Friday’s potentially record-breaking tornado outbreak produced two tornadoes in Tennessee, where at least 45 people were injured.
Preliminary estimates have counted 74 tornadoes across the South and Midwest, tying a March single-day record set in 2006. Friday’s storms were responsible for 39 casualties across five states.
National Weather Service forecast offices issued 654 warnings Friday, including 279 tornado warnings.
Dickson County was tornado warned at 3 p.m. Strong winds, dime-sized hail and a brief torrential downpour swept through the western edge of the county into Dickson city and on to Burns and White Bluff.
NWS identified straight-line winds as the culprit for storm damages in Dickson County. An EF-1 tornado, however, touched down outside Kingston Springs east of White Bluff.
NWS officials surveyed areas with reported damages Saturday in Dickson city, Tennessee City, south Cheatham County and east Humphreys County. The survey found many trees blown down or snapped, with instances of minor roof damage to homes and a hotel. All of this damage was attributed to straight-line winds.
No injuries were reported in any of the surveyed areas.
Dickson Electric System reported power outages affecting 3,500 customers along a path extending from Tennessee City into Dickson, White Bluff, Kingston Springs and Pegram. The affected area stretched just south of U.S. Highway 70 East, parallel to the highway. Power lines were also knocked down and/or struck by trees, and power poles broken.
The storms knocked out power for more than 8,600 people in eastern and central Tennessee.
Weather forecasters and meteorologists had predicted early last week that Middle Tennessee, including Dickson County, was at high risk for severe, potentially tornado-producing weather Friday afternoon and evening.
As the sun rose Friday and the work day began, Dickson County Schools students were scheduled for half a day in preparation for the severe weather. Schools then altered dismissal times Friday morning from noon to 11:30 a.m.
Friday’s first round of severe weather began at 9:12 a.m. in north Alabama, where a pair of rotating supercells moved north of Huntsville, hitting the Harvest community just after 9 a.m., with a second tornado touching down in northern Madison County. The area also was struck by a tornado during the April 27, 2011 outbreak that devastated Tuscaloosa, Ala. as well.
The supercells rolled out of Alabama into parts of metro-Chattanooga and Ooltewah, Cleveland, Etowah and Tellico Plains, Tenn. around 11:50 p.m. central time.
Dickson County residents received a Nixle advisory at 1:23 p.m. stating Dickson County was under a tornado watch until 9 p.m.
At 2 p.m. central time, the southeast Indiana tornado outbreak erupted, leveling Henryville, Ind., and creating arguably the most visible trail of Friday’s destruction.
By 2:50 p.m. NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning for extreme west central Dickson County until 3:30 p.m. Dickson County was then tornado warned at 3:03 p.m., lasting until 3:45 p.m.
A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.
The skies were bright and sunny most of Friday, with intermittent wind gusts twisting street signs throughout the day. The serene summer setting – with a humid start to the morning and 80-degree temperatures by noon – turned ominous just after 3 p.m. when dark clouds crept over Dickson city blotting out all sunlight.
The clouds opened and rain began pounding the pavement in downtown Dickson around 3:15 p.m. Central Dispatch received a report of an unconfirmed tornado touch down at 3:27 p.m. on Garners Creek Road at the Hickman/Dickson County line.
A funnel cloud also was reported at 3:27 p.m. on East Piney Road. Strong winds blasted the rain sideways in downtown Dickson, and dime-sized hail clinked off cars, roof tops and windows for several minutes before the winds abated around 3:32 p.m.
Twister, funnel clouds
A funnel cloud was reported at 3:28 p.m. at the Burns shell station. By 3:50 p.m. the worst weather had passed through Dickson County.
An EF-1 tornado touched down at 3:48 p.m. along Mount Pleasant Road just south of Kingston Springs.
The twister reached maximum wind speeds around 90 mph and lasted one minute, leaving a nearly 1-mile damage path about 100 yards wide – snapping or uprooting dozens of trees, destroying a barn, and causing minor roof damage to several homes.
Three funnel clouds were spotted in Dickson County that did not touch down, according to Dickson County Emergency Management Agency Director Steve Manley. Two funnel clouds were reported in Dickson and one was reported in southwest Dickson County in the East Piney River area.
Local amateur storm chaser Charlie Davidson watched the storm move through Dickson city from the post office. He witnessed the storm move westward, then southwesterly as it passed just south of his location.
Davidson saw “really dark and puffy clouds” underneath the storm’s base before it moved into Dickson. He noted the southern edge had a low-hanging cloud with a jagged base to it.
