Severe Arkansas weather: state braces with flashlights, Twitter, and prayer

With forecasts pointing to more severe Arkansas weather ahead, state residents have changed how they live – scanning Twitter for weather updates and packing emergency kits.

By , Correspondent

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    A section of Township Avenue was closed due to the rising waters of Niokaska Creek on Monday in Fayetteville, Ark. Sever Arkansas weather has forced the closure of many roads in the northwest part of the state.
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One thing many Arkansans are saying frequently these days: "Batten down the hatches."

Severe Arkansas weather patterns during the past 12 days are changing the way people in the state live.

On Monday night, a tornado touched down in Vilonia, a town of 3,000 in central Arkansas. Four deaths were reported and six more deaths occurred in the state from flash flooding. An earlier storm on April 15 left seven people dead.

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In response, Arkansans are learning weather terminology such as "PDS," which means "Particularly Dangerous Situation" for life-threatening tornadoes. They try to catch glimpses of The Weather Channel celebrity meteorologists who have come to the state to chase the storms. People are scooping up weather radios, scanning Twitter for weather updates, and lopping off trees they worry could cause damage in a tornado.

In metropolitan Little Rock, neighborhoods were strewn with uprooted trees, downed power lines, and damaged houses.

Sherri Phillips, a single mother of two boys, lives in Gravel Ridge, Ark., a small town 15 miles from downtown Little Rock. Ms. Phillips says that she has her storm supplies – flashlights, pillows, iPhone, and mattresses – ready.

"My boys are young, so I let them decide on all their essentials they will need, such as snacks, books, games, and toys," she says. "They hang out in the bathroom and have a 'slumber party' attitude. When it turns serious with the sirens, we all huddle under pillows and mattresses and pray together."

It's a scene that is becoming common in Arkansas.

On Twitter, the #arwx hashtag has become a way that many people get information from the National Weather Service, local television stations, and storm chasers. The National Weather Service in Little Rock is increasingly utilizing social media, says Chris Buonanno, science and operations officer there.

"Our agency is trying to meet all of these technologies so that information can get out early and save lives," Mr. Buonanno says. "It's a way to reach different people quickly."

Sarah Osborne, a college student who commutes from Little Rock to Conway, Ark., says she uses social media to track the weather.

"I definitely use Twitter a lot," says Ms. Osborne. "My husband is a non-tweeter, but even he likes to ask me what 'the Tweeters' are saying about severe weather."

Osborne says she has lived in coastal areas with hurricanes, but tornadoes are a different beast.

Tornadoes "can spring up so quickly and unpredictably and give little advanced notice, so I probably err on the side of caution, but try to avoid panicking," says Osborne.

Tree services have an increase in business with property owners wanting trees near their homes cut down before the next round of storms strike. Even farmers, who have been worried about a drought for weeks, now have new concerns. Some cattle farmers have found dead cows in fields from flooding, and the rain helps weeds grow heavily in some cotton fields.

On Tuesday afternoon, Little Rock was bracing for another round of intense storms as rock singer Bob Seger rolled into town for a concert.

"I want to go but I don't want to be trapped or in the arena when a storm hits" says Patty Jackson, a nurse in Little Rock. "This weather makes me unsure what to do anymore. Go or hide in my hidey hole?"

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