Flooding from record rains kills 11 in Tennessee; oil spill update

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:52 PM GMT on May 03, 2010

Share this Blog

Nashville, Tennessee remains virtually paralyzed this morning thanks to that city's heaviest recorded 1-day and 2-day rainfall in its history. A remarkable 7.25" of rain fell on the city Sunday, breaking the record for most rain in a single day (previously 6.60", set September 13, 1979.) Nashville's third greatest day of rainfall on record occurred Saturday, when 6.32" fell. Nashville also eclipsed its greatest 6-hour and 12-hour rainfall events on record, with 5.57" and 7.20", respectively, falling on Sunday. And, remarkably, only 2 days into the month, May 2010 is already the wettest May on record for Nashville.

Rainfall records were smashed all across Tennessee and Kentucky, with amounts as high as 17.73" recorded at Camden, TN, and 17.02" at Brownsville, TN. According to Chris Burt, the author of the excellent book Extreme Weather, the 13.30" that fell on Camden in 24 hours just missed eclipsing the state's all-time 24-hour precipitation record, the 13.60" inches that fell on Milan on September 13, 1982. Jackson, Tennessee had its rainiest day in its 63-year weather history on Sunday, 7.93". Bowling Green, Kentucky had its heaviest 2-day precipitation event on record, 9.67". Records in Bowling Green go back to 1870. The University of Wisconsin GOES Satellite Blog has some excellent imagery showing the remarkable plume of tropical moisture that crossed over Central America from the Eastern Pacific and fed the record rains.

Figure 1. Radar estimated rainfall for May 1 - 2, 2010 from the Nashville, Tennessee radar. A large region of the Tennessee and Kentucky received over ten inches of rain, with many areas receiving more than fifteen inches.

Figure 2. Flood forecast for the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee. Image credit: NOAA.

The record rains triggered massive flooding that has killed at least eleven people in Tennessee, with two missing. The Cumberland River in downtown Nashville has surged to a height of 51', which is 11' over flood height, and the highest level the river has reached since a flood control project was completed in the early 1960s. The river is expected to crest this afternoon at 11.5' above flood stage, bringing flood waters to a large portion of the downtown area. The mayor has ordered all schools, parks, and libraries closed today, and commuter bus and train services have also been suspended. Five people died in Nashville due to the flooding. The Harpeth River at Bellevue, Tennessee to its greatest flood height since record keeping began in 1921. The river had a depth of 2 feet early Saturday morning before the rains began, and was running at a depth of 29' early this morning, breaking the record of 24.34' set in 1948. (To check out the flood heights, use our wundermap for Nashville with the "USGS River" layer turned on.) The Duck River at Hurricane Mills reached 28.7' yesterday morning before its streamgage stopped operating, its 2nd greatest flood height since record keeping began in 1926 (record: 30.7' in 1948.)

The record rains were accompanied by a surge of very warm air that set record high temperature marks at 21 major airports across the Eastern U.S. on Saturday; 19 more records were set on Sunday. This is not surprising, since more moisture can evaporate into warmer air, making record-setting rainfall events more likely when record high temperatures are present.

Figure 3. A portable classroom building from a nearby high school floats past submerged cars on I-24 near Nashville, TN on May 1, 2010. One person died in the flooding in this region of I-24. Roughly 200 - 250 vehicles got submerged on this section of I-24, according to wunderphotographer laughingjester, who was a tow truck operator called in to clear out the stranded vehicles.

Funding issues to take 17 Tennessee streamgages offline
According to the USGS web site, seventeen Tennessee streamflow gages with records going back up to 85 years will stop collecting data on July 1 because of budget cuts. With up to thirteen people in Tennessee dying from flooding this weekend, now hardly seems to be the time to be skimping on monitoring river flow levels by taking 17 of Tennessee's 94 streamflow gages out of service. These gages are critical for proper issuance of flood warnings to people in harm's way. Furthermore, Tennessee and most of the northern 2/3 of the U.S. can expect a much higher incidence of record flooding in coming decades. This will be driven by two factors: increased urban development causing faster run-off, and an increase in very heavy precipitation events due to global warming. Both factors have already contributed to significant increases in flooding events in recent decades over much of the U.S. According the landmark 2009 U.S. Climate Impact Report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, "the amount of rain falling in the heaviest downpours has increased approximately 20 percent on average in the past century, and this trend is very likely to continue, with the largest increases in the wettest places." The USGS web site advertises that users who can contribute funding for the non-Federal share of costs to continue operation of these streamgages should contact Shannon Williams of the USGS Tennessee Water Science Center at 615-837-4755 or swilliam@usgs.gov. Tennessee is not the only state with streamgages at risk of closing down; fully 276 gages in 37 states have been shut down or will be shut down later this year (Figure 4.)

