A Natural Disaster Amidst a Pandemic


Saturday, March 28, 2020 was the first day of the year that was warm enough to lay out by the pool.  It wasn’t really sunny, just nice. My parents worked in the yard and people were out walking for exercise while following social distancing requirements of our current COVID-19 pandemic.  There had been several weather warnings throughout the week, letting us know that severe storms could be possible after noon that day. By 4:30, the Severe Thunderstorm Watch had turned into a warning.  We stayed outside until the rain drove us inside, and that happened a little before 5pm.  

When we got inside, the clouds began to look a little different.  There was a tall, dark cloud that the television meteorologist referred to as a wall cloud because it went straight up into the air on one side. Everyone began to watch that cloud because it was so dark and it was moving fast.  Our local television station tracked it on radar, and they warned that it looked like it was beginning to form a tornado. It was part of the same system that had produced a tornado about 40 minutes southwest of Jonesboro but for some reason, the National Weather Service allowed the Tornado Warning that had been issued with that storm to expire as it rolled into town.  

Tornado Sirens sounded as we watched the tornado form and debris fly around it and they told us that it had become the most dangerous kind of tornado: one that had touched down and was traveling along the ground. We ran to the basement and prayed.  As it grew, it moved toward the east side of town where my grandmother lives. We prayed harder. We listened to weather reports on our cell phones as the announcers were calling out every street it crossed and every building it plowed through. It was our busiest part of town on the busiest day of the week.  By that time, the tornado had grown to what we would learn later was an F-3, A tornado rated an F-3 has wind speeds between 158 to 206 mph (254 to 332 km/h). 

When we walked upstairs from our basement, we tried to call my grandmother but her phone was not working. The hospital called in all doctors, so my dad headed in to help triage patients coming into the emergency room. The tornado had missed us, but police and fire workers began their search and rescue as they tore through the rubble of our mall, airport, large industries, restaurants and businesses in our commercial district that would have been filled with people on a normally busy weekend. But today was different. A quarantine was in place due to the COVID-19 virus and most Jonesboro residents were staying home. It may be the best thing to come out of the recent Coronavirus scare. There weren’t large crowds of people at the mall, in fact, many of the stores and restaurants had closed or if they were staying open, it was with limited staff. There were mass casualties, in fact there were no fatalities and all 22 of the injuries reported were not serious. The Coronavirus has killed over a thousand people across the nation, but for the small town of Jonesboro, it may have saved countless lives.