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Remembering the Nov 10, 2002 tornado outbreak

This morning’s weather is a far cry from the weather 15 years ago this morning. More on that in a bit.

First, we had a cold front move through last night that will be reinforcing our cooler air mass. Today’s highs will only reach into the mid 40s. Tonight, a hard freeze is expected as temps drop into the mid 20s. Saturday still looks great, with lots of sunshine and highs in the lower to mid 50s. Another cold front moves in Sunday evening but the models have continued to trend drier with the front, and now it looks like we’ll be hard-pressed to even get a shower out of it. It will bring clouds for Sunday, though, so look for that.  Monday and Tuesday look pretty nice, with sunshine and highs in the low to mid 50s. Our next system moves in Wednesday with more rain chances.  There are indications that a week from now we’ll be looking at the strongest cold front of the season, but it’s a bit too far out to nail down any specifics with that.

Fifteen years ago we had a cold front threatening our area. Cold fronts are rather common this time of year, as you know, and that’s why November is considered our secondary severe weather season. For several days before the November 10, 2002 tornado outbreak, the NWS had warned of severe weather. We were to have a very warm and muggy airmass that would envelope the entire eastern US. Models had always strongly suggested that a powerful squall line would move through that Sunday evening, with embedded tornadoes possible within that line. However, on the morning of Nov 10 it was becoming increasingly apparent that this would be something far worse than a squall line. We were looking at isolated supercells, capable of extremely large hail and powerful, long-track tornadoes.

I remember going outside that afternoon and looking up at the sky. The lowest clouds were moving out of the southeast. The clouds slightly higher up were moving from the south, and the highest, cirrus clouds were moving from west to east. It was a classic high-shear environment with lots of spin available for storms. That shear and a record high of 75 degrees were the perfect combination for tornadoes. Cumberland County was placed under tornado warnings three different times that evening, with the third warning being the most serious, with a long-track half-mile wide F-3 tornado that would tear a 12.2 mile-long track across the county. That supercell also produced baseball-sized hail, which is some of the largest hail we’ve ever recorded here. The tornado claimed four lives and injured another 18, making it the deadliest tornado in Cumberland County history. We’ve had three F-3s in our county’s history but never an F-4.  The other F-3s include one on April 3, 1974 and the other was the May 1995 Tansi tornado.

The outbreak of November 10, 2002 spawned 83 tornadoes across 17 states, making it the third largest November outbreak on record. A total of 36 folks lost their lives. I wrote an article for the Fentress Courier on this outbreak that they published this week. I’m including it below.

Remembering the November 10, 2002 Tornadoes

When you think of the Autumn season you probably think of festivals, pumpkins, beautiful foliage, and so on. However, there is a side of Autumn that you may forget; Autumn is our secondary severe weather season.

It really should come as no surprise when you think about it. Any time there is a change of seasons there is the risk of storms. As we all know, most of our severe weather occurs during the spring, when the transition from winter to summer can become downright violent, but we cannot forget the threat that can sneak up on us in the Autumn.

We have been reminded before of how dangerous the storms can get this time of year. The worst storms many of us can remember was when the tornadoes struck parts of the Cumberland Plateau on November 10, 2002. The tornadoes were spawned by a strong storm system that was preceded by warm, humid conditions.

By the time the storms were finished with their rampage, 11 folks had lost their lives and damage was spread all across the plateau. While Fentress County was spared major tornado damage, there were multiple reports of straight-line wind damage. Cumberland and Morgan counties were hardest hit. The community of Tansi, just south of Crossville, was impacted by a half-mile wide F-3 tornado that destroyed numerous homes and claimed 4 lives. Over in Morgan County the town of Mossy Grove was forever changed by the F-3 tornado that touched down and claimed seven lives.

So, be sure and enjoy the Autumn season! The sights and smells of Autumn are often a welcome reprieve from summer. Just make sure you are mindful of the less pleasant side of Autumn and don’t let any of those storms catch you by surprise.

*** I’ll be out in the weather tomorrow morning bright and early with nearly 3,000 other runners to run in the Nashville “What Do You Run For?” marathon. Money raised goes to support Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee, which is an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community, dedicated to providing support, education and hope to all people impacted by cancer, including family members and friends of those diagnosed. You can learn more about this club at

I hope you all have a great weekend and enjoy the beautiful fall-like weather!

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