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Remember when: West Memphis Arkansas devastated by 3 different natural disasters in 1987

An EF-3 tornado, a deadly flood, and a foot of snow. The weather that hit West Memphis in 1987 will make you want to put a severe weather plan in place.

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — It’s almost been two weeks since 18 different tornadoes hit the Mid-South. Some people may not have been expecting severe weather in December, but the Mid-South is no stranger to tornadoes during the last weeks of fall. 

In December 1987, the city of West Memphis was hit by three natural disasters. The people that lived through all three say that it was a time that they will never forget. 

Wayne Gately was just getting his firefighter career started when West Memphis was hit with devastation. On December 14, 1987, he was working at Station One as a firetruck driver when his chief pointed out a drastic change in the temperatures. He noticed that the temperature skyrocketed from the low 40s that morning to the 70s by that night. 

Gately told his Chief, “It’s going to be a tornado somewhere tonight with this type of temperature change, this drastic, this quick.” 

Today I had the pleasure of speaking with the former West Memphis Fire Department Fire Chief Wayne Gately. He spoke some really wise words about have a severe weather safety plan in place. We also talked about the history making natural disasters that hit The City of West Memphis in 1987. It is always good to have a plan in place for your family during severe weather. When the weather is not bad, you should make a plan for your family and outline what you would do during a natural disaster. Ask questions like where will we go? Who should we contact? What if we get separated? Tornadoes are not the only kind of disasters that can hit the Mid-South. You should try to prepare for them all.

Posted by Meteorologist Danielle Moss on Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Six people lost their life during the EF three tornado. There were over $25 million in damages and more than 100 people injured. Gately recalls getting in the fire truck and making rescues all throughout the city. His company went to a nearby nursing home and he discovered the first fatality of the tornado. 

A few weeks later, on Christmas Eve, another frontal system passed, and West Memphis got more than 10 inches of rain causing the city to flood. During that time, one man lost his life when he accidentally drove into floodwaters.

Two weeks after the flood, Crittenden County got nearly a foot of snow that further crippled the area. 

🌪 Our hearts and prayers are with those who have been devastated by the recent tornadoes. West Memphis is no stranger to disasters like those that struck parts of the region last week. On this day 34 years ago (Dec. 14th, 1987) West Memphis became the first city in U.S. history to be declared a federal disaster area twice in two weeks. A killer tornado swept through the city on the 14th, followed by floodwaters on Christmas Eve, and nearly a foot of snow on January 5th. 235 homes and 35 businesses were destroyed or sustained heavy damage. 1500 people were left homeless in West Memphis. The tornado came within 400 yards of a dog racetrack which had 6000-7000 people in attendance. The storm killed 6 people, injured hundreds more, and left 1,500 homeless. Rated as an F3 tornado, it traveled a total of 25 miles and reached a max width of 200 yards.

Posted by The City of West Memphis on Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Many people were caught off guard by all three disasters. At that time, there were no tornado sirens in the area, but now, the city of West Memphis has six tornado sirens and flood control systems.  

“People need to be prepared and most people are not prepared. We can’t stop the tornado from hitting wherever it’s going to hit. But, have yourself some water supply, have some food supply, have some blankets put back, a flashlight with batteries in it and you need to have a weather radio," Gately said.  

It is always good to have a plan in place for your family during severe weather. When the weather is not bad, make a plan for your family and outline what you would do during a natural disaster. Ask questions like where will we go? Who should we contact? What if we get separated? Tornadoes are not the only kind of disasters that can hit the Mid-South. You should try to prepare for them all. 

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