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The Super Tuesday Tornado Outbreak of 2020

Nashville Tornado Outbreak

“We woke up to the sound of a freight train,” said one survivor of the early morning tornado of March 3, 2020. “Super Tuesday” primary voting day in Nashville, Tennessee.

In a period of about three hours, Tennessee was struck by at least six tornadoes, three rated EF-3 strength, two EF-2, and an EF-1. An EF-2 tornado completely removes the roof of a well-built house. EF-3s remove the roof and knock down some, but not all, walls. The state is counting two-dozen dead, with many more hospitalized.

As a meteorologist here in Tornado Alley, let me state unequivocally: No one should be alerted to a tornado’s arrival by the sound of a freight train. Every home in America should be using NOAA Weather Radio, the indoor tornado siren. These devices were specifically designed to save lives in nocturnal tornadoes. By Public Alert certification, they are required to have a 76-decibel alert tone that makes sure you’re awakened not by the sound of the tornado, but by the National Weather Service telling you to seek shelter…immediately.

Plenty of Warning

And there was plenty of warning for these tornadoes. The gentleman who was awakened by “the sound of a freight train” lived in East Nashville, where two people were killed. If he had a NOAA Weather Radio, he would have been awakened six minutes earlier, when the National Weather Service issued their tornado warning:

National Weather Service Report of the March 3, 2020 Tornado Warning

In fact, with a NOAA Weather Radio, he would have known about that night’s risk of severe weather because the radio would have alerted him when the Tornado Watch was issued an hour-and-a-half before the tornado struck:

National Weather Service Nashville Tornado Watch Map, March 3, 2020

In the above image, the counties outlined in red, including Nashville’s Davidson County, were highlighted for a “moderate” risk of tornadoes in Tornado Watch #36, issued before midnight. The Nashville office of the National Weather Service did an outstanding job issuing the Nashville tornado warning based upon radar-detected rotation inside this severe thunderstorm:

National Weather Service Tornado Warning Map, March 3, 2020

In the above image, the red box is the tornado warning polygon centered over Davidson County, and covering much of Nashville. The moment this tornado warning was issued, NOAA Weather Radios throughout Davidson County alerted everyone to the tornado threat…a full six minutes before the tornado struck East Nashville.

In Putnam County, NOAA Weather Radio gave a ten-minute warning that a deadly tornado was heading toward Cookeville. Below is the radar image from 1:48 am, showing the tornadic thunderstorm entering Putnam County, where 18 people tragically died.

National Weather Service Putnam County, Tennessee Tornado Warning Map, March 3, 2020

NOAA Weather Radios Defend Against Nocturnal Tornadoes

Nocturnal tornadoes are the deadliest tornadoes because they strike when people are sleeping. Although cell phones receive weather alerts, there are initial reports the cell system in Cookeville did not perform well. NOAA Weather Radio did. Please take a moment to think about your family’s safety and security and ask yourself, “Why wouldn’t I do everything I can to protect my family?”

Every home should have a NOAA Weather Radio. For the price of a night at the movies, you’ll have a device that gives you instant, official, life-saving alerts direct from your local National Weather Service office, 24/7/365. Every home should have multiple, redundant methods of receiving warnings, but nothing beats NOAA Weather Radio, the official “Voice of the National Weather Service”. Get one, and sleep protected. No one in America should be alerted to an approaching tornado by the sound of a freight train.

Bruce Jones
AMS-Certified Broadcast Meteorologist
Midland Radio Corporation
Kansas City