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Another day, another storm. And remembering the tornado of May 18, 1995.



Guess what’s in our forecast today? You guessed right! More showers and storms! Our tropical low is still spinning over TN this morning and it will be spinning all day, eventually setting off more showers and storms. Coverage should be similar to yesterday’s, with most of us getting some rain, while a few stay rather dry. We picked up nearly an inch of rain here at weatherTAP with yesterday’s rains. The good news is that tropical lows like this one rarely produce severe weather, just good ole fashioned afternoon showers and storms. Always be mindful of the lightning threat, though.

On Saturday, coverage should be about a third of what it will be today, with many of us staying dry but a few of us getting wet. If you have any outdoor plans, just make sure you have a place to seek shelter from a downpour and the lightning that may come with it. We have a very warm, moist atmosphere in place and it doesn’t take much to kick of a shower or storm in these conditions. Otherwise, you should be in good shape!

On Sunday, I think coverage of storms will pick back up. In fact, we may see some morning showers and storms slide out of Kentucky, especially for folks north of I-40. I’ll keep an eye on that. Otherwise, expect isolated to scattered showers and storms Sunday afternoon. Those rain chances hang with us into next week, with more scattered showers and storms mainly in the afternoons.

I’ve had several folks ask me about cutting hay and I tell them to not even think about doing that for now. Long range indications are that we’ll dry out some the end of next week. Stay tuned.


So, basically today’s forecast is almost a repeat of yesterday’s. I’m already seeing some showers trying to develop, so things may get started a little earlier today than they have been this week. Again, nothing severe is expected, so we don’t have much to worry about there. Any storm this time of year can become strong, with gusty winds, small hail, and frequent lightning. So we still have to be mindful of these things.

Twenty-three years ago today was a completely different story.

May 18, 1995 started off warm and humid. We were already south of a strong warm front that opened up the Gulf and allowed plenty of warm, juicy air to flow northward toward the Cumberland Plateau. That warm and unstable air mass was just what storms that afternoon and evening would be needing for fuel.

This would end up being the third worst tornado outbreak in Middle TN history, with 16 tornadoes touching down across the area. Miraculously, only three fatalities resulted and those were in a violent tornado (F-4) in southern Middle TN (Lawrence/Giles County).

This outbreak was the first time in my life I had heard the term “supercell” used to describe storms in Tennessee. Until this day, I had only heard that reference to storms out on the Plains. A supercell is a storm that has strong rotation and often produces large hail, damaging winds, and tornadoes. Isolated supercells are the most dangerous; the ones out by themselves. And that’s exactly what we had happen during the afternoon of May 18.

Cumberland County would claim two of the 16 tornadoes this day and one of those was a strong F-3 tornado. The last time our county had seen a tornado of this intensity was on the night of April 3, 1974, when an F-3 roared down Plateau Road, lifting as it crossed Highway 127N.

The storm responsible for this tornado first developed all by itself in northern Mississippi! The storm tracked into Middle TN and then made its way all the way here,  developing a hook echo (showing rotation) numerous times along the way. However, it wasn’t until it started into Cumberland County that it REALLY showed tornadic signatures, very indicated of a tornado. At around 5:00 p.m. the most alarming storm report a county can receive came across the radio, “A large, destructive tornado has been spotted on the ground in southwest Cumberland County.”

And it was class night for the seniors graduating from high school. And the tornado was moving toward Crossville. Everyone had to seek shelter in the hallways of Martin, where class night was being held. Thankfully, the tornado lifted just before coming into town.

It’s a miracle no one lost their lives in this storm. Eleven homes, 14 mobile homes, and two businesses were destroyed.

I was looking at archived radar imagery from that day and it looks like storms earlier in the day in Kentucky caused an outflow boundary to become displaced down over central Cumberland County. This spared Fentress County the worst of the storms but it added wind shear for rotation for the storms in Cumberland County. Today, this feature would have been easily noticed with our technology and I would have been shouting from the rooftops that we needed to be mindful of any storms! On radar, the storm appears to weaken just west of White County but as soon as it interacts with that outflow boundary it absolutely exploded.

Below is the radar at the time the storm was moving into Cumberland County (yellow circle). Notice all the other isolated cells across the state. The green you see extending northeast of the cell in Cumberland County is the anvil being picked up by radar (the clouds being blown off the incredibly high tops of the supercell). What a day.


To add insult to injury, another supercell moved into the county a few hours later and at 8:15, another tornado touched down just south of where the F-3 lifted! This second tornado was rated F-1 and damaged 30 homes in Lake Tansi. We saw a similar situation in 2002 when isolated supercells kept moving into our county for several hours. Remember, some of the same communities were impacted by that violent tornado (we’ll talk about that in November).

We are so thankful that we don’t have anything like that to deal with today. And, as I was looking at the radar, etc from May 1995, I realized how thankful we should be in how far we’ve come in 23 years with radar and satellite technology.

I’ll leave you with an impressive photo that was shared with me this morning. It is quite incredible. A pilot was flying over a community in Colorado on Tuesday that had experienced a hailstorm earlier in the day. The hail was still on the ground and he snapped some pictures. You can even see where the storm pulled to the right. How cool is that pic!? (no pun intended. ha)  Photo credit: Jane Carpenter at Leading Edge Flight Training.

You all have a great day!

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