NWS radar operator tracked the tornado into his own neighborhood

Nashville Tornado

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Imagine if you were the meteorologist at the National Weather Service operating the radar and issuing the warnings during the March 3rd tornado, and it was heading straight for your neighborhood in Mt. Juliet where your wife and two small children were.

That’s exactly the situation Meteorologist Matt Reagan found himself in that night.

“The super-cell, we were tracking it all the way from the river,” recalled Reagan. “I noticed around John Tune we had the debris signature. We got the tornado warning out.”

“At that time, I called my wife and told her to clean the closet out. And at that point, she knew it was serious, because I’ve never called her to tell her that. So, she kind of prepared. And then when it got a little bit closer I told her to go ahead and take shelter. She went over to the neighbor’s house. The storm continued through Hermitage into Mount Juliet.”

And Matt had apparently prepared for a situation like this.

“I have a little place marker on my radar program where my house is,” he explained. “So, I could tell it was going to be very close, very close. And so one scan of the radar came in, and it was pretty much in the neighborhood. So, I knew it was going to be a very close call. Once the next scan came in I tried to call her and couldn’t get through. The cell towers were down, obviously. I did send a text. In about 10 minutes later she did send me a text saying that they were OK and the house is OK.”

So what was going through Matt’s mind, knowing he still had to do his job to save lives of others in the path of the tornado?

“It was tough. Trying to act professionally,” Reagan explained. “There were other people that needed the warning. And there were plenty of phone calls coming in about damage from over in east Nashville and downtown. We were getting those reports. So I had that. But also obviously in the back of my mind, waiting to hear from her. And once that text came through saying that they were OK, it made it a lot easier to kind of take a deep breath and refocus. Because things were still going strong.”

And when Matt’s shift was done, he got to see just how close a call it was for his wife and children.

“The tornado did go through the neighborhood,” Reagan said. “I live in the neighborhood close to West Wilson Middle School, which was hit. The tornado went about 200 yards to our south. “

“On our side of the street, we had nothing. Our neighbors on the other side of the street had trees blown down going to the south from the inflow of that. I would say that there was probably about 30 houses that were torn down in my neighborhood. “

“The top-rated damage in our neighborhood was low-end EF-3.” explained Reagan. “So, once I got off around 7 or 8 o’clock the next morning going home and seeing that, it was definitely surreal.”

Matt said you never think it would be your house or your neighborhood – and he thought the same. He had this advice, “I would say have a plan. You know that’s something we do preach,” Reagan emphasized. “I talked to my wife afterward. We were saying that I don’t know what we would’ve done if that had been our house that was destroyed.’ So, I think now we’re more prepared. If there is a Tornado Watch go ahead and have a helmet in the closet you’re going to go in. Have shoes, have a flashlight, all that stuff ready to go in your safe space ahead of time. So, when you do get the warning, at 12:30 at night when you are disoriented, all you have to do is get yourself into that safe place.”

That’s some good advice from a meteorologist who has seen it from both sides, on the radar, and then his own neighborhood.

Matt said his wife now has a network of people in the neighborhood that she texts if severe weather is headed their way. That came in handy three months later when the May 3rd Derecho blasted through Middle Tennessee.


See how hope has overcome heartbreak across the area. News 2 brings you special reports Tennessee Stronger: A Year of Recovery all day Wednesday in every newscast and on WKRN.com.

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