The Nashville Tornadoes of March 2-3, 2020

Although life as we all know it has changed since this weather event only about a month ago, and even since just a few weeks ago when I wrote this post, we are still committed to reviewing past weather events, providing weather safety information, and generally discussing interesting meteorology topics via this blog. While we realize that life is not normal for so many of us, we hope that by continuing to blog on these important topics gives you, our readers, a sense of consistency and normalcy when everything in the world is changing by the minute.

I would also be remiss not to mention that, between the time which this blog was written a few weeks ago and the time it was pushed live to our website, yet another tragic round of severe weather impacted parts of the Southeast and Midwest on March 28. Numerous thunderstorms caused widespread wind damage and at least 30 reported tornadoes from Iowa and Illinois south to Kentucky and Arkansas. One of the largest was an EF-3 tornado which hit the city of Jonesboro, Arkansas. At least 83 homes were destroyed, and although there were 22 injuries, thankfully no fatalities were reported. The weather keeps marching on, further compounding and complicating the difficult situation of quarantine and social distancing which is already in effect due to the ongoing pandemic.

That being said, this blog post will focus on the deadly tornadoes which impacted the Nashville area on March 2 and 3, 2020.

On the evening of March 2 into March 3, deadly tornadoes marched through central Tennessee and made a direct hit on the city of Nashville. The storms were particularly deadly because some of the strongest impacts occurred after dark and during the overnight hours when most people were sleeping. At least 24 people lost their lives as a result of these storms, including at least five children under age 13. Countless others suffered injuries, and tens of thousands were left without power and suffered damage to their homes. While the most common time of day for tornadoes to occur is late afternoon or early evening, they can occur at any time of day. Let’s take a look at some of the ingredients that came together to create such a high-impact event.

Putnam County, TN tornado damage. Courtesy: National Weather Service.
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March Madness – And We Aren’t Talking Basketball

NCAA March Madness officially runs from March 17 through April 7 this year, but that’s not what this blog is about! March is here, spring is just around the corner, and we are entering one of the wildest months for weather. As one of the “shoulder” or transition months between winter and spring, March is known for a smorgasbord of wild weather events. Extreme cold? Check. Extreme heat? Check. Blizzards? Check. Tornadoes? Check. Flooding? Check. Let’s take a look back at some of the most historical weather events that have occurred in the third month of the year.

The National Weather Service in Cheyenne’s parking Lot in the thick of a blizzard in March 2019. Photo by NWS MIC Jeff Garmon.
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Tornado Preparedness? In December? Yep!

Hi friends. For those who might not be aware, the STM team is actually now based in two different areas – the Northeast, where we were founded, and the Southeast, where one of our team members now lives! Unsurprisingly, we now deal with very different weather-related issues. For example, at the time of this writing, I know that those of you living in New York are dealing with a winter storm all day today (December 17). On the other hand, yesterday I was able to go for a run in a tank top because the high temperature in my town was 75 degrees! Unfortunately, no location is perfect, and the southeast is known for it’s secondary severe weather season beginning in the late fall, sometimes lasting through early winter. In fact, on December 16, 2000, a powerful EF-4 tornado tore through Tuscaloosa County, killing 11 and injuring over 100. The tornado was on the ground for 18 miles, all within Tuscaloosa County. The tornado path was estimated to be 750 yards wide at its maximum intensity. Although the warnings were excellent for this tornado, the public perception still wasn’t where it should be.

Damage to houses from the December 16, 2000 tornado.
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Dallas Fort Worth October 2019 Tornado

While spring and summer are undoubtedly the most active times for severe thunderstorms across the United States, autumn also brings an increased risk of severe weather outbreaks. Dr. Gregory Forbes, a recognized severe weather expert, identified the second half of October and “especially November” as a notable time period for strong storm systems to develop. “In many ways, this is the counterpart to spring, when strong fronts and upper-air systems march across the United States. When enough warm, moist air accompanies these weather systems, the unstable conditions yield severe thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes,” Forbes said. His statement came after he examined storm statistics and found six of the largest 55 known tornado outbreaks on record had occurred in the fall. Over 1,000 tornadoes impact the United States each year, and more occur in Texas than any other state.

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A Look Back at Hurricane Michael

Three hundred and sixty-five days have passed since Hurricane Michael crashed into the Florida Panhandle, causing utter devastation. Michael made history as the first Category 5 hurricane (the highest category of the Saffir-Simpson scale with winds over 157 miles per hour) to make landfall in the Unites States since Andrew in 1992. It was also the first Category 5 hurricane on record to impact the Florida Panhandle.

Hurricane Michael beginning to make landall on October 10, 2018. Courtesy NASA
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Turn Around, Don’t Drown

This is it. We are in the peak of hurricane season. So far, we have had 12 named storms. We all know to prepare for and be wary of strong hurricanes, but even “weak” tropical systems can wreak just as much havoc. It’s important to remember that a tropical system’s strength is categorized solely by wind speed, but that flooding associated with a system (regardless of winds) can cause catastrophic impacts as well.

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Hurricane Dorian: A study in hurricane impacts

At the time of this writing on Tuesday, September 2, Hurricane Dorian is currently bringing heavy rain, winds and storm surge to the Bahamas as it makes its slow trek towards the eastern U.S. coastline. This storm has proven to be very difficult to forecast, in part because of its rapid intensification and slow speed. Let’s look back and see how this dangerous situation evolved and where the forecast impacts are expected in the next 3-5 days.

Satellite imagery of Hurricane Dorian over the Bahamas, September 1, 2019.
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Weather Recap: August 2019 Severe Weather in Upstate New York

For those of us who live in upstate New York, it may seem like the weather has been exceptionally active during the last two weeks. You are not imagining things; August 2019 has brought numerous rounds of severe weather and damaging winds to the region. Let’s look look back at the last two or three weeks to see what happened:

Wind damage in Albany, New York. Courtesy: Spectrum News.
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National Parks and Severe Weather

At this point in midsummer, it is hard NOT to have the outdoor bug, and many of us in the U.S. will head to our National Parks to enjoy the outdoors in a variety of ways. Did you know that Yellowstone was the first National Park, established in 1872? President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) is possibly the most well-known supporter of the development of the National Park System; during his terms in office, the number of National Parks doubled. The legislation known as the Antiquities Act, which he signed into law, gave him and future presidents the ability to declare historic landmarks and national monuments, many of which are part of the National Park System today. At our wide array of National Parks, Seashores, Reserves, Battlefields, Monuments, and Historic Sites, visitors can learn about the history and culture of our country, as well as enjoy and appreciate the huge variety of climates and beautiful scenery that exist in the United States.

Canyonlands National Park. Credit: NPS/Neal Herbert.
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