Northwest Arkansas Prepared For Flooding, Tornado Season

Lee Klug looked up at dark clouds rolling across the sky as the first severe, spring storms hit Arkansas on Thursday.

"The weather can be really extreme here," said Klug of Rogers.

At A Glance

Costly Storms

Flooding in August cost Benton County about $3.3 million. Washington County was fortunate in 2013, and the county suffered little damage from weather events.

Source: Staff Report

At A Glance (w/logo)

Tornado Alley

“Tornado Alley” is a term used to describe an are of the U.S. where tornados are more frequent. Although it has no defined boundaries, most experts believe it begins in Central Texas and stretches to southern South Dakota, with the most activity in North Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. In some maps, Northwest Arkansas in included in Tornado Alley.

Source: Smithsonian Institution

Floods and tornadoes are most common between March 15 and June 15, said Peter Snyder, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tulsa, Okla. Last year, Arkansas saw 33 tornadoes, which is average.

The service meteorologists said tornadoes were possible Thursday in Benton and Washington counties. High wind swept through the area, knocking over potted plants and tugging at vehicles. City and county officials watched the weather closely and said they're prepared to handle any emergency -- including tornadoes.

"We are prepared to protect the public in the case of emergency," said Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin.

While some cities have made only a few changes to their emergency plans in the past year, others are making improvements. Centerton installed outdoor sirens this month. In Siloam Springs, city officials started CitySafe, a program meant to educate and encourage residents to learn what to do during emergencies.

Benton and Washington counties have technology to call residents when severe weather approaches, spokesmen said. The services cover some cities, including Rogers, Bentonville and Farmington.

BC Alert in Benton County had a rocky start when implemented in 2010, but the system now works without glitches, said Richard McGowen, emergency management director. Washington County has a warning system called CodeRed used by cities such as Farmington and unincorporated areas, said John Luther, emergency management director.

McCaslin said Bentonville officials work with those in the county to make sure residents know what is coming well in advance. Residents must take the initiative to be safe, he said.

Residents in Rogers are also warned well in advance, Klug said.

"I think we get fair warning," Klug said.

Benton County initiates sirens for Centerton and Pea Ridge, McGowen said. Pea Ridge has a community storm shelter, he said.

Rogers bought equipment capable of stabilizing structures struck by tornadoes after seeing the devastation in Joplin, Mo. A tornado there struck the city in 2011, wiping out city blocks and leaving unstable buildings in its wake, said Fire Chief Tom Jenkins.

Since the Joplin tornado, emergency workers in Northwest Arkansas have bound together to create better regional emergency care, Jenkins said. Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville have quarterly training together.

"The network and relationships among agencies is critical," Luther said.

Northwest Arkansas counties and cities share equipment and staff, too. It's not unusual to see two rural fire departments respond to the same fire, for example, Luther said.

Pooling resources helps smaller cities, said Mark Cunningham, Farmington fire chief. Cooperation translates to better emergency services when disaster strikes, he said.

"There's no strife between the fire departments here, and we all work together for the greater good of the people," Cunningham said.

Communication and cooperation among emergency officials is encouraged by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said Brandon Morris, spokesman. The weather service also wants to see the best communication possible among governments and emergency workers, Snyder said.

It's hard to prepare completely for disaster because no one knows where and when exactly it will strike, Cunningham said.

"The best thing about Northwest Arkansas is that we work together," he said.

NW News on 03/28/2014

Upcoming Events