25 people dead after tornado ripped through Tennessee in the US and destroyed numerous homes
Severe storms and two tornados slammed through central Tennessee in the US, killing 25 people and wrecking hundreds of buildings hours before dawn on Tuesday, 3 March 2020. Initial surveys indicated EF-3 tornado damage in East Nashville, Nashville's Donelson neighbourhood and in Mount Juliet, a town about 20 miles east of Nashville, the National Weather Service said. As of Tuesday evening, 18 people were reported dead in Putnam County, three in Wilson County, two in Davidson County and one in Benton County, the Tennessee Emergency Management Authority said. A Tennessee emergency management agency spokeswoman raised the death toll after police and fire crews spent hours pulling survivors and bodies from wrecked buildings. Hours after the powerful storm hit the area; local officials were still searching through piles of rubble for survivors, while volunteers began to clean up the numerous homes, restaurants and churches that were left in ruins. "We've got to go through that and make sure that nobody was left behind," said Mayor Cooper, adding that 48 buildings collapsed, others were damaged and about 150 people were taken to hospitals because of the storm. The Nashville Fire Department tweeted that it was responding to reports of about 40 structure collapses about the city, while overturned tractor trailers and other vehicles littered state highways. Nashville Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was partially activated in the morning to monitor damage reports and respond to emergency calls.
Nashville John C Tune Airport (JWN), the largest dedicated GA gateway in Tennessee, was extensively damaged by the powerful tornado. According to aerial photos and video of the scene, at least four hangars were completely devastated, including one showing five jets amidst the ruins, along with several smaller aircraft. More single-engine aircraft were shown strewn across the tarmac. A spokesperson from the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, which owns and manages JWN, said that the airport is closed as crews continue to assess the damage but confirmed there was damage to the Contour FBO, the lone service provider on the field.
Nashville’s mayor, John Cooper, declared a state of emergency for the city, which helps to free up funds for financial assistance and streamline supplies and services to those affected. In Nashville's Germantown area alone, parts of apartment and other multi-storey buildings were ripped open, with bricks, roofing material and glass strewn about. Damage to the power grid left more than 44 000 customers in the dark. The weather also damaged gas lines, water mains and cellphone towers, making the rescue and recovery efforts much more difficult, authorities said.
Night time tornadoes are not unusual in the US Southeast, where tornado season extends into the winter months, when daylight is shorter. The damage stretched far beyond Nashville and across several counties. Tornadoes were reported several times along a 145-mile stretch, including in the small city of Camden just after 23h00, in Nashville after midnight and in the Cookeville area in Putnam County shortly before 2h00, the National Weather Service said. It wasn't immediately clear how many tornadoes struck the region, as the same tornado might have hit multiple areas, the weather service said.
A tornado that came from the Nashville area entered Wilson County, home to Mt Juliet and appeared to have stayed on the ground as it traversed the county eastward near Interstate 40, Wilson County Emergency Management Director Joey Cooper said. Several subdivisions were destroyed and hundreds of people in Wilson County have been displaced, Cooper said. An unspecified number of people were injured in Mt Juliet and police were searching for others who might be hurt, police said.
Further to the east, a tornado wreaked havoc in Putnam County, where so far most of the deaths have been reported. A tornado touched down between the cities of Cookeville and Baxter, the Putnam County Sheriff's Department said. Some of the worst-hit areas are in Charleton Square, Plunk Whitson, Echo Valley and Prosperity Point, the department said.
"We have multiple homes that have been destroyed. ... Some of the roads are impassable," Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter said. Search and rescue teams are trying to inspect damaged homes "to make sure we haven't missed anyone," Porter said.
The threat for severe weather across middle Tennessee and surrounding areas was not forecast well in advance. The Storm Prediction Centre (SPC) first issued a Slight risk across north-eastern Arkansas into the Tennessee Valley area in their 6h00 2 March 2020 outlook. In their forecast, the SPC noted that an unstable atmosphere was likely to materialise ahead of an approaching cold front but that this environment would likely be contained by a capping inversion for most of the day. By the afternoon hours, the SPC expected the combination of rich moisture, modest wind shear and cold mid-level temperatures to promote the formation of supercells with a primary risk of large hail. Some tornadic activity appeared possible overnight given an increase in low-level winds. At 17h20, the first tornado watch was issued from northern Arkansas north-eastward into southern Indiana and western Kentucky as discrete storms began to develop.
By 23h00, as a surface low progressed north-eastward through southern Missouri, sustained barometric pressure falls caused supercell storms to give way to an organised storm cluster that gradually weakened as it progressed into an area of less abundant moisture. As convection weakened to the north, the SPC began to monitor areas farther south, encompassing eastern Arkansas, western Tennessee and southwestern Kentucky, for reinvigorated thunderstorm development as the northern jet stream amplified south-eastward into the risk area. Strong wind shear coupled with low instability was expected to promote activity with "a risk for severe hail, strong surface gusts and perhaps potential for a tornado or two." At 23h20, a localised tornado watch was issued across middle Tennessee. In subsequent hours, a long-lived and intense supercell produced two significant tornadoes: an upper-end EF3 tornado in the vicinity of Nashville, Tennessee, killing six people and an EF4 tornado in the vicinity of Cookeville, killing an additional 18 people.
Residents described running for their lives as their homes came down about them, with the authorities reporting that tens of thousands of residents were without power. “Take cover now! This is an extremely dangerous storm!!!” the National Weather Service tweeted as one tornado tore through an area west of Nashville.
Schools in Wilson County will be closed for the rest of the week because of storm damage, the county sheriff's office said. The storm flattened parts of West Wilson Middle School.
Sources: CNN, AIN Online, The Guardian, Metro Nashville PD, WHNT Wikipedia and The Washington Post