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Remembering the "Forgotten F5" of April 16, 1998

On this day 25 years ago, a violent and historic tornado outbreak was unfolding across much of the Deep South - an F3 hit Nashville, capturing much media attention, and 62 other tornadoes would unfold in the same 12 hour window across Tennessee and North Alabama. One of those would be the strongest tornado of the day, and, in fact, the strongest in Tennessee history - the so-called "Forgotten F5" that trekked across Lawrence County, Tennessee, injuring 21.

Leading up to the event, the Storm Prediction Center issued a rare level 5/5 HIGH RISK of severe weather from the MS River, up into Central TN. Dewpoints in the upper 60s made their way through the Tennessee Valley, and a notable impulse of Jet Stream energy moved over the Tennessee Valley through the mid-morning and afternoon hours. This combination of instability and turning with height set the stage for what looked to unfold in an all too familiar way to the residents of the Southern US - a classic April tornado outbreak, featuring multiple intense tornadoes.

Much attention was paid to an intense tornado that tore through Nashville in the early evening hours - this F3 tornado killed 1 person and injured dozens more, but relatively speaking spared Nashville the fate of a truly violent tornado moving through the metropolitan area. To the south, a much more dire situation was beginning to unfold over the next hour in Wayne County.

Many people do not know that the original F5 track across Wayne, Lawrence, Giles, and Maury Counties has since been separated into three separate violent tornado tracks, all occurring from the same parent supercell thunderstorm that struck southern Tennessee. We have since learned that the Wayne County track and the Giles/Maury County tracks were actually separate violent F4 tornadoes from the F5 tornado in Lawrence County that afternoon.

This storm began producing a tornado near the Wayne County community of Lutts with reports of damage and injuries soon following. As the supercell storm approached the Wayne-Lawrence County Line around 4:30 p.m., a second tornado touched down - this would be the beginning of the F5 tornado that moved across most of Northern Lawrence County, TN. Homes in the Lawrence County communities of Piney, Deerfield, Ethridge, Center, and Summertown were completely leveled with countless injury reports flooding the local 911 center.

All and all, damage estimated from the day totaled $13,000,000 from path of destruction in five southern Tennessee counties. The F5 itself miraculously claimed no lives, but a newfound impetuous for hyper-local severe weather coverage was planted. Years later, Tennessee Valley Weather would form in the wake of yet another damaging tornado that struck the area in 2020, but the foundation was laid as far back as April 16, 1998, when us here in LawCo were home to the only F5 in TN in modern history.

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