Path of Destruction: A look back on the February 2007 supercell that spawned the Dumas tornado

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Introduction: On Saturday, February 24, 2007, a series of tornadoes from one parent supercell ripped across Southeast Arkansas. One of the largest, categorized as an EF-3, carried winds exceeding 140 miles per hour. It cut through the heart of Dumas, injuring  28 people and leaving many residents homeless and jobless. It destroyed 25 businesses and 19 homes and damaged 65 others. A community building sustained major damage, as well as a 20-unit assisted living center. An electrical substation was also destroyed, leaving the area without power for days.

In this article, the supercell that spawned the tornado will be tracked from Junction City to Dumas as you read about a woman and her son who survived the Dumas tornado by huddling in their bathroom closet.

The woman’s account of the tornado was taken from a February 2007 story by Patty Wooten. The supercell research was conducted by Leslie McKiever, a geologist and NOAA-certified Skywarn Spotter from Monticello. McKiever was a major contributor to this feature. In addition to the supercell research and other contributions, McKiever provided a Q&A with Dennis Cavanaugh, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Little Rock. The National Weather Service also made major contributions to the article.

Path of Destruction

 

Tornadoes Southeast Arkansas 2

 

Saturday, February 24, 2007 was a busy day for Victoria Davis.

Several spring-like days the previous week had put her in the mood to do some spring cleaning: washing windows, polishing woodwork, cleaning her refrigerator. She was too busy to watch television, but periodically cast a watchful eye toward the afternoon sky above Belmot Street in Dumas. It was getting darker and darker.

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Meanwhile, at 8:45 a.m., the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma issued Particularly Dangerous Situation (PDS) Tornado Watch 30.

Storm Prediction Center forecasters issue PDS tornado watches when they have high confidence that multiple strong or violent tornadoes will occur in a watch area.

By 10:35 a.m. the threat of tornadic supercells was increasing: “Tornado threat is increasing. Isolated strong or violent tornadoes are expected to become increasingly likely through the 18-21Z time frame in intensifying supercells near/north of Shreveport through El Dorado and Pine Bluff, Arkansas.”

At 1:28 p.m., a tornado warning was issued for Union County.

Seven minutes later, an EF-3 tornado, moving at 55 miles per hour, cut a 26-mile long, 250-yard wide path from Junction City to the New London community, injuring five people and damaging nearly 20 structures, including six homes.

The tornado began in extreme southwest Union County near Junction City where a metal roof was blown off a pharmacy on Route 167. The tornado produced sporadic tree damage along Welloo and Welch roads. Moving northeast, the tornado downed additional trees across Caledonia and Iron Mountain roads. It continued in a northeast direction, crossing Highway 82 and intensified as it crossed the Old Strong highway before demolishing a well-built brick home.

The tornado then traveled a half mile east and demolished a double wide mobile home, blowing the debris 150 to 200 yards downstream. Several other homes were damaged before the storm lifted near the community of New London. At the most damaging point of the storm, after it crossed Highway 82, it was rated an EF3 on the new enhanced Fujita scale.

At 1:53 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Bradley County.

A severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was 21 miles southwest of Hermitage, moving northeast at a very fast 60 miles per hour. Five minutes later, at 1:58 p.m., a warning was issued for Ingalls.

An EF-2 tornado with a 19.15-mile long, 440-yard wide path from Ingalls to Sumpter injured six people, caused major damage to one house and destroyed a mobile home. Tornado damage occurred in the Mt. Olive community, about 13 miles south of Warren. A house suffered major damage and a mobile home was destroyed. An elderly woman was injured in the house, and a family of five was injured in the mobile home. Three other homes had minor damage, and several sheds and outbuildings were destroyed. Thousands of trees were blown down, as were a number of utility poles and power lines.

The storm continued to move northeastward into Drew County.

At 2:17 p.m., a tornado warning was issued for Drew County. A minute later, an EF-1 tornado touched down in Lacey where it knocked down a number of trees.

The tornado lifted and a rotating wall cloud was clearly seen from Monticello with tiny horizontal funnel clouds flicking in out of the wall cloud. Moving southwest to northeast, it crossed U.S. 278 west of the intersection of U.S. 278 and U.S 425.

Nineteen minutes later, at 2:36 p.m., an EF-2 tornado re-formed and touched down eight miles north-northeast of Monticello. Wider than previous tornadoes in Union and Bradley counties, this tornado cut a 6.5-mile long, 650-yard wide path knocking down a large swath of timber in the northern part of Drew County.

At 2:40 p.m. the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for southeastern Lincoln County and northwestern Desha County.

The tornado moved out of Drew County and into Lincoln County about 5.5 miles south-southeast of Garrett Bridge. It weakened somewhat as it tracked across the southeast corner of Lincoln County. Damage noted along the tornado path consisted of two downed power lines and a few dozen trees that were uprooted or snapped off. The tornado continued moving northeastward into Desha County where Victoria Davis was still doing her spring cleaning.

Davis’ friend, Bobby Shinn, just north of her near the Ford dealership in Dumas, was watching the KATV weather reports where he learned that Dumas was in the direct path of a tornado.

“Bobby called me and said, ‘It’s over Dumas now! Take cover!'” Davis said. “As soon as I got off the phone with Bobby, I heard the siren.”

Davis alerted her 16-year-old son, got her pet Akita and parakeets, and raced for the bathroom closet.

