U.S. authorities confirmed at least 17 deaths after tornadoes hit several Southern and Midwestern states on Sunday evening (April 27).
A tornado struck Quapaw, a town in northeastern Oklahoma, killing one person and injuring two others before moving north into Baxter Springs, Kansas. Another tornado that was as much as half-mile wide ripped through 40 miles of suburbs northwest of Little Rock, Arkansas, killing at least 16 people.
“I can’t even get down the main street down to the middle of town,” Arkansas town Vilonia Mayor James Firestone told CNN. “I am trying to make my way through the downed trees and power lines. What I am seeing, it is a lot of damage. I’ve been listening to the rescue folks. They’re saying people have to be extracted from vehicles. … It looks pretty bad. From what I understand, there has been a subdivision that’s been leveled.”
The Interstate 40 highway northwest of Little Rock was shut down as rescue teams searched through overturned and smashed vehicles for trapped people.
Severe weather conditions lead to the formation of tornadoes in the area commonly known as the Tornado Alley, where low pressure in the plains draws in winds from the Southwest and Gulf of Mexico. As these winds converge, the fast, dry wind from the Southwest rolls the humid Gulf winds into a horizontal vortex. A warm updraft pushes the horizontal vortex into a vertical position and forms a thunderstorm. Warm air continues to be sucked into the heart of the storm, while cold drafts falling from the storm cloud restricts the inflow of warm air, causing air flowing into the storm to increase in speed, feeding into the formation of a tornado.