Tornado outbreak killed dozens of people across the US this weekend

Meteorologists estimate up to 100 tornadoes, including in places that don't typically see them.
Severe damage and debris of a home in Little Rock, Arkansas following a tornado.
A tornado covering dozens of miles caused severe damage in Little Rock, Arkansas, on April 2, 2023. Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A wild weather weekend covering large swaths of the United States caused at least 32 deaths, scores of injuries, and leaving entire neighborhoods destroyed. According to the National Weather Service, there were nearly 100 reports of possible tornadoes on March 31 and April 1 in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. 

[Related: Recovery begins after devastating tornadoes hit Mississippi’s Lower Delta.]

The governors of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa all announced emergency or disaster declarations to help free up immediate funding and assistance for the communities most impacted by the storms. On April 2, President Joe Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Arkansas ahead of FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell’s trip to survey the damage in the state.

“While we are still assessing the full extent of the damage, we know families across America are mourning the loss of loved ones, desperately waiting for news of others fighting for their lives, and sorting through the rubble of their homes and businesses,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

In already storm-weary Mississippi, at least one person was killed and four others were injured after storms rocked P​ontotoc County. Additional damage was reported in Lee, Tishomingo, and Desoto counties. Last week, at least 26 people were killed and much of the town of Rolling Fork was destroyed by an EF-4 tornado.

An EF-3 tornado roared through Pulaski and Lonoke counties in Arkansas, with estimated peak winds of 165 mph. Almost 2,600 structures in the state capital of Little Rock saw various degrees of damage, and about 50 people were sent to the hospital. 

“It’s unbelievable anytime that you see, literally, vehicles flying across the air, structures being flattened,” the mayor said. “Many people were not at their homes. If they were, it would have been a massacre,” Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. told CNN.

A tornado in Wynne, Arkansas killed at least four people and tore the town in half. The town is home to about 8,000 residents, and many homes were completely crushed and roofs removed. 

In Tennessee, the statewide death toll rose to 15 on Sunday, with three deaths in the city of Memphis alone. Officials in McNairy County, where at least seven people were killed, continued to search buildings on Sunday.

[Related: How science has made tornado forecasting better—but not perfect.]

A powerful storm struck Belvidere, about 65 miles northwest of Chicago killing one and injuring two during a concert with 260 people   at the Apollo Theatre. One concert attendee told WTVO she walked in just seconds before the roof came down. “The wind, when I was walking up to the building, it went from like zero to a thousand within five seconds,” said Gabrielle Lewellyn

On the East Coast, where tornadoes are more rare but still possible, Delaware saw its first tornado-related death in 40 years. At least four tornadoes were confirmed in central and southern New Jersey. 

The severe weather threat shifted to the Southern Plains on Sunday, where roughly 13 million people in northern Texas were at an enhanced risk for severe weather in the afternoon. Emergency sirens were activated in Dallas “due to large hail.” Both the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field Airport issued ground stops.

The severe threat continues today near Jackson, Mississippi with multiple tornado warnings issued this morning.