“We had enough time to get down and hug each other real tight,” she said.

Davis and her son, Trevor, clung to each other, praying, as the windy horror assaulted their home, shaking the house as if it were a child’s toy, ripping the roof off Trevor’s bedroom, violently slamming the neighbor’s roof against her house, and propelling a board through her roof about three feet from where they sat praying and fearing that this was the last minute of their lives.

All around them, they could hear it. The crackles of breaking and splintering wood, the crashes, the bangs, and that horrible, howling wind.

“We were hugging each other real tight and praying, ‘God save us!'”

Then it was over.

As she made her way through her badly mauled home, surveying the damage, Davis prayed again, thanking God for saving her and her son.

Her home and vehicle were a total loss.

The tornado destroyed 25 businesses and 19 homes in Dumas. More than 65 other homes sustained minor to moderate damage. Six mobile homes were destroyed, along with an athletic park. A community building sustained major damage, as well as a 20-unit assisted living center. An electrical substation was destroyed, leaving the area without power for days. Numerous trees and power lines were also blown down.

Farther to the northeast, in the community of Back Gate, 11 mobile homes were destroyed and 12 sustained minor damage. One house was destroyed and three others were damaged. The tornado eventually dissipated four miles northeast of Pendleton.

Altogether, 28 people in Desha County were injured.

Severe Weather Awareness Week in Arkansas is February 26-March 4. There will be a statewide Tornado Drill on March 1.

Below is McKiever’s interview with Dennis Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh

MCKIEVER: How many tornado events happen in watch areas?

CAVANAUGH: A tornado watch means that the ingredients are in place for severe thunderstorms that are capable of producing tornadoes. A watch doesn’t mean that there are ANY storms nearby yet, it just means that IF a thunderstorm approaches you, it may be capable of becoming severe and producing a tornado. The ingredients that come together to support a significant tornado threat are:

1. Heat and Humidity — Warm and humid air near the ground is basically the “fuel” for thunderstorms.

2. Instability — “Warm air rises.” Most people understand this basic concept. When cold air aloft (where airplanes fly) moves over warm, humid air near the ground, it sets the stage to allow air to rise very quickly in our atmosphere. When we have cold air aloft (what meteorologists often refer to as an “upper level storm system”) moves over warm, humid air near the ground, the atmosphere is said to be unstable. The more unstable the atmosphere, the more powerful storms will become!

3. Lift — While warm air does indeed rise, a thunderstorm requires more than just a little bit of warm air rising to result in a big storm. Something has to give the atmosphere a “push” upwards for storms to really take off. This upwards push is usually caused by cold fronts, warm front, drylines, etc… really anything that causes a lot of air to move upwards at the same time.

4. Wind Shear — This is the big one that really separates “common” thunderstorms from severe thunderstorms. Wind shear is the change in wind direction or speed with height in the atmosphere. Wind shear is usually its highest near the jet stream. If the jet stream is nearby and we have ingredients 1-3 (from above) in place, we can be very confident that a severe thunderstorm outbreak is going to occur. Wind shear results in rotating air in the atmosphere. When this rotating air is ingested into a thunderstorm, tornadoes are possible.

MCKIEVER:: Are forecasters more likely to issue a tornado warning in a watch area?

CAVANAUGH: In general I would say “yes” because a tornado watch is issued when we have all of the ingredients in place that lead to storms that produce tornadoes. However every thunderstorm that develops across Arkansas, we monitor very closely. If it looks like ANY thunderstorm is a tornado threat, we will issue a tornado warning whether there’s a watch in place or not.

MCKIEVER: Do you think the public pays attention to tornado watches…particularly PDS watches as they should?

CAVANAUGH: This is difficult to answer. The only actions requested in a tornado watch are for people to make sure they have a plan in place to reach their tornado shelter if necessary and to make sure they have a way to get a tornado warning if one is issued. A watch simply means “be prepared to take action if necessary”, and that’s very difficult to measure. I certainly hope people have a plan in place and a way to receive warnings. We travel all across Arkansas promoting severe weather safety and education, and we hope that encourages folks to develop plans before a weather disaster like a tornado strikes.

PDS – Particularly Dangerous Situation Tornado Watch

Storm Prediction Center forecasters issue PDS tornado watches when they have high confidence that multiple strong or violent tornadoes will occur in a watch area.

Most tornado-related casualties and damage are produced by EF2-EF5 tornadoes. (1996-2005).

F2-F5 tornadoes represented less than 10 percent of all tornado reports for the period, but produced over 90 percent of the fatalities, more than 80 percent of the injuries, and 80 percent of the damage.

The motivation for PDS Tornado warnings is a high probability of an outbreak of strong tornadoes that pose a significant threat to life and property.

PDS tornado watches are rare, only 216 (7 percent) of 3,058 tornadoes from 1996 to 2006 were PDS watches. Southeast Arkansas averages slightly less than one PDS tornado watch a year. Since 2010, only one year (2010) has had two PDS tornado warnings.

Since all tornadoes are potentially dangerous and most F2-F5 tornado events still occur in regular tornado watches, the lack of PDS wording in a watch should not be interpreted as downplaying the threat to life and property. However, when the PDS wording is included the threat is to be considered as substantially higher.

Although a PDS tornado watch does represent an increased risk to life and property from strong and violent tornadoes, more strong and violent tornadoes actually occur in a regular tornado watch area since PDS tornado watches are rare.

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