My Reminiscences of events, old and new, and travels, far and near
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Tornadoes through Nashville
On Monday March 2, 2020, I bought the two hyacinth plants shown in the heading photo. I love their fragrance and know that when hyacinths start blooming spring is getting close. Mother Nature gives us lovely plants and flowers but Mother Nature can also be very destructive. Going to bed that evening I checked the weather forecast. The Storm Prediction Center was predicting rain and a very small chance (2%) of tornado watch for portions of western and central Tennessee. They did not even say "tornado possible." At about 12:50 am, on the morning of March 3rd, I was suddenly awaken when my cell phone made a piercing shrieking noise. I looked - it said "Tornado warning, take cover." Just waking up it's a bit difficult to react quickly but I did go downstairs to the kitchen to pickup my cat and head into the basement. First I turned on the TV for news. They were showing the tornado path - it was about 3 miles north of me at the time. I stayed in the kitchen checking the path until about 2 am when it looked like the tornado was going away from downtown Nashville. On the map below, the tornado path is shown by an orange line. I placed a red dot where my house is located (under the letter S in Nashville.)
The weather map below also shows the tornado path. There is a red area shown under the letter V of Nashville. It is where my house is located, but I did not place the red mark there. It was on the weather map showing heavy storm and rain in my area, and it did uproot several trees close by.
Later I found out that the tornado warning was not issued until 12:35 am, when the tornado was in the process of demolishing the John C. Tune Airport (about 7 miles north of me.) This airport is the busiest general aviation airport in the state with more than 86,000 operations in 2019. It services our region's corporate and private aircraft. A well-known country music band had just landed their aircraft there around midnight. The damages to the airport are considerable. It is expected to cost $93 million in infrastructure, not including more than 90 damaged aircraft, 17 hangars, the airfield, pavement, signage, navigational aids, lightning and utilities. If there was a siren alert in my area, I never heard it. Here are photos at this airport. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
It seems that the tornado cell started at the John C. Tune airport then stayed on the ground for 60 miles, from Nashville in Davidson County through four more counties. Actually the latest news indicate that it was not just one tornado, but seven tornadoes ending with an EF-4 tornado, categorized as "extreme" with winds up to 200 miles per hour (322 km.) Below is a map showing where the Nashville tornado started, at the airport - I placed a green dot below it. My house is below it indicated with a red dot.
Growing up in Paris, France, I had never heard of tornadoes or witnessed any close by. But here, we have them often. For those lucky souls who do not have tornadoes in their countries, a tornado is a violent rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. They are also called "twister." Violent tornadoes bring destruction to everything in their path, and are one of nature's most devastating forces. From the Tune's Airport the tornadoes went through West Nashville and totally destroyed the new agricultural research center of Tennessee State University (a loss estimated at between $30 and $50 million.) I mapped it on Google and this university is only 3 miles from my home. It went on through North Nashville, trendy East Nashville, Germantown and Five Points, were two people died. I'll show the area in a close-up map below. To give you an idea of distance, my house is about 1 mile or less from the Parthenon Park.
The tornado also severely damaged the historical Tennessee State Prison, built in 1898, closed in 1992. Built like a fortress it was used in several films. Below are pictures of the prison, before and after.
I spent most of that afternoon watching the local television stations showing images of the damages. The music community had set up a phone bank with the Red Cross to receive donations. The telephones were answered by well-known country music stars and other celebrities. Dolly Parton came live on television to bring words of comfort (she lives south of the city in a suburb.) Others wrote messages of support on social media, such as longtime Nashville resident Taylor Swift who donated $1 million to the Emergency Fund. Chris Young Music donated $50,000. Many others contributed and sent their wishes including Keith Urban, Jack Owen who said "We as NASHVILLE will stand together and help anyone and everyone in need. That's why I'm proud to live here and call it home." Tim McGraw" "We are heartbroken for our community after last night's tragic tornado, but know that together we will rise up and rebuilt again!" Martina McBride, Ricky Skaggs, Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus, Faith Hill, Reba McIntire: "My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the Nashville area affected by the tornado last night. Even if the tornado didn't hit our personal space, we are affected because we are Nashvillians." Maren Morris: "The tornado must have missed our block by an inch because we are alright, but I am so depleted looking at the damage that has happened to our beautiful city." The Nashville Predators (ice hockey) were providing free pizzas to those affected.
The images on television showed terrible destruction that was beyond dramatic. I took photos from them (courtesy WKRN, WSMV and others.)
More photos - courtesy The Tennessean.
Five Points in East Nashville with a high musician-to-civilian ratio is a hip community with thriving locally-owned businesses, full of bars, vintage stores, coffee shops and small restaurants. More than 40 restaurants are closed - some heavily damaged, some completely destroyed.
As the tornadoes increased in strength they brought more destruction to the counties outside of Nashville. Most had only 60 seconds of warning, in the middle of the night. Just think, 60 seconds coming out of a sound sleep to gather your family, pets, etc. Most of the fatalities, at least 22, were in those counties. The national average for warning lead time is around 8 to 10 minutes before the tornado first touches down, that's not what they got. The photo on the extreme top right side is Stoner Elementary school; at least no children were attending school then.
Utility crews, including some from other states, worked to repair the more than 600 downed poles. Almost 20,000 people signed on the website of "Hands on Nashville" to assist with tornado cleaning. So many volunteers showed up the next day that there were long lines of helpers waiting to clean up the destroyed areas. These tornadoes devastated the lives of many residents; small independent businesses may never recover. I hope that help and funds will keep coming for recovery as other tragedies unfurl. Here in Cobb County, Georgia, there is a case of Novel Coronavirus and a large group of cruise ship passengers are coming to stay at Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, about 8 miles from my home. (My son-in-law was driving to Atlanta from Nashville last weekend and gave me a ride to my GA house, so I am in Cobb County now.) People here are concerned about the virus. More tragedies...