“I couldn’t tell if it was rotating or not at first, but after watching it for several seconds it quickly became obvious that it was rotating, and beginning to lower,” reported Davidson. “Shortly after, heavy rain obscured my view.”
Davidson sought shelter in his truck, where he encountered a gust of wind from the inflow of the wall cloud/tornado and penny-sized hail for a few minutes.
Eye of the storm
Winds blew down business signs in Dickson at Advance Auto Parts and RadioShack; and damaged the roofs of Hampton Inn and Waffle House off Highway 46 near Interstate 40.
“It went down el quickerino. One second it was there, next second it was gone. Boom,” Wyatt Harper, local RadioShack store owner, said of his store sign being blown down. “It just hit and it was all over.”
Harper explained customers filed into the store as the storm approached, seeking cover in the center of the building and listening to the store’s for-sale weather radios. Harper added the sound was terrible as the sign was “sucked off” its mooring and thrown down into the highway.
Hampton Inn lost the front portion of its roof, mainly superficial damage, and sustained minor water damage to a few rooms on the third floor. Hotel customers were “rounded up” into a laundry room, where the noise outside was “deafening.”
Michael Randall, 39, of Kingston Springs, had just checked in when the storm hit. He decided to watch it outside until the sky turned green.
“I had never seen that before,” he said. “I was like, ‘That’s not good.’”
Enough hail piled up in places around the interstate and Highway 46 intersection that it resembled snow.
The winds also peeled back panels on The Renaissance Center Cybersphere, and dismantled the Log Cabin front porch at the Flea Market off Highway 46 in Dickson. The storm scattered merchandise and splintered wood across the flea market property.
The Downey family, who travel to the flea market from Cunningham eight times a year to sell antiques and collectibles, rode out the storm in their RV.
As winds, hail and rain beat against the vehicle’s side, Randy Downey and his family huddled together on the floor and prayed.
“I was on the floor, and I wasn’t looking up,” said his wife, Beverly Downey.
A heavy party tent next door was thrown against the RV, coming to rest on its roof as the family prayed. And then, it was over. Nobody was hurt.
Another family riding out the severe weather in their mobile home suffered the brutality of Friday’s devastating weather.
Fifteen-month-old Angel Babcock, of New Pekin, Ind., passed away Sunday, two days after rescuers found her Friday afternoon in a field 150 yards from her family’s mobile home. Her father, mother and two siblings were killed during the storm.
The family lay in the center of their mobile home to ride out the storm. Minutes later, the “stovepipe” EF-4 tornado flattened Henryville and Marysville, Ind.
If caught in a mobile homes or vehicle in tornado-producing weather, NWS recommends seeking a much sturdier structure or lying flat in a ditch, ravine, gully, culvert or low spot, with your arms and hands shielding your head.
Shortly after passing through southern Indiana, Friday’s storms produced an EF-3 tornado at 4:58 pm central time that leveled West Liberty, Ky.
In Tennessee, an EF-2 tornado touched down at 5:26 p.m. in southeastern Jackson County and tracked through northern Putnam and southwestern Overton counties. The storm left three people injured.
Damages in Dickson
As of 8:15 p.m. Friday, 1,884 Dickson Electric System customers were without power. Power was restored to all DES customers by 5 p.m. Saturday, according to DES Manager Darrell Gillespie.
Gillespie noted DES customers and employees retreated to the business’ basement twice during the Friday afternoon storms.
“It looked like something was coming right for us,” recalled Gillespie.
Customers were brought inside and the building’s doors locked in preparation for the oncoming storm. Power went out at DES for an hour and a half after a power line fell knocking out a breaker for the building.
The power outage affected several customers in the vicinity as well, and DES operated with a generator until power was restored.
The following damage was reported throughout Dickson County: a tree on a home on U.S. Highway 70 West; tree on a house on Pomona Road; seven homes damaged on Marty Lane in White Bluff; Middle Tennessee Lumber in Dickson reported damage; Manley Loop in Tennessee City sustained several felled trees.
Dickson County remained under a tornado warning until 4:15 p.m.; a severe thunderstorm warning until 5:15 p.m.; and a tornado watch until 9 p.m. Friday.
Rain returned in downtown Dickson momentarily around 4:40 p.m., as the sun broke through the clouds over portions of the city. Dime-sized hail also fell for a few moments at 4:42 p.m. before the dark clouds faded into a pink-orange sunset.
Local TV news stations reported an employee trapped under fallen debris Friday afternoon at a Dickson lumber company. A company representative said that report was not true.
– Bobby Allyn and Brian Haas, The Tennessean; and Chris Gadd, The Dickson Herald