Figure 4. Streamgages that have been discontinued or are being considered for discontinuation or for conversion from continuous record discharge to stage-only stations. Funds for these 276 threatened streamgages are from the U.S. Geological Survey and other Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies. For those streamgages that have already been discontinued, extensive efforts were made to find another funding source; however, when no funding was made available the streamgages had to be discontinued. For those streamgages at risk for discontinuation, the current funding source has indicated that it can no longer fund the streamgage. Efforts are currently underway to identify another funding source for the operation of these streamgages; however, if no funding is identified, then these streamgages will have to be discontinued also. If you have questions about specific streamgages, click on the state of concern on the USGS web page of threatened stream gages.

Oil spill update
The oil slick from the April 20 explosion and blowout of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon has retreated from the coast, thanks to a slackening of the persistent onshore winds that have affected the northern Gulf of Mexico over the past week. Onshore winds of 10 - 15 knots will continue today, according to the latest NWS marine forecast, then shift to sideshore (out of the west) on Tuesday, as a cold front passes. Winds will then resume a weak onshore flow at 5 - 10 knots, Wednesday through Friday. These winds should cause only a slow transport of the oil slick towards the coast. I don't expect the spill will affect any land areas for the remainder of the week, with the possible exception of the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana and the Chandeleur Islands. The latest forecast of Gulf currents from the NOAA HYCOM model (see also this alternative view of the HYCOM ocean current forecast) show weak ocean currents affecting the region during the remainder of the week. These currents will not be strong enough to push any oil southwards into the Loop Current over the next five days, so the Keys and South Florida are safe from oil for now.

Figure 5. Previous location and forecast location for tomorrow of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Image credit: NOAA Office of Response and Restoration. See also the trajectory maps available at State of Louisiana web site.

Jeff Masters

Flooding on I-24 (XMLP)
Flooding on I-24
Lick Creek Bridge (Wingman100)
God is cleaning out the creek and I think making a statement about cleanliness
Lick Creek Bridge
Removing the flood damaged cars and trucks. (laughingjester)
I am a wrecker driver for Martin's wrecker service. We were called to remove the vehicles that got caught in the flooding on interstate I 24 westbound near the Bell Road exit in Nashville Tennessee. Of course this is after the waters had subsided. It was roughly 200, 250 cars and trucks that got caught up in the flood. The debris to left is actually the remnants of a portable classroom that floated alongside the interstate and eventually rolled over and disintegrated.
Removing the flood damaged cars and trucks.

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

Sign In or Register Sign In or Register

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 260 - 210

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15Blog Index

Quoting help4u:
Still cannot believe you enviromentals on here our going to let the messiah get away with a piss poor job on response to "BIGGEST ENVIROMENTAL DISASTER IN THE WORLD"!

Let us guess, you voted for the "other guy".
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Pure sunlight beaming down on Gulf waters, temp maps will have a hard time keeping up with actual water temps, waters are gonna heat quick. In one month from now, you'd have a hard time believing what they are right now
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
254. kingy
hi chick,

lets hope these domes are 90% effective, or greater. I just worry that BP will be proved guilty of too much wishful thinking. Remember how long they were saying either nothing or '1000 barrels a day'. Even with these domes in place they will need a tanker permanently above them to get the spilt oil, and that job will be difficult when the hurricane season is underway
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting help4u:
Correct coast guard was to be the lead on stopping spill!!Government was in charge from beginning ,they should have been burning oil after 2 day ! The messiah should of sent more than 2 c130's !!lol!!!

Don't you ever say anything nice about anybody? Even as bad as Attila the Hun was, I thought he wore his furs and horns tastefully. Relax a little and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 192 Comments: 59972
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 192 Comments: 59972
Quoting Chicklit:
Hi kingy...I think they're constructing more than one dome.

I believe I heard they are building 3.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting help4u:
Did everyone know Obama has a 2 billion dollar deal with BP to drill off coast of Brazil this year.

So What?????
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
help4u post about weather?---no she never has. Just a troll seeking to piggyback on Dr. Master's audience and reputation.

i got this picture of help4u

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 192 Comments: 59972
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Chicklit:
Hi kingy...I think they're constructing more than one dome.
I heard em say on one of the news conferences they were buildin 3
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Oil could enter the Loop Current "within a day". http://www.baynews9.com/content/36/2010/5/3/614351.html?title=Scientists:+Oil+could+reach+

I didn't think it was that close yet or the winds/currents taking it that way very fast, but at least one person does...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Hi kingy...I think they're constructing more than one dome. PressLord tells me Tina Turner and Mel Gibson will be there to smash a crate of Dawn detergent over it when it's installed. Maybe just Tina. Mel's got a few problems right now...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Feds were responsible from the start,coast guard was to be in charge!!Napolotonia is clueless!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
I wish I had come up with BP = Big Polluter.

