur mostly during the spring months and generally along the White, Black, and Ouachita rivers.

Arkansas has a history of devastating floods, but one of the costliest and most destructive can be traced back to April 21, 1927. Out of the state’s 75 counties, 36 of them were submerged during the Mississippi River Flood of 1927, also called the Great Flood of 1927.

This event caused major damage and affected nearly 2 million acres of farmland. This flood remains the deadliest natural disaster in Arkansas history, claiming the lives of 127 people.

One of the worst flash floods in recent years occurred on June 11, 2010, and it was a result of an intense downpour of up to 8 inches of rain. The waters rapidly swept through the Albert Pike Recreational Campsite in the Ouachita National Forest. Twenty people died and twenty others went missing. 

Floods can be very unpredictable, which is why we need to become prepared long before they occur. The first step in flood preparedness is knowing what your risk is. FEMA has regional flood maps to help you determine your level of risk.

Property owners should keep in mind that home insurance doesn't usually cover storm damages from floods. Look into the National Flood Insurance Program to see which insurance policies may be available to you.

In any case, you should learn the warning signs of a flash flood, since those typically develop much faster and can cause destruction quicker.

Learn more about flood preparedness and print your free safety checklist here!

3. Tornadoes

The boundaries of Tornado Alley are not defined so you’ll find some maps that include Arkansas in it, while many others exclude it.

Regardless of the map you’re looking at, the high risk of tornado activity in the Natural State is obvious.

According to National Weather Service meteorologists, the majority of tornadoes occur along US Highway 67/167 and Interstate 30. The cities most affected in this region include Little Rock, Arkadelphia, and Jonesboro. The overall death toll as a result of tornadoes is the highest around those areas as well.   

EF4 tornadoes are known to strike Arkansas, but there has only been one EF5 tornado in its recorded history. This tornado occurred on April 10, 1929, injuring 59 people and killing 23 others.  

The most notorious tornado outbreak began on January 21st, 1999, and lasted 46 hours. Over this short period of time, 127 tornadoes were confirmed across the Midwest and Southern US states. This outbreak broke the Arkansas record for the largest single outbreak to strike the state in which 56 tornadoes were recorded in a single day. 

Being prepared for a tornado means that you are always on alert. Since tornadoes form within a matter of minutes, your warning time may be short.

If you’re under a tornado watch or tornado warning, be ready to take shelter in an interior room of the home (or basement) at a moment’s notice.

Practice tornado drills with your loved ones— practicing while you’re out in public is a good idea too! Find more tornado safety tips and ways to mitigate tornado damage on our guide!

4. Extreme Heat and Drought

The Natural State is often described as having “killer heat". The climate is influenced by the Gulf of Mexico, the Ozark Mountains, and the southern latitudes.

The humidity also makes it feel hotter during the summer months, which tend to exceed 100°F in July and August. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Arkansas was 120°F on August 10, 1936, in Ozark. Luckily the summer weather averages 79°F statewide, making Arkansas the 6th warmest US state. 

Other than health implications, the heat can contribute to some natural challenges, the most important being the state’s water supply. Arkansas is known for experiencing periods of drought.

As of the writing of this article, 12% of the state's population is being impacted by the current drought. The longest drought Arkansas experienced since monitoring began started on April 20, 2010, and lasted until March 20, 2012. At one point exceptional drought (D4) affected over half of the state’s territory!

Becoming prepared for heat waves and long periods of drought starts with practicing water conservation methods, and learning the symptoms of heat stress.

The people who are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses include young children, seniors, and those who have health problems. Check out our guide on extreme heat and be prepared when a heat wave comes your way!

5. Ice Storms

Winters in Arkansas are generally mild, oftentimes reaching semi-warm temperatures during the day (around 50°F) and freezing temperatures during the night.

While seasonal snowstorms tend to be light, occasional severe freezes will welcome a winter storm with heavy snow. 

One of the major winter risks Arkansas faces, however, is ice storms. Freezing rain and ice storms occur during the coldest months of the year- January and February.

The January 2009 North American ice storm is by far one of the worst in the state’s history. This ice storm affected 7 states bringing in about 13 inches in snow and 2.5 inches of ice. Over 2 million people lost power for several weeks due to heavy ice accumulation and it resulted in an estimated $80 million in damages. 

Winter storms, whether they’ve come in the form of ice or snow, can become extremely dangerous and cause substantial damage. If you drive often, make sure to keep a roadside emergency kit in your car that is fit for winter weather survival.

If you’re not planning to drive often, but are planning to be outdoors (I’m sure everyone will get out at one point or another), then make sure you wear the appropriate winter clothing and layer accordingly.

Hypothermia is a huge risk and can become deadly. Learn the symptoms and how to care for someone (or yourself) with early onset of hypothermia.

Finally, make preparations for long-term power outages. Find more winter preparedness tips on our guide!

