Severe squalls and at least one tornado sped through Middle Tennessee on Wednesday, leaving damage and a reminder to residents in their wake: It is just the start of peak storm season.
Shannon Ervin was in a shed-like shelter in Watertown when her husband called and told her to get out.
She left the Wilson County recycling and garbage facility where she works before the shed was aloft and moved 100 feet, then caught by a fence like trash blowing in the wind. She took cover in her truck.
“I held on to the steering wheel and prayed,” she later said.
That was just on March 1.
March, April and May make up the peak period for tornadoes, according to forecasters who said warm weather in recent months may signal a more tumultuous tornado season this year.
“We definitely don’t want to let our guard down,” said Justyn Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Nashville. “It was kind of good to knock off the dust, so to speak, with this weather that came through.”
Severe storms are the price to pay for warm weather mixed with moisture.
“It ended up being tied for the second-warmest February here in Nashville,” Jackson said.
But twisters are not confined to the Spring months. In the past several years, damaging storms have torn through Tennessee in December and summer months, he said.
In Tennessee last year, 12 tornadoes left two people dead and dozens injured, according to weather service data. The deadly storm carved through the state in November.
Preliminary reports from the National Weather Service say 20 people nationwide have died this year in tornadoes, while the three-year average is 29 deaths per year.
One tornado was confirmed Wednesday, according to officials with the National Weather Service. Jackson with the National Weather Service said an EF-1 tornado caused damage from Cane Ridge to Four Corners Marina, with winds up to 90 mph. EF-1 tornadoes are one of the least severe on a scale of 1 to 10.
Weather service crews continue to investigate storm damage across Middle Tennessee, including in:
- Cool Springs in Williamson County
- Watertown in Wilson County
- Lancaster in Smith County
- Cookeville in Putnam County
Storm damage this morning at Four Corners Marina in South Nashville. No reported injuries. pic.twitter.com/86PmSL7yKN— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) March 1, 2017
“It’s kind of a hodgepodge of areas where we’re going to be looking at here over the next couple of days,” Jackson said.
Wednesday’s storm was unusual because of the wide area of damage left in its path, he said.
“We’re just getting started,” he said.
For many Middle Tennesseans, the day began with lightning slicing the sky and without electricity. Blankets of rain were so thick some residents couldn’t see the end of their driveways, only a blur.
Clouds as dark as ash plumes forebode of the weather to come, carrying cracking thunder into the Midstate. Winds slammed car doors shut, toppled trees and power lines and rattled and shattered windows. In some areas, residents reported hail nearly the size of golf balls pelting down.
Williamson schools director apologizes for not delaying school during storm
Many families grappled with a choice: heeding sounding tornado sirens or sending their students to school.
Several area districts sent out early notifications that classes would be delayed because of the weather. But Metro Nashville and Williamson County lagged behind, prompting a simultaneous storm on social media of parents upset that their children would still need to be out in the elements.
The chief of Williamson schools later apologized.
Tens of thousands of residents lost power Wednesday. Two people were injured after being trapped by a falling tree on Riley Road in northwest Clarksville, according to Clarksville Police Lt. Steve Warren.
“The people were quickly rescued by first responders, but one child and one adult were transported for minor injuries,” he said in an email.
Elizabeth Rojas said her son, 12-year-old Francisco Rojas, suffered broken fingers after the tree toppled, gouging the family’s mobile home.
Wednesday’s wild weather should be a wake up call to Middle Tennesseans to be prepared, said Joy Faulk of Brentwood.
Faulk and her three daughters were watching the weather on TV when a tree smacked into the roof of their home on Frontier Lane north of Moores Lane.
"The storm started and we heard the hail, and then we heard a crash," she said later in a telephone interview while her husband, Ben, talked to an insurance representative. "You’d think it would be really really loud, it wasn’t."
She walked to her 10-year-old daughter's bedroom.
"When I opened her door, it only opened about 10 inches due to just debris that had come through and I could see her window had a tree coming through it," she said. "About three feet away another part of the tree had come through the wall."
She said the family huddled in a hallway while she scrambled about, finding flashlights then hunting for batteries.
“Be prepared, we were not,” she said. “I looked for flashlights, found them, they didn’t have batteries in them. What you hear to do, prepare yourself, it’s the smartest thing.”
Since 1950, tornadoes happened the most frequently in Middle Tennessee happened in each of the following years:
26: 2008, 2003 and 1998
Source: National Weather Service in Nashville
Staff writers Pranaav Jadhad, Melanie Balakit, Holly Meyer, Natalie Neysa Alund, Andy Humbles and Brian Dunn contributed to this report. Reach Stacey Barchenger at 615-726-8968, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sbarchenger.
USA TODAY NETWORK