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The Great Nashville Tornado of 1998

By: Astrometeor , 3:19 AM GMT on April 17, 2014

On this date in 1998, a F3 tornado tracked straight through the heart of Nashville. The only fatality from the storm was a college student underneath a tree who died from injuries sustained. The mere fact of losing only one person is astounding, considering some of the surprised tourists who didn't know what a tornado looked like, or that Nashville even got them. My father was working (and still does) in the Andrew Jackson State Office Building, and he witnessed the tornado coming nearly head-on before he took shelter in the building's stairwell. I was merely a toddler, not even 2. My little brother was to be born 2 months later. My older brother and my sister were sent home early, with the storms practically bearing down on them as they raced up the driveway after the school bus dropped them off.

An 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.

Due to several errors apparent in Storm Data for this historic event, a reanalysis was undertaken in 2013 using radar data, NWS research and documentation, spotter reports, and Google Earth imagery.  Based on this information, several updates were made to the times, paths, and damage information for these tornadoes.  Some of the longer track tornadoes were also determined to be separate tornadoes, and a final total of 13 tornadoes is listed below.  However, a few other tornadoes may have also touched down across Middle Tennessee, as indicated by radar imagery.

Read more here.

There are some great youtube videos out there as well, one shows tourists being pulled inside a building while the tourists are asking why are there sirens going off. Oh, tourists...
Here's one for example. Some people held on to their videos for a number of years before putting them online. I've always had a hard time discerning just where the twister's edges were, it almost seemed as if the entire wall cloud dropped to the surface.

My avatar happens to be a screen-shot of the radar picture just before the supercell entered Metro Nashville.

Wiki page (rather short, in my opinion)

Mom said that the weather forecasters the day before were brilliant. Almost to the hour when to expect storms. She said that they were told to “expect storms in the morning, followed with tornadoes in the mid-afternoon.” That's exactly what happened. This might explain the low death toll. However, the fact that the F3 crossed I-24 during rush hour...and didn't kill anyone, is still amazing.

Please, go check out those youtube videos, that tornado is a very important event in Nashville's history. Every person who was here for that remembers picture-perfect what they were doing that day. Just purely amazing. Too bad I was only 1 year of age. Thanks for reading!

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Reader Comments

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6. BaltimoreBrian
8:33 PM GMT on April 29, 2014
I was thinking about you folding your shirts that way in your dresser at Millersville :)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
5. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
3:27 AM GMT on April 25, 2014
Astrometeor has created a new entry.
4. Astrometeor
8:30 PM GMT on April 21, 2014
Duly noted, Brian. I actually like the second video more than the first, seems more practical.

But I don't use furniture dressers at hotel rooms...my travel bags work just fine for that purpose.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
3. BaltimoreBrian
12:28 AM GMT on April 20, 2014
Some life tips before you go to college:

How to take off your T-shirt

And how to put your T-shirts away. Really.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
2. Astrometeor
4:23 AM GMT on April 17, 2014
Quoting BaltimoreBrian:
1998 was a bad year for tornadoes. We had a close call in the Baltimore/Washington DC area with the La Plata MD tornado in 2002, an F-4

Depends on your perspective of "bad". I'm just amazed that an F3 hit I-24 head on, with heavy traffic, and no one was killed.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1. BaltimoreBrian
3:58 AM GMT on April 17, 2014
1998 was a bad year for tornadoes. We had a close call in the Baltimore/Washington DC area with the La Plata MD tornado in 2002, an F-4
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

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