6. Landslides

Landslides in Arkansas are linked to manmade and natural causes. Steep excavations and the construction of roads on the side of hills along with the removal of vegetation are two major contributors to landslips and rock slides.

A storm with heavy precipitation or an earthquake can trigger the slopes that are already vulnerable. 

In the past, New Madrid earthquakes caused extensive flooding north of West Memphis. If an earthquake triggers another landslide like this in the future, it would result in widespread damage.

The Arkansas Department of Public Safety estimates that such an event would cause road closures that inevitably would affect the eastern access to the Mississippi River, as well as transmission towers and pipelines in that area.

To prepare for a landslide, you should determine first the level of risk that your home and community have. There are multiple ways to retrofit your home to prevent property damage, such as netting the slopes in your property and building a protective wall.

As for your safety, you should be on alert anytime a heavy rainstorm passes, since this can trigger landslides.

Hearing the sounds of an increasing rumble or trees crackling is also a likely indicator that a landslide is approaching.

In such scenarios, you should seek higher ground immediately. Locate a safe place long before a landslide threatens your community, and periodically have drills with your family.

Find more landslide safety tips here!

7. Power Outages

Arkansans have experienced major power outages — sometimes lasting more than three weeks! The power grid is fragile when it comes to natural disasters.

In the case of severe storms, Mother Nature has proven to be stronger than anything man has built, like our electrical systems and power lines. 

The fact that our lives depend so highly on the power grid is a scary thought! A short power outage may not be something to fret about, but when it lasts for a day or more, especially in extreme weather, most of our comforts may no longer be an option for us.

This is why preparedness is key. I highly recommend investing in a generator that can at least power up small appliances— if you have the means to get something that powers up your refrigerator and larger appliances, even better!

Develop emergency plans and put together disaster kits that can help you during an outage.

Then, spend a weekend at home with your family with the power turned off. This will help you find ways to improve and polish your plan.

8. Earthquakes

While earthquakes are not the first thing that would come to mind when you think of natural disasters in Arkansas, it should come as no surprise that the Natural State gets shaken several times a year.

Northeast Arkansas lies on a series of fault lines known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone.

While most of the shakers go unnoticed, geologists predict that a strong earthquake could cause sustained damage, including destroyed bridges and roads. It would make transportation in the northeast difficult or impossible for some time. 

Some of the largest earthquakes in Arkansas can be traced back to 1811 and 1812 when a series of quakes — measuring over a magnitude of 7.5 — shook the northeast.

Fast forward 200 years. In 2011, a magnitude 4.7 quake rattled the state. Researchers described this as the largest quake in Arkansas' recent history. 

So what does this mean for you? Are earthquakes in the area are becoming weaker? Or is a bigger earthquake bound to happen soon?

There’s conflicting information and ultimately not enough data to confirm either hypothesis. So in the spirit of preparedness, it’s better to have a plan.

To prepare for an earthquake, you should secure items throughout your home. A shaker can cause any loose items to become flying projectiles, which not only causes damage but more importantly can lead to injuries.

Since earthquakes can occur at any time of the day, develop a plan on what to do during and after in different scenarios. If you’re at work, where can you drop and cover?

Be sure to include your family’s needs in the planning! Learn about earthquake preparedness and safety on our guide!

Natural disaster resources for Arkansas

There are many resources we encourage you to look into for help with your emergency preparedness planning.

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does an amazing job in alerting civilians of weather watches and warnings.

    Sign up for alerts on your phone with the NOAA Weather Radio app, and adjust your phone settings to receive notifications any time of day.

    Some alerts may come through the night, and if your phone is on silent, you may not receive it or hear it in time.

    Another place you can receive updates is through your local radio and tv, as well as their social media accounts.

  • If you know which disaster specifically your region is at risk for, you should check out our guides that go into detail about how to prepare for each.

    Find them here and remember to download the free checklist found at the end! You can print the checklist and keep it with your emergency documents folder for future reference.

  • Learning preparedness skills alongside like-minded people is invaluable! The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a government-based organization that instructs civilians on how to prepare for disasters as well as how to handle emergency situations.

    The courses and simulations provided are free to the public. Find your local CERT here!

  • If you’re interested in helping with recovery efforts after natural disasters in your state, I recommend you look into Arkansas’ VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster).

    This organization is a team of volunteers that brings together local organizations, business owners, and small businesses to  provide individual assistance to federal disaster areas.

    They help organize resources to help meet the immediate needs of a community post-crisis.

    The American Red Cross is another organization that provides relief efforts after major disaster declarations. They provide temporary shelter, food, and supplies to disaster survivors.

  • Finally, you can check out Arkansas’ Division of Emergency Management, where you can find assistance programs, guides, and disaster information to help you during any phase of a disaster.

I hope you enjoyed learning about Arkansas’ most common disasters.

We created an in-depth resource with guides, templates, and checklists that will allow you to customize your emergency plan according to your specific needs. Click here to get started!

Want to look up another state? Find out which disasters are likely to happen in other parts of the US here!

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