Dec 13, 2021 - News

Unusually warm, humid weather helped spark Arkansas tornadoes

Forecast temperature departures from average for the daily high temperature on Dec. 14, 2021 from the NWS. (
Forecast temperature departures from average for the daily high temperature on Dec. 14 from the National Weather Service. Graphic:

At least two Arkansans died Friday due to tornadic activity that started northeast of Little Rock and cut through parts of five other states.

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared a state of emergency, giving the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management $100,000 to assist with response and clean-up.

Driving the news: December tornadoes are not unheard of, but an event of this scale and ferocity is potentially unprecedented for this region.

  • A strong cold front and area of low pressure created "a fairly classic setup" for tornadoes, meteorologist-in-charge Jim Reynolds of Little Rock's National Weather Service told Axios.

Threat level: Another warming trend is coming next week for the eastern U.S. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), some areas of the country may see temperatures running 20°F to 40°F above average for this time of year.

The big picture: Winter is warming faster than other seasons due to climate change. This year has the potential to be the warmest December on record for many areas, writes Axios' Andrew Freedman.

  • Additionally, meteorologists have observed more instances of unusually strong, stubborn areas of high pressure in recent years that have been associated with extreme weather events, including heat waves.

What they're saying: Reynolds told Axios that this week's warming trend will bring some moisture with a fairly low chance of precipitation, but that NWS isn't expecting anything like Friday night or Saturday morning.

  • All residents of Arkansas should be prepared for severe weather during any month of the year.

Andrew's thought bubble: Climate scientists studying how tornadoes may be changing in a warming world are focused on trends in their main ingredients. As the world warms, there is a greater supply of atmospheric instability, with warm and humid weather occurring more frequently, even in the cold season. This could favor severe thunderstorms.

  • Studies show when such ingredients overlap with abundant wind shear — i.e., winds changing direction or speed with height, along with a trigger like a cold front — then large outbreaks can occur.
  • Overall, there is increasing evidence that tornadoes are becoming more common in the South Central and Southeastern states, as traditional "Tornado Alley" sees a decrease in tornado days. This has tremendous implications for peoples' exposure to risk, given population growth in the region.

Go deeper: Subscribe to the free Axios Generate newsletter for more.

Plus: How to help

Several rural towns impacted by the storms will be in the process of rebuilding for the next several weeks.

How you can help: The American Red Cross of Missouri and Arkansas is working to help tornado victims. To learn how to volunteer, visit You can donate at, by calling 1-800-733-2767 or texting REDCROSS to 90999.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios NW Arkansas.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More NW Arkansas stories

No stories could be found

NW Arkansaspostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios NW Arkansas.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more