me too....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
i really don't think crimping the pipe will work. too much pressure.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 3 Comments: 1988

Area forecast discussion National Weather Service Charleston SC
341 PM EDT Monday may 3 2010

..Tornado Watch in effect until 10 PM EDT inland...

a cold front will push into the area late tonight into Tuesday...
then will stall just to the south as high pressure builds into the
region through late week. A stronger cold front should push
through the region on Saturday...with high pressure building back
into the region by early next week.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
LOL!! If posting about weather was a requirement on here, it would be a very short blog...at least until 1 June (15 May if you're Pat)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Gulf has warmed alot since the last time i saw that map and im not liking the eastern atlantic and caribean way too hot
Member Since: April 8, 2010 Posts: 15 Comments: 2572
Warm SST's expanding northward, that's not good.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21373
228. kingy
with every day this slick gets worse. The big question is whether the dome will be ready next week....and if so how effective will it be. Any less than 90% effective is a problem with the hurricane season approaching. What I don't understand is how one dome will cover 3 seperate leak points. As it stands this slick is massive and has at least 1 more week to grow further. Even if the oil is stopped next week there is still the massive problem of where the slick will go. The longer it is out at sea the greater the chance that some will start feeding into the loop current. Imagine the mess if this thing is still spewing oil in 2 months, it isn't worth thinking about
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
warm breeze here in SE TX, temps in the low 90s.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I'm not sure being concerned about an oil spill of epic proportions which will have a catastrophic multidimensional impact qualifies one as "...environmental people..."
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 192 Comments: 59972
Post 214...Do you ever post about weather?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
In looking at the current location of the loop current, its seems to have really extended into the Gulf as far North, latitude wise, as the Tampa Bay region; don't know if an eddy will seperate from the loop in the coming weeks but any significant southern or south-eastern drift of the spill over the next several weeks could surely get sucked into the loop.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I'm getting a rain rate about 3 inches an hour at my house.. Then a little less in this hour.. But still rain moderate to heavy.. Im gettin close to 4inches within 2 hours.. Looks like I will be getting more on the way.. yikes!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
hopefully nobody feeds it...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Somewhere a Tea Pot goes,

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 437 Comments: 135387
Good Afternoon! Thank God there is no activity under that immense anticyclone in the BOC/GOMEX or else it could get pretty sticky. Other than that, SOI begining to go back down and the TNA is at record high levels.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21373
Verrry Clever. And needs to stick.
I like the BP CEO saying "we're not reponsible; we are responsible."
Guess he can have it bofe ways.
In other news, looks like the New Hampshire governor and Tennessee gov'nr should get together for a chat after NH was hit with a was it 500 year flood?

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen got a bird's eye view of the flooding damage during a helicopter tour of the area on Monday. As he crossed the Tennessee River and neared the hard-hit area of Madison County, flood waters were so deep that the tops of trees made the land looked like islands.

"I've never seen flooding like this," Bredesen said.


Earlier a blogger said residents had gotten into their boats and gone about rescuing people. Kinda reminds me of some place else.
Ordinary people can do some pretty extraordinary things some times!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Somewhere.. the remains of Karen are about..

What, you didn't know that the current flooding was caused by Karen remnants that have managed to circle the globe numerous times now?

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Former oil spill response coordinator for noaa,Ron Gouget said officials should have been burning the oil off almost as soon as it happened instead of 8 days late.He said they had a narrow window of opportunity last week.Gouget is an expert when it comes to these matters;he help create the 1994 plan that expidited the burning of oil as soon as a major spill happened.Without having to WAIT for premission or apporavals!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
210. beell
Posted this last night on the previous blog-fwiw.

Did not spend a whole lot of time with this. The graph represents 6hr (00Z, 06Z, 12Z, 18Z) water temps reported by Buoy 42040. 64nm S of Dauphin Island, AL. This buoy is approx 32nm from the rig site at 10° true. Graph reads from right to left timewise. Three data points circled in red for reference.

Only one buoy. Draw your own conclusions, but it seems there was quite a bit of daily variability in the temps until April 30th.

That would place this buoy pretty much in the yellow zone on this chart on 04/30:


Direct Link to Graph

42040 Metrological Data-prev 45 days
Member Since: September 11, 2007 Posts: 155 Comments: 18395

Viewing: 260 - 210

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15Blog Index

Top of Page


Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

JeffMasters's Recent Photos

Gust front cloud, SE Michigan
Thunderstorm over Grand Teton
Double rainbow over Old Faithful
Rainbow in Riverside Geyser