Tornado outbreak of March 2–3, 2020
Part of the tornado outbreaks of 2020
Confirmed tornadoes received by the Storm Prediction Center
|Duration||March 2–3, 2020|
|Max. rating1||EF4 tornado|
|Casualties||26 fatalities (+1 indirect), 309 injuries|
|Areas affected||Tennessee, Alabama, southern Kentucky, southeastern Missouri|
|1Most severe tornado damage; see Enhanced Fujita scale|
A series of large tornadoes touched down in West and Middle Tennessee on the night of March 2 and into the morning of March 3, 2020, including one that hit downtown Nashville and another that impacted areas just west of Cookeville. Twenty-six people were killed by the tornadoes, more than 300 were injured, and more than 70,000 lost power in the storm. The path of the Nashville tornado was very similar to the one that hit East Nashville in 1998. Tornadoes were also confirmed in Alabama, southeastern Missouri, and western Kentucky.
The threat for severe weather across Middle Tennessee and surrounding areas was not forecast well in advance. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) first issued a slight risk across northeastern Arkansas into the Tennessee Valley area in their 06:00 UTC March 2 outlook. In their forecast, the SPC noted that an unstable atmosphere was likely to materialize ahead of an approaching cold front, but that this environment would likely be contained by a capping inversion for most of the day.
By the afternoon hours, the SPC expected the combination of rich moisture, modest wind shear, and cold mid-level temperatures to promote the formation of supercells with a primary risk of large hail. Some tornadic activity appeared possible overnight given an increase in low-level winds. At 5:20 p.m. CST, the first tornado watch was issued from northern Arkansas northeastward into southern Indiana and western Kentucky as discrete storms began to develop.
By 11:00 p.m. CST, as a surface low progressed northeastward through southern Missouri, sustained barometric pressure falls caused supercell storms to give way to an organized storm cluster that gradually weakened as it progressed into an area of less abundant moisture. As convection weakened to the north, the SPC began to monitor areas farther south – encompassing eastern Arkansas, West Tennessee, and southwestern Kentucky – for reinvigorated thunderstorm development as the northern jet stream amplified southeastward into the risk area. Strong wind shear coupled with low instability was expected to promote activity with "a risk for severe hail, strong surface gusts and perhaps potential for a tornado or two." At 11:20 p.m. CST, a localized tornado watch was issued across middle Tennessee. In subsequent hours, a long-lived and intense supercell produced numerous tornadoes along the Interstate 40 corridor, including an EF2 tornado that touched down north of Camden, Tennessee, killing one person, an upper-end EF3 tornado in the vicinities of Nashville and Lebanon, killing six people, and an EF4 tornado in the vicinity of Cookeville, killing an additional 19 people.
March 2 event
|EF#||Location||County / Parish||State||Start Coord.||Time (UTC)||Path length||Max width||Summary||Refs|
|EF1||S of Crofton||Christian||KY||02:00–02:06||5.5 mi (8.9 km)||400 yd (370 m)||A meteorologist observed this tornado as it crossed Highway 41 just south of Crofton. Four farm structures and two garages were either damaged or destroyed, and several homes sustained minor roof, window, and siding damage. Numerous trees were uprooted along the path.|||
|EF1||S of Bradford||Gibson||TN||04:12–04:23||7 mi (11 km)||100 yd (91 m)||Several homes and grain bins were damaged, and trees were downed.|||
|EF2||NW of Huntingdon to NW of Bruceton||Carroll||TN||04:41–04:57||14 mi (23 km)||100 yd (91 m)||Houses, barns, and grain bins were damaged. Numerous trees were downed.|||
|EF2||NNW of Camden to N of Waverly||Benton, Humphreys||TN||05:05–05:31||19.01 mi (30.59 km)||250 yd (230 m)||1 death – Several homes and mobile homes were damaged, and many trees were downed in Benton County before the tornado crossed the Tennessee River in Humphreys County. The tornado downed hundreds more trees and damaged the roof of a small outbuilding before dissipating. Two people were injured in Benton County.|||
