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Heating things up! And remembering the deadliest tornado in TN’s history



The radar shows some scattered showers and storms, mainly north of I-40 in Middle Tennessee. That activity is sliding eastward and I think we’ll have a decent shot at a shower or storm all day. That will keep our temps in the mid 70s. Tomorrow, the shrs and storms become much more isolated and the heat cranks up. I didn’t put the cautions for heat on tomorrow because the humidity levels should be rather low.

That will change on Saturday.

Be very careful if you’re outside this weekend. We’re not used to temps in the mid (maybe upper?) 80s. And the humidity will factor in, as well. Three weeks ago we were warming up after having snow on Monday. Now, we’re flirting with 90 degrees and high humidity. This heat will continue into the beginning of next week.

Into the middle of next week, if we look a bit farther ahead, it still looks like we may get some rain from an early-season tropical wave coming off the Gulf of Mexico. That could change, of course, but we need the rain, folks. It’s way too early to be as hot as we’re going to be and we sure don’t want to get too dry this soon. Hopefully this isn’t a clue that we’re in for a very hot, perhaps dry, summer.


I mentioned yesterday that today is a somber weather anniversary for not only the Cumberland Plateau but for our state. On this day in 1933, the deadliest tornado in our state’s history hit our neighbors in Overton County. It seems strange that the deadliest tornado occurred on the plateau, when counties to our west and south have so many more tornadoes that are often so much more powerful than our’s. More than likely this tornado outbreak was far more widespread than what was reported. This was 1933, after all, and most people around here probably didn’t even know what a tornado was.  Newspaper accounts reveal that there was storm damage all across Tennessee. Today, we would probably recognize it for what it probably was; a tornado outbreak.

The spring of 1933 started out stormy and only got worse as the storm season went along. Nashville was hit hard by storms that March. The tornado that hit near Livingston on this day was probably the most powerful tornado to ever hit the plateau. In all likelihood, it’s probably the closest we’ve ever come to having an F-5 on the plateau.

The only other tornado I know of that compares in strength to this tornado is the Jamestown tornado of April 3, 1974. The Tansi tornado of November 11, 2004 was, if you can believe this, a whole magnitude weaker than either of these tornadoes (F3 vs F4). Just think about that.

The very small community of Beauty Swamps found itself in the tornado’s cross hairs. It struck just as folks were going to bed and many of the victims were found in their nightclothes. There were no warnings  back then. No weather radios. No broadcast meteorologists…well, there were but they weren’t allowed to say the word tornado because the Weather Bureau (NWS today) thought that word invoked panic and banned it until the 1950s.

The F-4 tornado that touched down near Livingston was 3/4 of a mile wide and zig-zagged across the countryside. Today, we would refer to this as a large, multi-vortex tornado. It was on the ground for 11 miles. The tornado had no mercy on the Beauty Swamps community. Every home was destroyed and nearly every life was taken from the community. Perhaps most tragic was a family of nine that was lost when the tornado completely swept away their home as they slept. They were all buried in a mass grave on the family’s property.

The stories of endurance, survival and rebuilding are countless. You can visit the Livingston Museum and learn so much more. I visited there several years ago and was quite impressed with the info on this historic storm. They still have the camera that was used to document the photos of the damage.  It remains Tennessee’s deadliest single tornado.  That same spring also had Tennessee’s 7th deadliest tornado when the March storm hit downtown Nashville. The year 1933 was not good to Tennessee when it came to tornadoes.

I wrote an article about this storm for the Fentress Courier and I’ll share it here below.

You all have a great day and be thankful we’re only dealing with heat these days…

1933 Tornado

We have been fortunate to have had a rather quiet severe weather season. We have not had a single tornado on the plateau this season, and Tennessee is below average on tornadoes this year, but we have certainly had years when this was not the case.

The April 3, 1974 tornado outbreak really brought severe weather awareness to the plateau. Before that outbreak, many plateau residents had never seen the destruction that tornadoes are capable of.

If we go back 85 years, to the spring of 1933, we find another destructive tornado season. That season began on a deadly note when, on March 14, an F-3 tornado moved into downtown Nashville, claiming the lives of 11 people. Oddly, an F-3 tornado in April of 1998 would take nearly the same path.

Roughly two months after the 1933 Nashville tornado a severe weather outbreak, the likes of which Tennessee had never seen before, struck our state on May 10. The hardest hit area could be found in Overton County.

During the late evening of May 10, a half-mile wide, violent F-4 tornado touched down just east of Livingston. The twister completely destroyed everything in its 20-mile long path. The Beatty Swamps community was completely obliterated, with every home in the community destroyed and virtually every resident either killed or injured. The 35 lives lost there make this the second deadliest tornado in Tennessee history.

As with any violent tornado, there are oddities that can’t be explained. A piece of linoleum was found perfectly inserted into a tree. In another instance a piece of straw was found driven straight into a tree.

We are grateful that today’s technology, communication, and advances in the field of meteorology keep us so much safer. Let’s all do our part to get through the 2018 severe weather season safe and sound.


A tire torn from a car owned  by Mrs. George Reeser had been pierced by a 2X4 timber during the storm.  Mrs. Reeser’s daughter and son-in-law were among the casualties of the devastating tornado.


The funerals for the victims were well attended. Here, “A quartet sings as the crowd of friends and relatives walk by the caskets to pay their last token of respect and to view the remains of the Una Cole family.”


Perry Ledford’s Eastern Kodak Model B-4 camera is on display along with his photographs taken following the tornado that struck the area around the Bethsaida community of Overton County, TN in 1933.

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