Update 7 p.m.: Tornado super cell system bearing down on Oklahoma City metro
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Severe weather hammered the nation's heartland again Friday, with a tornado emergency declared for the Oklahoma City areatonight and tornado warnings posted in the Southern Plains and Arkansas recovering from a flash flood that killed a county sheriff who was checking on a home surrounded by rising water.
Well before Oklahoma's first thunderstorms fired up at late afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., was already predicting a violent evening. From the Texas border to near Joplin, Mo., residents were told to keep an eye to the sky and an ear out for sirens.
The warned area included Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb where 24 people died in a twister last week. Forecasters labeled the tornado watch as a "particularly dangerous situation," with ominous language about strong tornadoes and hail the size of grapefruits — 4 inches in diameter.
Bad weather was also expected in parts of southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri. Tornado warnings were posted for remote areas of far southeastern Kansas and in the prairie well west of Oklahoma City, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Flooding will be a concern in the mid-Mississippi River Valley through the weekend.
Flash flooding and tornadoes killed three people in Arkansas late Thursday and Friday. Three others were missing in floods that followed 6 inches of rain in the rugged Ouachita Mountains near Y City, 125 miles west of Little Rock.
The Fourche La Fave River rose 24 feet in just 24 hours.
"The water just comes off that hill like someone is pouring a bucket in there," said Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Highway and Transportation. The Fourche La Fave temporarily swamped U.S. 71.
Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter died while trying to check on local residents during the storm and wildlife officer Joel Campora and two others are missing. They had traveled up Mill Creek by boat.
"Other deputies heard a loud crash," said Bill Hollenbeck, the sheriff of neighboring Sebastian County. "They thought that the bridge had actually collapsed. Looking into it further, the house had imploded as a directly result of rising waters from Mill Creek."
A man died after strong winds toppled a tree onto his car in Tull, just west of Little Rock, late Thursday. A tornado warning had been posted for the area at the time. Authorities also are attributing the death of a woman in Scott County to flooding; they've released no information other than her body was found in her car.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared six counties as disaster areas because of the storms: Cross, Montgomery, Poinsett, Polk, Scott and Van Buren
Most tornadoes in the United States are relatively small, but the one that hit Moore on May 20 was a top-of-the scale EF5 with winds at 210 mph. Of the 60 EF5 tornadoes to hit since 1950, Oklahoma and Alabama have been hit the most — seven times each. Moore has been hit twice — last week and in 1999.
This spring's tornado season got a late start, with unusually cool weather keeping funnel clouds at bay until mid-May. The season usually starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.