“All the ingredients were there. We certainly had a major outbreak that day,” said Bobby Boyd, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Old Hickory. He was on duty on April 16, 1998 and issued 200 severe weather warnings, 106 of which were tornado warnings. The severe weather began shortly after midnight April 16 in West Tennessee and continued to move east throughout the day. The first tornado began as a supercell thunderstorm over Humphries County and moved east into Dickson County. Boyd said a tornado warning was issued for Cheatham and Davidson Counties once the familiar “hook echo” appeared on radar.
The warning specifically included Downtown Nashville and it struck there about 3:30 p.m. “It did considerable damage,” Boyd noted.
It continued on an eastward path through East Nashville, Donelson, Hermitage and came within about a mile south of the weather service’s office in Old Hickory near Old Hickory Lake. The tornado continued almost parallel to Lebanon Road, then turned and went into Trousdale County.
That tornado was determined to be an F-3 on the Fujita Scale with winds 158-206 mph. It followed a track of about 15 miles, killing one person, a Vanderbilt University student who was crushed by a fallen tree, and injured 60. The tornado caused $100 million in damage.
The tornado followed an 18-1/2-mile path, uprooting trees, knocking down power lines and poles, damaging and destroying homes. The Mt. Juliet Little League Park was littered with aluminum and lumber from a nearby hardware store, the former Marvin’s on Highway 70/Lebanon Road. In addition, the roof at First Bank in Mt. Juliet was blown off. Damage was estimated at $1 million. No one was killed or injured.
Another tornado touched down near the Nashville International Airport, an F-2 with winds 113-157 mph, in Nashville and followed a 20-mile path into Wilson County. It turned right then moved south of Lebanon Road into west Lebanon where it damaged and destroyed some houses and businesses along West Main Street. It also damaged the TRW plant, uprooted trees and caused extreme losses to agriculture in the area. Fences were destroyed, 26 outbuildings and 21 vehicles were damaged. Property damage was placed at $3 million.
The third tornado touched down 1 mile north of Nashville with an emergency office worker noting it was at 12th Avenue and Charlotte Pike then at 6th Avenue and Union Street. It did a reported $500,000 in damage and was on the ground for about 3 minutes.
Later that day, Boyd said the weather service issued another warning, but this time it was for Clifton in Wayne County and in Lawrence County. The supercell that moved over these southern counties produced a tornado that was determined to be F-5 in strength with winds 261-318 mph. He said three people were killed.
While the loss of lives was tragic, Boyd noted that by the public paying attention that day to the warnings from NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio and television, many lives were saved.
“Today, people are better prepared,” he noted. For more on the 10-year anniversary of the tornado outbreak locally, see Friday’s edition of The Wilson Post.