SPC Stats

Path length: 25 miles

Width:  200 yards

Fatalities:  6

Injuries:  121

Rating:  F3

County:  Crittenden (AR) / Shelby (TN)

On December 14, 1987, a tornado developed four miles SW of West Memphis and tracked northeast at 60 mph. It traveled 12 miles in Crittenden County (AR) before crossing the Mississippi River into Shelby County (TN) where it moved another 13 miles before lifting near Millington.  

Per the NWS survey: 235 homes and 35 businesses were destroyed or sustained heavy damage. 1500 people were left homeless in West Memphis (nearly 5% of the population at the time). The entire county was without power as the tornado severed two 500,000 volt power lines and three 161,000 volt lines. There were six fatalities blamed on the event.

The tornado came within 400 yards of a dog racetrack which had 6000-7000 people in attendance. No-one was hurt at the track.

The tornado entered Shelby County, TN at Chicken Island approximately four miles north of the I-40 bridge. The greatest damage in Shelby County, TN was to the Northhaven housing development. 30 homes were destroyed, 58 severely damaged and 105 with minor damage. There were 21 reported injuries.

Thomas Grazulis in his Significant Tornadoes Book documented how all of the fatalities occurred:

  • A woman died in her mobile home.
  • An elderly bed-ridden man was crushed by the failing wall of a boarding house.
  • A teenager was killed in a parking lot.
  • A one-year-old child was killed in an apartment building.
  • One person died in a car thrown from Interstate 40.
  • One person died in the parking lot of a truck stop.

Tornado Path

SPC coordinates:  Start: 35.10 / -90.23      End: 35.35 / -89.92

Note:  Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.

Images via NWS Little Rock/Storm Data

Radar Snapshot from NWS Little Rock
Remains of a strip shopping center that had its windward wall pushed in. This part of the building housed a laundromat. (Image via NCDC Publication)
A liquor store along Interstate 40 that was leveled. (Image via NCDC Publication)


Newspaper Clippings


The Storm Prediction Center

NCDC Storm Events Database

December 1987 Storm Data Publication


Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 1280.

Questions or comments about this summary?  Contact us here!

Join the tornado history discussion on our Discord Server!

Note:  There are some images/videos in our summaries that were licensed to us to be used only on this website. If you would like to use an image/video in your project or blog, please contact us and we will grant permission if possible.

Newspaper clips are embedded via newspapers.com. Please see their terms and conditions.


Would you like to see more summaries like this one?  Support Tornado Talk on Patreon! Become a Patron!


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder
You cannot copy content of this page