The early morning hours of Thursday ushered in a line of severe thunderstorms that swept through the region spinning up a brief tornado near Sheridan confirmed by the National Weather Service as an EF1 with wind speeds between 86 and 110 mph.
NWS meteorologist Matthew Clay said that an area on the southwest side of Sheridan was hit by a confirmed EF1 tornado at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday morning.
“We had reports of several houses damaged, including a double wide that was completely destroyed,” Clay said. “There was one injury reported but it was not severe and the person was not taken to the hospital.”
Clay said that while there was no tornado warning in place at the time of the tornado, a severe thunderstorm warning was active for the area at the time and a tornado watch was in effect.
“While it was a miss for us in terms of not catching the tornado, it was a hit in terms of warning people of the strong wind storm,” Clay said. “We had what is called a bookend tornado that formed on the northern end of a bow echo in the thunderstorms. It was a short-lived tornado that rapidly spun up and then dissipated.”
Clay said that the strong winds left in the wake of the storms would continue throughout the day Thursday.
“We have had a top wind gust of 41 mph in Pine Bluff; 49 mph in Little Rock; 51 mph in Jonesboro; and 45 mph in Stuttgart,” Clay said. “For the afternoon, the winds may actually get a bit stronger but they will begin to die down overnight tonight.”
A survey team with the NWS out of North Little Rock also reported Thursday afternoon that while they found no evidence of tornado damage in Arkansas or Monroe counties they did document thunderstorm wind damage at Casscoe and Preston Ferry in Arkansas County.
Numerous damage reports from throughout Jefferson County were reported Thursday, including the closure of U.S. 79 at Highway 31 in the early afternoon due to downed trees and power lines blocking the road.
“Entergy has been notified of the situation on Highway 79,” said Melinda Elliott, Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management operations manager. “We’ve had trees down across the county today.”
Significant structural damage occurred north of White Hall, according to Karen Quarles, OEM coordinator and director of the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association.
“A couple of homes on Dollarway Road at Highway 104 received pretty severe damage,” Quarles said. “Several trees were uprooted that landed on top of cars. A lot of trees were reported down across the area. In Pine Bluff, a home on Daffodil Street suffered damage when a portion of a tree landed on it.”
A NWS trained spotter reported trees down in White Hall with wind gusts estimated at between 60 and 70 mph.
Ongoing high winds during the day Thursday created numerous power outages in the Pine Bluff area as well as other parts of the state.
Diane Tatum, regional customer service manager for Entergy Arkansas, said at 11:15 a.m. Thursday about 1,000 customers in Pine Bluff were without power.
“We have about 42,000 customers without power statewide but it is a fluid situation and that number will change throughout the day,” Tatum said. “We have teams out doing their damage assessments to determine what will be needed for the restoration effort. We should be getting our resources in place pretty soon.”
Tatum said that the majority of the Pine Bluff customers reporting power outages late morning Thursday were living on the far eastern side of town.
“We have right around 950 customers without power in that area who are served by the Pine Bluff East substation,” Tatum said.
Area school districts were coping with the high winds and power losses as well.
“We had to close Southwood Elementary because of a loss of power this morning and transported those children to W.T. Cheney Elementary,” Pine Bluff School District interim superintendent Linda Watson said. “There have been outages at Pine Bluff High School as well: Around 30 percent of the campus. But we have been able to move students around and have made use of the sunlight coming in to allow for instruction to continue.
“So far we are OK,” Watson said.
Watson Chapel School District Superintendent Danny Hazelwood said that his district was doing fairly well.
“We had the power off in the [Watson Chapel] Junior High School gym,” Hazelwood said. “That caused some problems, but we’re just glad that’s the only outage we’ve had.”
The Dollarway School District reported no power outages by 11:30 a.m.
The White Hall School District reported some outages prior to the beginning of the school day that were restored by the beginning of classes.