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 Brief Recap of the May 2019 Severe Outbreak

Just two short weeks ago we posted a blog that looked into the severe weather that occurred on May 20, 2019. Little did we know that this was just the beginning! Over a 12-day period that stretched from May 17 through May 30, more than 285 tornadoes touched down across 22 states. The May storms also included hailstorms (including grapefruit-sized hail in Wellington, Texas!) and frequent heavy rainfall, sometimes at record levels, over areas that were already saturated. This led to extensive flooding and flash flooding, which frequently interfered with emergency efforts related to tornado damage.

Map of tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service between May 17 and May 29, 2019 over the eastern United States and tornadoes confirmed and surveyed by the National Weather Service. Map produced in QGIS with border outlines from the United States Census Bureau. National Weather Service warning outlines available from the Iowa Environmental Mesonet and tornado data available from the National Weather Service. Credit: TheAustinMan
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Great Plains Severe Weather and Tornadoes: May 20, 2019

A storm system moving into the Great Plains this past Monday resulted in an outbreak of severe weather, including flooding and some tornadoes, across portions of Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. Thankfully, none of the reported tornadoes did extensive damage or caused widespread injuries. This was thanks in part to the fact that the tornadic storms did not hit major metropolitan areas, but also largely due to excellent communication of risk and appropriate preparedness actions by the National Weather Service. Let’s take a closer look at how this event unfolded…

Courtesy: KWTV-KOTV.
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Wild Weather Extremes: April 2019 Snow and Severe Weather

When meteorologist educators teach students of all levels, one of the first things we do is to distinguish the difference between weather and climate. Technically speaking, weather is the day-to-day conditions that describe the state of the atmosphere, while climate is an average of weather conditions at a particular place, generally averaged over a 30 year time period. In my classes, I always say that the best way to remember this distinction is that ‘weather impacts your daily life’. Many disruptions to people’s lives were caused as a result of a very dynamic spring weather pattern which has been present over the continental United States for the last few weeks.

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Severe Weather/Tornado Recap and Preparedness Weeks

This past weekend, the United States experienced its most deadly tornado outbreak since May of 2013, when a large tornado killed 24 people in the town of Moore, Oklahoma. On March 3, 2019, a series of tornadoes tracked across the U.S. Gulf Coast, impacting Alabama, Georgia, the Florida Panhandle, and western South Carolina.

Courtesy: CNN.com
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