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Monday will mark 20th anniversary of tornadoes, floods
By: Sherry F. Pruitt
Story Date: 11/30/2002 11:23:32 PM
       On Thursday, Dec. 2, 1982, deadly tornadoes twisted through Arkansas. And torrential rains stormed from warm, moist Gulf air Dec. 2-3 causing flooding and forcing hundreds of evacuations. Millions of dollars in property damage was reported.

"This flooding was the most severe and widespread flooding to hit Arkansas since at least 1945," said Jim Peterson of the U.S. Geological Survey. Much of northern and western Arkansas suffered major flooding because of heavy rains that exceeded 12 inches in 24 hours at some locations, Peterson said. "Flood peak discharges equaled or exceeded a 100-year recurrence interval at 19 gauging stations and a 25-year recurrence interval at 12 additional gauging stations on this date," he said. "A 100-year recurrence interval means that the given flood peak could be expected to occur an average of once per 100 years or that there is a 1 percent chance of the flood peak being exceeded in any given year."

Some of the hardest hit areas were in Northeast Arkansas counties, including Independence, Sharp, Randolph, Jackson and Lawrence.

The tornado and flood death toll was eight, at least 42 counties were declared disaster areas and tornado and flood damage was estimated on Dec. 7 at more than $323 million, according to reports in The Jonesboro Sun.

Independence County seemed to be the hardest hit, with 1,500 homes damaged or destroyed. Many were still submerged on Dec. 7.

In Independence County -- where water rose over the White River bridge -- estimated losses of $59,302,000 were reported.

A tornado touched down near Highland in Sharp County, injuring three people and damaging the Highland Shopping Center, homes and businesses. Ten homes, a shop building, 43 businesses and countless vehicles were either destroyed or damaged by the tornado. Flooding followed.

The water level increased by 32 feet at the Strawberry River near Poughkeepsie, and the recurrence interval was 500 years, according to the USGS.

The Piney Fork water level at Evening Shade increased by 26 feet, and the recurrence interval was also recorded as 500 years, said the USGS.

"Sharp County was sent reeling by the one-two punch of a tornado followed by deluges of rains which turned the idyllic Spring River into a raging torrent that blasted homes literally off their foundations, washed out railroad tracks and bridges as it reached unheard-of levels," according to Sun writer Paul Holmes in 1982.

On Dec. 7 an estimate placed the damage in Sharp County at $24,721,840.

Randolph County road crews had to erect an earthen levee in East Pocahontas to prevent the still-rising Black River from pouring into a subdivision in that part of town. The U.S. Corps of Engineers estimated that the Black River would crest on Dec. 7 at 26 feet, while the river stage for Black River is 17 feet.

Bridges and roads were washed out on Arkansas highways 90, 93 and 166.

The water level of Eleven Point River near Ravenden Springs in Randolph County increased 25 feet, and the recurrence interval was reported as 500 years by the USGS.

Floodwater from the Black River, which had already caused flooding in Randolph and Lawrence counties, added to the already high level of water in the White River. The two rivers meet near Jacksonport.

"We've seen it bad, but we've always held it back before," said one Jacksonport resident. "This time there was just more water than there was levees."

"Residents of (Jacksonport) were evacuated ... and a good number of them spent Monday trying to catch boat rides back into town for their first glimpse of their homes ...," according to Sun reports.

Water from the Current River left a 7-mile stretch of floods along both sides of U.S. 67 from about seven miles east of Pocahontas to about one mile from the Pocahontas city limits in Randolph County.

At Newport the White River increased 20 feet, with a recurrence interval of 50 years, according to the USGS.

In Lawrence County, between 300 to 500 families from the areas around Portia, Black Rock and Clover Bend were evacuated.

At Ravenden in Lawrence County several hundred feet of pavement and road embankment were eroded from U.S. 63 by the Spring River, recalled Alan Hall, USGS hydrologist.

"And the Burlington Northern railroad tracks were surprisingly warped at this same location," he said. "The tracks were at the edge of the flow and were almost a quarter of a mile from the main channel."

The water levee of the Spring River at Imboden in Lawrence County increased by 34 feet, and the recurrence interval was 500 years, said the USGS.

At Clover Bend volunteers with small boats worked to rescue stranded neighbors.

Police closed U.S. 63 between Portia and Hoxie, as well as Arkansas highways 115 and 25, after bridges were washed away.

A National Red Cross representative said 26 counties had been affected by the flooding and tornadoes, and that the Red Cross had surveyed one-third of the area and had helped 759 families at that time, according to The Sun.

"When it is all said and done, the storm that began Thursday will be, in economic terms at least, the most devastating natural act ever to hit the state of Arkansas," said then-Sen. Dale Bumpers.

One major change since the 1982 floods is the availability of "real-time" stream level information on the Internet, Peterson said.

"The U.S. Geological Survey now has a network of nearly 110 stream sites in Arkansas for which levels are updated at least six times daily via satellite. The public can select a site of interest and then view a graph that shows how water levels have changed over the last several days," Shane Barks, USGS hydrologist, said. "Although these graphs cannot be used to predict timing or magnitude of flood peaks, they do provide important information to the public in a timely way."

Copyright © 2002, Jonesboro Sun
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