7 Significant Tornado Events in Middle Tennessee


Tornado season is typically March through May in the South, although Tennessee has had tornadoes throughout the year. From 1950 – 2022, Davidson County has had 56 confirmed tornadoes, Wilson 55, Sumner 51, Rutherford 42, Robertson 28, Williamson County 27,  Dickson 21, Maury 16 and Cheatham 14.

For those of you who have lived in the area for a while, you might have distinct memories of some of the more significant tornadoes, such as the one that hit the downtown Nashville area in March 2020 or even the tornado outbreak in April 1998.

We took a look at the NWS weather archives to learn more about some of the significant tornadoes that have occurred in the middle Tennessee area.

Here is an abbreviated list and storm description from weather.gov of some record-breaking tornado events that occurred in Middle Tennessee.

1March 2 – 3, 2020

East Nashville. Photo by @leannePearson

10 Tornadoes

From late in the day on March 2 into the early morning hours on March 3, several supercell thunderstorms spawned numerous tornadoes across southeast Missouri, southern Kentucky, Tennessee, and central Alabama.

One of these supercells formed near the Mississippi River in West Tennessee, then tracked eastward across the entire length of the state spawning numerous tornadoes and dropping large hail up to the size of baseballs in some areas. The worst of these tornadoes touched down across Middle Tennessee during the early morning hours of March 3, 2020, resulting in widespread damage, hundreds of injuries and 25 fatalities. These tornadoes were the worst seen in Tennessee since the devastating tornadoes of April 27, 2011 across East Tennessee, as well as the Super Tuesday tornadoes on February 5-6, 2008.

Damage surveys conducted by NWS Memphis, NWS Nashville, and NWS Morristown determined 10 tornadoes touched down across the state of Tennessee, with 7 of these tornadoes affecting Middle Tennessee. The two strongest and most damaging tornadoes were an EF-3 tornado that tracked over 60 miles across the Nashville metro area eastward to Smith County, as well as an even stronger EF-4 tornado that caused severe damage in central Putnam County between Baxter and Cookeville, TN. Incredibly, this EF-4 tornado dissipated just blocks west of the heart of Cookeville. All of these tornadoes were moving at extremely fast speeds up to 65 mph!

2April 16, 1998 

photo: weather.gov

13 tornadoes

A historic tornado outbreak of at least 13 tornadoes struck Middle Tennessee on April 16, 1998. Many of these tornadoes were strong or violent and tracked long distances, killing 4 people and injuring nearly 100 people, while causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The most infamous tornado during the outbreak struck downtown Nashville, blowing out numerous windows in skycrapers and causing the collapse of some older buildings. Other notable tornadoes included three violent tornadoes in southern Middle Tennessee that reached F4 to F5 intensity, and an F3 tornado in Pickett County that damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. Wilson County was struck by 4 different tornadoes during the event.

This tornado outbreak was unusual in several respects. First, the event lasted nearly the entire day, with the first round of severe weather beginning very early (around 4 AM CST), and the second and more significant round of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes occurring during the afternoon and evening. Second, synoptic features with this outbreak were not noticeably intense, with a relatively weak low level jet stream of only 35 to 45 mph at 850 mb (around 5000 feet above the ground), and a weak area of surface low pressure around 1000-1005 mb located well to the north across the Great Lakes. Upper air soundings at Nashville also were not noticeably impressive, with the 18Z sounding showing veered low level winds and only modest convective available potential energy (CAPE) around 1000 J/Kg. However, a large wind maximum at 500 mb (around 20,000 feet above the ground) of 80 to 90 mph extended from Texas into the Tennessee Valley region, which provided considerable lift for severe thunderstorms to develop throughout the day.

3Dec 24, 1988 – Franklin

photo: weather.gov

1 Tornado

A F4 tornado touched down shortly after 6am in the Rebel Meadows area of northwest Franklin. The tornado moved northeast at 45 mph, leaving a spotty path of damage. The damage was severe in the places that it touched down. It lifted up for good in the Brenthaven area of the eastern part of Brentwood. Property damage was estimated at around $8 million. Approximately 54 homes, 13 apartment units, 31 businesses, and 6 parked airplanes were damaged or destroyed. There were seven reported injuries. One man was killed when the roof of his house fell in on him.

This tornado began just west of Franklin High School in the Rebel Meadows area along Hillsboro Road, then tracked northeast striking homes (where the fatality occurred) and the LDS Church along Ernest Rice Lane. The tornado then damaged a private airpark on the west side of Franklin Road. The worst damage was along General George Patton Drive from the Brentwood Pointe condos northward to Moores Lane, where several businesses were heavily damaged and destroyed.

4November 10, 2002

photos: weather.gov

12 Tornadoes

Middle Tennessee suffers one of its worst autumn severe weather outbreaks ever. Four tornadoes strike the Highland Rim during the early morning, with 2 fatalities in Port Royal. Then, following record high temperatures at Nashville (81) and Crossville (75), severe weather re-ignites during the late afternoon, with widespread wind damage, hail, and 8 additional tornadoes. Lake Tansi, south of Crossville, is hardest hit, as a supercell produces baseball-size hail and an F3 tornado, killing 4. Two additional fatalities occur at New Union (Coffee County) as the result of two F2 tornadoes there. In addition to the 8 fatalities, 51 injuries are reported across the area.

5May 11, 2003

photos: weather.gov

7 Tornadoes

A pre-dawn severe weather outbreak produces six tornadoes across the Nashville metropolitan area between 2am and 4am CDT. One F3 tornado tracks 20 miles across Williamson County, ending just northeast of downtown Franklin. One woman is injured in a demolished 3-story home on Old Hillsboro Road. Another F3 tornado causes severe damage in Walterhill (Rutherford County).

6April 7, 2006

photo: weather.gov

9 Tornadoes

The deadliest tornado outbreak since the Super Outbreak of 1974 strikes Middle Tennessee. Nine tornadoes touch down across the mid state, including an F3 storm that kills 7 people in Gallatin, injuring another 128. Two separate tornadoes strike Warren County, killing 3. Widespread hail also occurs. Four-inch hailstones are reported in Ashland City, and 3¼ hail occurs in Hillsdale (Macon County). Three-inch hail is reported in Centerville, with baseball-size hail occurring in several other locations.

7April 10, 2009 

Damage in Murfreesboro from April 10, 2009 tornado/photo: weather.gov

10 Tornadoes

The April 10, 2009 “Good Friday Tornado Outbreak” of 10 tornadoes swept across Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia on the second Friday of the month. This tornado outbreak impacted a large portion of Middle Tennessee, with confirmed tornadoes touching down from the Tennessee River to the Cumberland Plateau and affecting parts of 8 counties. The most violent tornado occurred in Rutherford County, where a long track EF-4 tornado caused 58 injuries and 2 deaths in and near Murfreesboro, TN.

The EF4 tornado carved a 23.25 mile long by 1/2 mile wide path across Rutherford County, passing through the northern sections of Murfreesboro. 194 homes were destroyed and another 1547 damaged or affected across the county, with 2 people killed and 58 others injured. Nine other tornadoes touch down across Middle Tennessee.

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