Weekly Weather Event -Week of March 30April 3, 2020
On Saturday March 28h, a storm system cut a path through large swaths of the Midwest and into the South. Despite models predicting the highest risk of severe weather much further north in Illinois, the storm system produced a series of tornados in Arkansas. One of these tornadoes tore through Jonesboro, Arkansas around 5pm, heavily damaging buildings, homes, and a nearby mall. Airplanes and hangers were ripped apart at the nearby airport and a train was derailed from the gusts. At least 20 people were injured during the storm. A damage survey later conducted by the National Weather Service office in Memphis, Tennessee rated the Jonesboro tornado at an EF3.
Despite the tornado striking in a typically busy time of day in a typically busy part of town, businesses and restaurants had been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic or were experiencing reduced traffic. Officials in the area confirmed that had social distancing measures not been in place, the affected areas would likely have been more crowded, increasing injuries or resulting in deaths.
While social distancing measures no doubt saved many lives during the tornado outbreak, they have been a mixed blessing for the overall recovery of the town. The pandemic has caused multiple people in the area to lose their jobs, and social distancing measures make rebuilding damaged homes and businesses more challenging. Traditional forms of community gathering and support, such as church gatherings, have been suspended. Gatherings of 10 or more people have been banned, and non-essential businesses and restaurants have been shut down.
Jonesboro remains under curfew as of this writing as crews work to clear rubble and debris from common areas. Preliminary survey results have measured a maximum wind speed of 140 mph.