Wicked Texas Weather Stomps Arkansas

Another round of storms moved across Arkansas on Thursday, bringing heavy rain, hail and high winds to a state already contending with three weeks of flooding and 10 tornadoes from a week ago.

The Searcy County Sheriff's Department said some residents in the small north Arkansas town of Leslie were evacuated because of flooding and the threat of mudslides. Workers were sandbagging in places to keep flood waters at bay. U.S. Highway 65 was covered with water in places. Travelers were asked to stay off the roads.

"It's just getting worse," sheriff's dispatcher Nola Massey said. "We're just trying to get everybody to stay home and not get out in it."

Schools in Norfork closed at 9:15 a.m. because of flooding. Marshall schools were closed because of high water, and the Buffalo National River in north Arkansas was closed to recreational users. About 1,000 customers of Entergy Arkansas lost power as tornado sirens blared in parts of central Arkansas, including Little Rock.

Many roads in southern Lonoke County were flooded, including Arkansas 13 near Carlisle and Arkansas 31 between Blakemore and Coy. Stone County also reported flood damage and Arkansas 263 in Cleburne County was impassable. Part of Arkansas 9 in Izard County was flooded, along with many county roads.

A number of washouts were reported on county roads in Sharp County.

At Little Rock National Airport, flights were suspended for about 50 minutes when a tornado warning was issued for the area. T.J. Williams, that airport's manager of media and marketing, said 300-400 people were moved to safe places away from windows.

"We suspended everything for a while until the weather passed. Those who were on planes deboarded and were brought inside," Williams said.

Most flights were back on schedule by early afternoon, and the airport reported no damage.

"It went incredibly well. The people were incredibly cooperative, and we all worked together and the event ended and we went on our way," Williams said.

Tornado warnings also were posted in several southwest Arkansas counties, including Columbia, Hempstead, Lafayette, Miller and Nevada.

"It's a two-headed monster this morning," National Weather Service forecaster John Lewis said Thursday, noting the flooding and threat of tornadoes.

Lewis said storms moving from Texas into Arkansas were setting the stage for possible twisters. "There is quite a lot of shear in the atmosphere, winds turning with height," Lewis said.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said conditions were right for supercell thunderstorms to develop ahead of the storm line moving through Arkansas. Tornadoes could develop within those supercells, the center said.

"The one saving grace is that this is developing earlier, rather than later in the day," Lewis said. With less heating, the atmosphere will not become as volatile, he said.

Early Thursday, water covered U.S. Highway 65 at St. Joe and the Viola School District was closed because of high water. Seventy mile per hour winds were reported accompanying the rains as they moved in from the northwest.

In Saline County, residents spent a week picking up blown-off shingles and cleaning culverts after the 10 tornadoes roared through central Arkansas the night of April 3.

With the storms coming Thursday, county officials had a new request - to borrow residents' flat-bottom and inflatable boats.

"It's just overwhelming - a flood on top of a tornado," Saline County Judge Lanny Fite, the county's top administrator, said Wednesday. "People have been working night and day trying to prepare, but there's not a whole lot we can do to prepare for rain in the magnitude they're talking about."

The Army Corps of Engineers delivered 10,000 sandbags to Saline County in preparation for local flooding from the storm, state Sen. Shane Broadway said.

Rain fell in Arkansas into Wednesday morning from that storm front. Flash flooding hit Casscoe and Clarendon, where water was flowing over parts of Arkansas 302. A flood warning was in effect Wednesday afternoon for Hot Spring County, where Entergy Arkansas said it opened spillway gates at the Remmel Dam to release excess water from Lake Catherine.

Before midnight Wednesday, severe weather cropped up in several locations in western Arkansas. Nickel-sized hail was reported by the weather service at Acorn in northern Polk County, and heavy rain fell at Mena. Flash flood, severe thunderstorm or tornado warnings were issued for Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Scott, Polk, Montgomery, Pope and Newton counties.

The new rain temporarily drove up river levels in flood-soaked Clarendon along the White River. The weather service forecast the river to crest at 32.7 feet Wednesday night in the east Arkansas town, which has seen surrounding cotton fields turned into lakes in the last weeks.

Weather service hydrologist Steve Bays described the river's bump as temporary. The real concern, however, rests with the front moving in Thursday. If heavy rains fall upriver, that could send another surge through the area and slow the river's retreat.

"We have today and tomorrow to contend with. It's got our attention," Bays said Wednesday. "We have to see where it falls. But we'll have another story to talk about tomorrow. We'll have to see how much and where."