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Inside the deadly Nashville tornado: What caused the storm to become so dangerous?

Taking a look at the set up for last night’s severe weather in middle Tennessee

General view of a mural on heavily damaged The Basement East in the East Nashville neighborhood on March 3, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. A tornado passed through Nashville just after midnight leaving a wake of damage in its path including two people killed in East Nashville. (Photo by General view of a mural on heavily damaged The Basement East in the East Nashville neighborhood on March 3, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. A tornado passed through Nashville just after midnight leaving a wake of damage in its path including two people killed in East Nashville.
General view of a mural on heavily damaged The Basement East in the East Nashville neighborhood on March 3, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. A tornado passed through Nashville just after midnight leaving a wake of damage in its path including two people killed in East Nashville. (Photo by General view of a mural on heavily damaged The Basement East in the East Nashville neighborhood on March 3, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. A tornado passed through Nashville just after midnight leaving a wake of damage in its path including two people killed in East Nashville. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – You’ve likely heard about the severe storms that injured hundreds and killed nearly two dozen people in the Nashville area Monday night. We typically don’t see such dangerous tornadoes form this time of year, but they still happen on occasion. In fact, just last year on this same date, an EF-4 tornado killed 23 people in Lee County, Alabama.

A low pressure system was centered over the Indiana-Ohio border Monday night, with a cold front extending back to the southwest through Kentucky and Arkansas. A warm front was snaking down through Kentucky and Tennessee, providing the spark for severe storms. This was a particularly dangerous set up because all of this activity was happening at night when it’s more difficult to see if a tornado has formed.

Surface Map (3/3/2020 2 a.m. EST)
Surface Map (3/3/2020 2 a.m. EST) (WSLS)

The line of storms that produced the deadly tornado for the Nashville area moved through after midnight CST. The radar and velocity signatures at the time were quite impressive, allowing local broadcasters to alert locals to get in their safe places.

Nashville radar (2 a.m. EST)
Nashville radar (2 a.m. EST) (WSLS)

One way we can track where tornadoes will form is by analyzing a radar product known as “rotation tracks.” They let us know if the wind is rotating in the atmosphere within a thunderstorm. Using this product, we can see that a tornado (or funnel cloud) moved from west of the Nashville metro to areas east like Mount Juliet.

Rotation Tracks (Monday night)
Rotation Tracks (Monday night) (WSLS)

The National Weather Service office in Nashville has been conducting storm surveys throughout the day, finding up to EF-3 damage from up to 165 mph winds in places like Donelson and Mount Juliet. We are still waiting for the final storm survey report.

Nashville Tornado Survey (as of 3/3/2020 5 p.m. EST)
Nashville Tornado Survey (as of 3/3/2020 5 p.m. EST) (WSLS)

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