Wintertime tornadoes in Middle Tennessee

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – When it comes to winter weather in Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, most of us are on the lookout for snow.

But in this part of the country, severe weather, including tornadoes is not uncommon.

Total number of tornadoes by month in Middle Tennessee from 1811 to 2020

The deadliest tornado in 88 years in Middle Tennessee roared through Macon, Trousdale, and Sumner Counties on the night of February 5, 2008, a part of what is called the “Super Tuesday Outbreak.”

Macon County February, 2008
Sumner County February, 2008

Twenty-two people died that night from the tornado and two more died from indirect effects (one from a heart attack, the other from carbon monoxide poisoning the next day from a generator).

But there are some notable tornadoes from the month of January as well.

Clarksville January, 1999

“The biggest one in my memory was the downtown Clarksville tornado back in January of 1999,” said Sam Shamburger, lead forecaster for the Nashville National Weather Service office. “That one moved right through the downtown area of Clarksville and was part of a really big outbreak of tornadoes that hit Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West and Middle Tennessee.”

Clarksville January, 1999

“We also had a big outbreak of tornadoes back in January of 2013. We had 24 tornadoes all across Middle Tennessee, most of which were weak EF-0s and EF-1s, but we did have an EF-2 tornado in Mt. Juliet in Wilson County, and also another EF-2 that destroyed much of the community of Coble in western Hickman County.”

Mt. Juliet, January, 2013

These are only a handful of the wintertime tornadoes that have happened in the Mid-State (see a link to all tornadoes at the end of this post).

So, what makes winter tornadoes so common in the Mid-South as opposed to the traditional Great Plains Tornado Alley? Along with the wintertime jet stream, we can get something they don’t get this time of the year – warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico.

“During the wintertime, we have a very strong jet stream right overhead most of the time here in Tennessee,” Shamburger explained. “And since we are due north of the Gulf of Mexico,
all it takes is just a little nudge of that Gulf moisture to come up here to interact with those strong winds and the jet stream overhead, and we can get ingredients favorable for severe weather and tornadoes.”

So now is a good time to make sure you’re prepared for severe weather with ways to receive warnings, including a NOAA Weather Radio with battery back-up for when electricity and/or cell phone service is cut off, and have a plan of action for you and your family when a tornado warning is issued.

For some more tornado history, see the Nashville National Weather Service office’s Past Weather Events and Storm Surveys page and their Tennessee Tornado Stats page.

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