|EF0||N of McEwen||Humphreys||TN||05:42–05:48||4.8 mi (7.7 km)||50 yd (46 m)||The tornado touched down just northwest of town and moved off to the east, damaging a small barn and causing roof damage to a house. Several trees were downed along the path.|||
March 3 event
|EF#||Location||County / Parish||State||Start Coord.||Time (UTC)||Path length||Max width||Summary||Refs|
|EF2||SE of Alvaton||Warren, Allen||KY||06:15–06:19||2.2 mi (3.5 km)||250 yd (230 m)||A low-end EF2 tornado embedded within a larger area of straight-line wind damage which destroyed three barns and caused significant roof and siding damage to two houses. A horse trailer was thrown 70 yards (64 m), and over 500 trees were knocked down in all directions.|||
|EF3||W of Nashville to Lebanon to SE of Gordonsville||Davidson, Wilson, Smith||TN||06:32–07:35||60.13 mi (96.77 km)||800 yd (730 m)||6 deaths – See section on this tornado – 220 people were injured.|||
|EF0||ESE of Gordonsville to W of Baxter||Smith, Putnam||TN||07:37–07:42||5.98 mi (9.62 km)||50 yd (46 m)||This tornado touched down after the Nashville EF3 lifted. It moved across hilly terrain just north of Buffalo Valley, taking down trees in Smith County and causing roof damage to several homes in the St. Mary's community of Putnam County before dissipating near the Middle Tennessee Dragway. Several outbuildings were damaged as well.|||
|EF4||NW of Baxter to Cookeville||Putnam||TN||07:48–07:56||8.29 mi (13.34 km)||300 yd (270 m)||19 deaths – See section on this tornado – 87 people were injured.|||
|EF0||SE of Cookeville||Putnam||TN||08:05–08:06||0.23 mi (0.37 km)||25 yd (23 m)||This brief tornado along U.S. Route 70N in the Dry Valley area southeast of Cookeville caused roof damage to a house, a metal garage, and an outbuilding. Several trees had large branches broken.|||
|EF1||SSW of Clarkrange to SSE of Deer Lodge||Cumberland, Morgan||TN||08:25–08:42||17.29 mi (27.83 km)||500 yd (460 m)||The last tornado produced by the Nashville supercell touched down along U.S. Route 127, causing roof damage to a mobile home. It then destroyed two outbuildings, caused roof damage to two homes, and pushed over a power pole. Two more outbuildings were destroyed before the tornado continued into the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area and later into Morgan County, where it exited the Catoosa WMA and flipped over a carport before dissipating. Hundreds of trees were downed along the path in both counties.|||
|EF0||S of Greensboro||Hale||AL||12:04–12:12||4.34 mi (6.98 km)||220 yd (200 m)||Numerous trees were snapped and uprooted along the tornado's path. Some homes suffered damage to shingles and siding, as well as some minor structural damage.|||
|EF1||WSW of Talladega National Forest to NE of Lawley||Bibb||AL||12:28–12:38||6.21 mi (9.99 km)||525 yd (480 m)||A manufactured home was blown off its foundation and at least several dozen trees were snapped or uprooted. A few houses were damaged, and more trees were downed in a wooded area and near the Lawley fire department and community center.|||
Nashville–Mount Juliet–Lebanon, Tennessee
This high-end EF3 tornado touched down around 12:32 a.m. CST (06:32 UTC) in far western Davidson County along River Road, seven miles (11 km) northeast of Pegram. The tornado crossed the Cumberland River through Bells Bend and crossed it a second time before heavily damaging the John C. Tune Airport and an industrial area along Centennial Boulevard at EF2 strength. The airport suffered significant damage to its terminal and other buildings, including 17 hangars on the property; more than 90 aircraft parked at the airport—including charter jets, smaller airplanes, and a newsgathering helicopter operated by CBS affiliate WTVF—were destroyed. It crossed Briley Parkway and struck the former Tennessee State Prison, which sustained considerable damage. The tornado crossed the Cumberland a third time and traveled through river bottomland in the Bordeaux community before crossing the river again and causing major damage in the North Nashville neighborhood, including part of the Tennessee State University campus. Agricultural buildings on the campus were heavily damaged, resulting in the deaths of two calves and injuries to several goats.
