Experts: Dealing with Cummins Falls watershed still a learning curve

Weather

The series of creeks and streams that make up the watershed that feeds to Cummins Falls actually begins in the northwest corning of Cookeville and generally encompasses an area north of 12th Street (which becomes Gainesboro Grade) to the west of Highway 135.

The rainfall that falls in that area generally takes around an hour and forty-five minutes to two hours to actually reach the falls, according to Park Manager Ray Cutcher.

Radar showed thunderstorms persisted over that region from 2-3 p.m. Sunday afternoon. That timing generally stacks up with the surge of water that trapped people below the falls and caused the tragic drowning of a 2-year-old boy around 5 p.m.

Unfortunately, the amount of rain that fell during that hour was not high enough to warrant a Flash Flood Warning.

Doppler Radar rainfall estimates showed roughly .50″ to .80″ during that one-hour period, with a small slice of the western part of the watershed receiving 1.00 to 1.20″ of rain.

So what can be done to prevent tragedies such as what occurred on Sunday?

After a similar incident in 2017, The National Weather Service and Cummins Falls State Park officials researched what type of rainfall amounts could cause a dangerous surge of water at the falls.

According to Larry Vannozzi, Meteorologist in Charge at NWS Nashville, the weather service agreed to notify park rangers if rainfall amounts reached or exceeded 1.50 to 2.00″ in the watershed.

Vannozzi noted that the lower amounts this weekend proves that there is still a learning curve to predicting these events in the tricky terrain and maze of creeks leading to Cummins Falls and that these thresholds for rainfall may need to be lowered.

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