March 31-April 1 Tornadoes: What We Saw
Just a couple nights ago, during the night of March 31 and early morning hours of April 1, the Tennessee Valley experienced a tornado event that we will remember for years to come: a rare, long-tracked and intense tornado tracked across portions of Southern Middle Tennessee for some 60+ miles, with tornado warnings being issued for several consecutive hours. Unfortunately, this tornado was deadly: initial reports indicate 9 people have passed away due to this tornado. Today, we're going to take a look at some key moments as to what we saw, and what we were thinking as the event unfolded across the region.
From the outset, we knew heading into this that the environment was ripe for the possibility of these intense, long-lived supercells that could produce tornadoes across the region - a rare level 5/5 HIGH RISK was issued hours before the event began a few counties to our west, with many of us being squarely in the level 4/5 risk that was delineated by the Storm Prediction Center. Events that warrant beyond a level 3/5 risk only occur a handful of times, and beyond 4/5 are even rarer still (there has not been one before this one for some 2 years!).
Mere hours before the storms reached the Tennessee Valley, the southern sector of the HIGH RISK had already begun to produce tornadoes - to devastating results. In Little Rock, what appeared to be the first supercell of the day was observed and produced an intense and possibly violent tornado, killing 1 and injuring 54 with winds in excess of 165mph. There is an old adage that the first storm of the day gives you a sense of what the rest of the severe weather event may be capable of, and when this occurred, we began to take serious notice of the conditions as time went on.
As time progressed, portions of Tennessee continued to experience tornadic activity to our west, but that was initially outside of our coverage area - until around 11:30pm. Around this time, a tornado warning was prompted in McNairy, and eventually Hardin counties for a confirmed tornado on the ground. At this time, we observed a large TDS, or Tornado Debris Signature, from distant radars as it moved into our area. Given the distance from the radar locations, we did not expect to see this signature so clearly - indicating the possibility of a very intense tornado moving into our area, and fast.
One of our most valuable tools this night was our Arctic Air SkyCam network that we established across the Tennessee Valley. As it progressed through Hardin and into Wayne County, we turned our camera in Waynesboro westward to see what we could see. What we saw was staggering - a large, wedge tornado more akin to what you'd see on the Great Plains in Kansas, illuminated by flashing power poles and lightning flashes.
In partnership with the Center for Severe Weather Research, we also broke the mold, and for the first time used Mobile Doppler Radar systems during our live coverage to help analyze and track this tornado as it moved across the region. The nearby system revealed an extremely intense signature, observing it alongside our X-band radar until it's dissipation in Lewis County.
As the storms moved out of the area with time through the early and mid morning hours, the scope of the destruction this storm left in it's wake became clear - viewers sent in images of devastation across the area, from destroyed cars to leveled homes and garages all across the region.
As mentioned before, this storm unfortunately has reportedly been responsible for the deaths of 9 citizens in the area; tornadoes like this one aren't common, but are responsible for the vast majority of casualties because of their sheer violence. This event proved the necessity of heeding the warning in a timely and immediate manner - night-time tornadoes can be utterly deadly.
In the end, this event will not soon be forgotten - the Tennessee Valley knows all too well what these storms can do, but also we luckily know what it means to persevere through them. In the history of Tennessee Valley Weather existing since 2020, we haven't seen an event like this one - but if and when we do again, we hope you trust us to keep you and your family safe when the moment comes to face mother nature head-on once more. We'll certainly never stop.