Passing into the Germantown area, just north of the Tennessee State Capitol, the tornado produced a widespread swath of damage consistent with an EF2 rating. Around this time, local news media in Nashville began reporting power flashes and showing video of the tornado as it moved through the area, including WTVF, whose studio facility—located near James Robertson Parkway, just between Germantown and the State Capitol—just missed a direct hit by the tornado. After crossing the Cumberland for the fifth time along the Jefferson Street Bridge, the tornado struck Topgolf and an industrial area, causing damage at EF1 intensity. It then crossed Interstate 24 at Spring Street and produced major EF3-strength damage in East Nashville, crossing the path of the April 16, 1998 F3 tornado in the Five Points neighborhood. Two fatalities occurred in this area. The damage continued at EF1 to EF2 strength back across the river and across Briley Parkway into Donelson, where high-end EF3 damage was observed. The tornado crossed the Stones River twice and destroyed part of Donelson Christian Academy and the Stanford Estates neighborhood before crossing the Stones River a third time and continuing into Hermitage. Major EF1 to EF2-strength damage was observed along Lebanon Pike, Central Pike, Old Hickory Boulevard, and Tulip Grove Road as the tornado began to closely parallel Interstate 40 into Wilson County.
The tornado moved into Mount Juliet, causing two more deaths on Catalpa Drive. It maintained a six-mile (9.7 km) swath of high-end EF3 strength as it crossed North Mount Juliet Road and substantially damaged Mount Juliet Christian Academy, West Wilson Middle School, and Stoner Creek Elementary. It continued down the north side of Interstate 40 toward Lebanon, causing severe damage through residential, commercial, and industrial areas between the two cities. A fifth fatality occurred in a CEVA Logistics warehouse near Beckwith Road and Volunteer Drive. While on the interstate in this area, around six tractor-trailers were blown from the eastbound lanes into the westbound lanes, resulting in the interstate being closed for around 12 hours. Further east, a sixth person was killed in a building along Eastgate Boulevard. The last area of EF3-strength damage was observed to warehouses along Eastgate Boulevard as the tornado weakened to EF2 intensity, producing more damage across Highway 109 and along Leeville Pike and Tuckers Gap Road. In Lebanon, many homes and businesses suffered considerable EF1 to EF2 damage, including two large cemeteries, Lebanon Municipal Airport, Walmart, and Lowe's as the tornado crossed South Hartmann Drive, South Maple Street, and South Cumberland Street. The Wilson County Fairgrounds was affected as the tornado crossed Sparta Pike and moved east out of town. It continued along the interstate between Lebanon and Tuckers Crossroads, causing damage on both sides of the interstate along Bluebird Road and Coe Lane. As the tornado passed Linwood Road, a gas station and a heavy equipment auctioneer's property were damaged.
The tornado then moved into Smith County, producing EF1-type damage in the Grant and New Middleton communities. The tornado dipped south of the interstate at New Middleton, continuing to damage houses and other buildings as it crossed ridges and valleys through southern Gordonsville, with most of the damage occurring on Agee Branch Road, Hickman Highway, and Maple Street. More tree and structural damage was observed as the tornado left Gordonsville at EF1 intensity before it lifted east-northeast of Hickman along Lancaster Highway at 1:35 a.m. CST (07:35 UTC). The tornado caused six fatalities and approximately 220 injuries along the 60.13-mile (96.77 km) path, which is one of the longest continuous damage paths in Tennessee history.
