Rare double high-risk tornado outbreak strikes Midwest and Southern US

Photo Credit: Jennifer Walker

On the morning of March 31, 2023, the NOAA/NWS* Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued TWO level 5/5 High risks for various areas in the Midwestern US.

The first, more northern risk, was issued for SE Iowa, W-NW Illinois, and far NE Missouri. The second high-risk was issued for NW Mississippi, E Arkansas, and SW Tennessee.

These risks were well-anticipated, as the possibility of severe weather for the 31st was mentioned by the SPC, as far back as 5 days before, when a 15% risk was issued for a large area, centered over the Ozarks.

This risk eventually evolved from a 30% risk to a double moderate risk and the eventual infamous double high risk.



The Northern Risk

The high risk that was issued for SE Iowa, NW Illinois, and far NE Missouri produced a number of severe weather events.

The NWS confirmed via tweets and NOAA’s Damage Assessment Toolkit (DAT) submissions that as of April 2, at least 13 tornadoes have been rated, though in a tweet, NWS Quad Cities exclaimed that “there are several tornadoes in Iowa and Illinois that have yet to be surveyed.” Of the 13, 11 were significant.

Video Credit: Charlie Thomas (permission to use this video granted)

The above video shows the preliminary rated EF-4 tornado that tracked from Martinsburg, Iowa to Wellman, Iowa, which leveled a farmstead. According to DAT, A total of 3 people were injured by the tornado.

Besides this tornado, 9 others were injured. Believe it or not, this tornado was also on the ground at the same time 2 other tornadoes were as well, one of which was an EF-3. Though most of these tornadoes were on the edge/outside of the risk, many others occurred in other areas.

The Southern Risk

The other high-risk, which was issued for NW Mississippi, SW Tennessee, and Eastern Arkansas ended up producing 7 confirmed tornadoes in or around the main risk area. since most of the tornadoes nearby were out of the high risk, we will include them in this section. Of 7, 4 were rated EF-3 intensity, with 3 others not being rated yet.

Little Rock, AR Tornado – Video Credit Cami Leigh (permission to use this video granted)

The first EF-3 tornado struck the city of Little Rock, Arkansas. This violent tornado injured up to 60 people, killed 1, and tracked from western Little Rock to Cabot, Arkansas.

The second EF-3 struck Wynne, Arkansas, leveling multiple homes and killing 4. The third EF-3 tornado would track outside of Covington, TN, causing more strong damage and injuring 3. The fourth and final EF-3 tornado associated with the high risk tracked outside of Adamsville, killing 9.

“I truly believed I was going to die at the moment my car was picked up and tossed off the road by this massive tornado (Covington EF3) in Tennessee.”

– Nick Sortor


Aside from the two high risks, a very large Moderate (4/5) and Enhanced (3/5) risk would produce another set of strong tornadoes. Central Illinois (IL) would see multiple damaging EF-2 tornadoes, while western IL would see multiple EF-1/0 tornadoes.

Damage from the Sullivan, Indiana part of the Robinson-Sullivan tornado, this home being leveled by the twister at EF3
Photo Credit: NWS

But, the worst tornado to strike IL would be an intense, nocturnal tornado that tracked from Robinson, Illinois – Sullivan, Indiana.

This strong tornado would kill 6 people and level multiple homes. Though data suggests this was likely one long-tracked tornado, DAT suggests the tornado was actually split into 2, one that hit Robinson, and another that struck Sullivan.

The state of Indiana would also see multiple other significant and weaker tornadoes, which injured/killed none. All of these tornadoes occurred at the very end of the 31st March 2023, and in the early morning hours of the 1st April 2023.

More tornadoes would be confirmed in Michigan, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. One of these was a high-end EF3 tornado that struck outside of Hazel Green, Alabama killing 1.

Photograph of the Ellendale, DE tornado, as it caused damage.

Credits: Jared Allen
Photo Credit; Jared Allen

Later in the day, another now unrated tornado would cause bad damage outside of Ellendale, Delaware. This tornado killed 1, making it the first deadly tornado in the state since 1983.

This tornado would destroy multiple homes and have an astonishing radar signature. It was one of few tornadoes in the Mid-Atlantic that day, though the others were only confirmed based on radar signatures.

*NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NWS – National Weather Service

Stay tuned to Discover Tornadoes for more tornado news, information, and more.

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