Officials at the National Weather Service office in Little Rock gave the twister a preliminary rating of EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, noting maximum winds of 165 mph. That places it on the high end of that rating.
Several spotters and Doppler Radar confirmed a large twister struck the Little Rock area around 2:30 p.m. CT., prompting the NWS to issue a rare Tornado Emergency – the most urgent tornado warning in the NWS's arsenal.
Drone video from storm chaser Brian Emfinger with Live Storms Media shot in the moments after the tornado passed an area in west Little Rock that showed homes with roof damage and toppled trees.
"There's well-built homes that are damaged," Emfinger told FOX Weather. "There's also numerous shopping centers that have been damaged and have roof damage." Emfinger, who has chased several storms in his career, said he saw damage that he would estimate on an EF-2 or even EF-3 level scale, though the National Weather Service would eventually make any official designation.
Madeline Roberts, Communications Director for Little Rock's Pulaski County, reported significant damage in North Little Rock and Sherwood, with power outages across Pulaski County and trees down along Interstate 430. She said there were "definitely injuries" and that there were not enough ambulances to transport them to the hospital. Police cars were being used in the meantime, she said.
KLRT-TV, the FOX affiliate in Little Rock, reported that the Pulaski County coroner has confirmed that the death of at least one person in North Little Rock was related to the storm.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency for the state, saying at least 100 members of the state's National Guard were already on the ground in areas hit hard by tornadoes.
"We are never more grateful for our law enforcement and our National Guard than we are in moments like this," Huckabee Sanders said during a news conference Friday night.
An EF-3 tornado also ripped through Wynne, a town in northeastern Arkansas, and killed at least two people.
Tornado one of several spawned amid widespread tornado outbreak
The tornado was part of a massive severe weather outbreak Friday across a wide swath of the South and Midwest.
About 87 million people were under the threat of severe weather Friday, including 18 million who were under a Level 4 or even rare Level 5 out of 5 on NOAA Storm Prediction Center's severe weather outlooks.
Little Rock was inside the Level 4 alert zone.