The supercell quickly produced another tornado, rated EF0, in the Club Springs community across Interstate 40 and the Caney Fork River, approximately two miles (3.2 km) east of the end of the damage path of this tornado.
Putnam County, Tennessee
The supercell responsible for the Nashville tornado ascended the Highland Rim and produced another tornado northwest of Baxter at 1:49 a.m. CST (07:49 UTC) on March 3. The tornado moved east along U.S. Route 70N toward Cookeville, producing EF0 damage along the first couple miles of the path before crossing Tennessee State Route 56 and proceeding to cause catastrophic damage in numerous subdivisions. The tornado intensified to EF1 and EF2 strength along Prosperity Drive, damaging several houses, before cutting a narrow damage swath through neighborhoods in Double Springs and into the west side of Cookeville. It strengthened to EF3 along Bloomington Road, Clemmons Road, and Plunk Whitson Road, badly damaging several more homes.
The tornado then attained EF4 intensity in the area of Hensley Drive, McBroom Chapel Road, and Echo Valley Drive, where the most severe damage occurred along with numerous fatalities. Around three dozen homes, an apartment complex, and several other buildings were completely destroyed in this area as EF4-strength damage continued for nearly one mile. Some of these structures were swept off of their foundations, including Echo Valley Market. The area of Hensley Drive sustained the most concentrated area of catastrophic damage. Continuing toward Cookeville, the tornado produced damage consistent with an EF2 to EF3 rating along Locust Grove Road, Tennessee Avenue, and Highway 70N. At the intersection of Pippin Road and West Jackson Street with West Broad Street (Highway 70N), an Exxon gas station was severely damaged, and a used car dealership across the street was flattened, with only the basement of the building remaining.
The tornado continued a little further east into Cookeville before it abruptly dissipated at North Franklin Avenue and West 6th Street at 1:56 a.m. CST (07:56 UTC), just west of Cookeville Regional Medical Center and southwest of Tennessee Tech; the university remained closed for the two days following the storm. A tornado debris signature appeared on radar as the tornado moved into Cookeville. This tornado was given an EF4 rating, with maximum estimated winds of 175 mph (282 km/h). A total of 19 people were killed and 87 more were injured along the 8.23-mile (13.24 km) path.
Nashville Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was partially activated in the morning to monitor damage reports and respond to emergency calls. A gas leak in Germantown made authorities conduct an evacuation. Governor Bill Lee declared a state of emergency for all of Tennessee. President Donald Trump visited the state on March 6. The Nashville Predators opened their home arena, Bridgestone Arena, for victims of the storm to get help and free pizza on March 3.
Metro Nashville Public Schools, Wilson County Schools, and Putnam County Schools were closed for the rest of the week, with Mount Juliet Christian Academy, West Wilson Middle School and the adjacent Stoner Creek Elementary in Mount Juliet being heavily damaged and closed the remainder of the school year. Donelson Christian Academy was mostly destroyed as well.
The tornadoes struck a few hours before the voting was scheduled to open for the Tennessee Super Tuesday primary. A delay of one hour was announced for the opening of polls in Davidson and Wilson counties; they were set to close on time. Although many poll officials as well as polling sites were affected, the polling was scheduled to continue with adjustments. Two election commission offices in Davidson County were designated as "super sites" where anyone from the counties affected by the tornadoes could vote. Generators were supplied to polling sites without power. Fifteen sites diverted voters to alternate locations. On request from four of the democratic primary candidates, the Davidson County Superior Court judge issued a ruling extending voting in the county by an hour; five sites were set to open for voting until 10:00 p.m. CST.
- March 1933 Nashville tornado outbreak
- Tornado outbreak of March 2–3, 2012 - Also produced significant tornadoes in Kentucky and Tennessee on the same dates.
- Tornado outbreak of April 15–16, 1998 - An outbreak that produced an F3 tornado in Nashville along a similar path to the 1933 and 2020 storms.
- 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak - A similar tornado outbreak in Tennessee on Super Tuesday in 2008.
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