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Jessieville twister confirmed as an EF-1

by Brandon Smith | January 4, 2023 at 4:23 a.m.
The Sentinel-Record/Lance Brownfield /caption: Several trees lay on a house at 8018 Highway 7 north in Jessieville.

JESSIEVILLE -- The National Weather Service confirmed that an EF-1 tornado packing peak winds of 102 mph hit the Jessieville area Monday afternoon.

The weather service's North Little Rock office said Tuesday that the tornado was on the ground for more than 2 miles and was 200 yards wide. It lasted three minutes, from 2:38 p.m. to 2:41 p.m.

Don Phillips Field on the northwest end of the Jessieville School District campus was in the tornado's path. High winds snapped light poles and tossed the visitor's bleachers onto the home side of the football field.

While the National Weather Service and school officials were monitoring the weather, Jessieville School Superintendent Melissa Speers said they had little time to react and received no warning.

No students were injured, but two school staff members suffered minor injuries.

"The storm kind of came on us just out of the blue," she said Tuesday. "We'd been monitoring the weather and watching the weather and it actually hit before we had any warning. Going back and reviewing our video, the storm actually hit sometime around 2:37-2:38. We didn't get an alert until 2:44 that we were under a warning, so it was over by that time."

Speers said the district's safe room would hold around 1,200 people, or the entire student body and staff, but the suddenness of the storm forced everyone to shelter in place.

"My staff did a phenomenal job. When they realized that there was something [happening], they took measures to protect students," she said.

Teachers and students sheltered under their desks and on the inside walls of their respective buildings while the high winds swept through. Speers said once that initial phase was over, they began moving students to the safe room behind the Jessieville Sports Arena on the northeast end of campus. From there, students were dismissed as parents came to pick up them up and buses shifted from their normal pickup lines.

One of the two staff members was hurt while on her way inside one of the buildings when she was struck by flying debris, causing minor injuries. The other staff member fell down during the storm, also suffering minor injuries, Speers said.

Workers were on site Tuesday assessing damage and starting repairs. The majority of the damage was to the exterior of the school, with the storm tearing down utility poles, trees, awnings and signs. The football field sustained significant damage, with three of its four light poles snapped in half. The storm also damaged the scoreboard and the concession stand.

The school's security footage of the football field, which circulated on national media, showed the tornado as it tore across the field.

Speers said the band building, which is next to the football field, probably received the most extensive damage, as parts of its roof were blown off, which allowed some water in. The roofs to the cafeteria and the elementary school were also damaged.

The district's police department vehicle was also damaged, she said, and will most likely have to be totaled, while a school bus sustained minor damage.

School was dismissed Tuesday and an Alternative Methods of Instruction day will be used today. Speers said she did not know when the campus would reopen for classes.

The weather service said it issued a tornado warning at 2:44 p.m. The 2:26-2:30 p.m. radar scan detected a broad rotation. The 2:35-2:40 p.m. scan showed a tighter rotation indicative of a tornado.

"That's when it looks like it started to tighten up," NWS meteorologist Travis Shelton said Tuesday. "That's when we issued the warning."

"At 2:35 there was nothing going on, maybe some light rain," Garland County Department of Emergency Management Director Bo Robertson said Tuesday. "At 2:38 all hell was breaking loose. Then at 2:44 it was a radar-indicated tornado. By then it was all done. It was moving away from the school. It was moving extremely fast."

Robertson said about 20 structures were damaged, including three on Murders Loop and five on Blakely Camp Road.

"It sat down about Blakely Camp Road," he said. "That seems to be where it started. It went north, northeast, which, thankfully, is a mostly unpopulated area. We didn't have any reports of injuries. We had a lot of damage at the school and surrounding area, about the 8000 block of Highway 7 north."

The tornado damaged The Shack restaurant and neighboring post office before crossing the highway en route to the school. Damage was reported north of the school on LL Wilson Trail and Rector Ward Road.

The weather service said instability in the atmosphere coupled with strong upper-level winds caused the tornado. The Enhanced Fujita scale classifies an EF-1 as a weak tornado with estimated winds of 73 to 112 mph.

Earlier Monday, a possible tornado also caused damage near Norphlet in Union County.

Around noon Monday, Union County Director of Emergency Management Bruce Goff -- on his second day on the job -- responded to a call west of Norphlet, where a resident reported seeing "circular rotation of a cloud that came down."

"There was roof damage, and like vinyl siding [was damaged]. There was a shop building that was completely destroyed and several storage buildings that had damage to the roof or siding," Goff said Tuesday.

By early Tuesday afternoon, the weather service had not yet confirmed whether it was a tornado that caused the damage.

Meteorologist Gary Chatelain said weather service crews were surveying storm-damaged areas near Monroe and Ruston, La., on Tuesday and would move on to Union County and Louisiana's Union Parish today.

Information for this article was contributed by Caitlan Butler of the El Dorado News-Times.

 Gallery: Jessieville Storm Damage

Print Headline: Jessieville twister confirmed as an EF-1


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