Parts of the South have endured multiple severe weather outbreaks in March and have just not been able to catch a break. On Saturday, yet another significant day of severe weather unfolded across the region. In addition to damaging wind gusts, hail and tornadoes across the South, “extremely dangerous and life-threatening” flooding turned deadly in Nashville.
Flooding quickly worsened late Saturday as relentless downpours continued across parts of the South. One of the hardest-hit areas from these downpours was Tennessee. At one point Saturday night, flash flood warnings spanned more than half of the state.
Nashville quickly became one of the hardest-hit areas on Saturday night as torrential rain pounded the region.
As storms continued to deluge the Music City into Sunday, a life-threatening flash flooding situation developed very quickly across the Nashville metro. The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a rare flash flood emergency for Metro Nashville as well as Brentwood, Franklin and Mount Juliet, Tennessee, overnight, warning of “an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation.”
As of midday on Sunday, local news reported that at least four people were killed in the flooding in the Nashville area. According to The Tennessean, 130 people in Nashville were rescued by crews.
On Sunday evening, Nashville Mayor John Cooper signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in the city due to the flooding. Davidson County is now requesting assistance from both state and federal levels.
An apartment building in the southeastern part of Nashville partially collapsed as floodwaters inundated the area. At least five people were trapped in the area as fire rescue units struggled against “swift water” to reach them, according to local media.
There were also reports across the same part of the city of people “clinging to trees,” desperate to get to higher ground to avoid floodwaters, according to the NWS.
Reports of flooded roadways and homes as well as water rescues quickly poured in across the Nashville area. Parts of Interstate 24 were completely underwater overnight, leading to closures and significant backups on open portions of the roadway.
Throughout Williamson County there were more than 55 road closures due to the flooding, according to the county’s Emergency Management Agency.
Crews from the Nashville Fire Department and Nashville Emergency Operations Center reported that they were responding “all over the county to those impacted by severe weather” on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, they announced that there were 251 total incidents overnight, with 71 patients needing to be transported.
Police in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, even deployed an armored rescue vehicle to reach people trapped in flooded cars.
The heaviest downpours in the state targeted a large swath from just south of Jackson, Tennessee, northeastward to Nashville. On Saturday, Nashville recorded an astounding 5.75 inches of rainfall. This rainfall amount made March 27 the wettest March day on record for the city, as well as the fourth-wettest day of all time, according to the NWS.
Just a few hours after midnight, the NWS reported that additional rain at Nashville’s recording site had officially made March 27-28, 2021 the second largest two-day rainfall total in recorded history.
Several waterways across the Nashville area rose to moderate or major flood stage overnight Saturday. In southeastern Nashville, Mill Creek crested at 20.85 feet on Sunday, its second-highest stage on record, according to the NWS.
Meanwhile, Harpeth River, near Franklin crested at 31 feet on Sunday evening, which was the fourth highest on record.
Despite many waterways continuing to rise throughout the day on Sunday, the NWS said rain in Nashville has subsided throughout most of the city.
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Severe weather reports also streamed in throughout the day on Saturday.
Strong thunderstorms began to develop over portions of Tennessee and Kentucky early Saturday morning and quickly reached severe status. Severe thunderstorms continued to erupt through the afternoon and hail reports started to roll in across Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia. Multiple cars were damaged by the hail up to 2 inches in diameter in Carroll County, Virginia.
The severe weather in Johnson City, Tennessee, delayed a football game Saturday afternoon between East Tennessee State University and Western California University by at least an hour and a half as hail pelted the field.
NASCAR announced that the Cup Series and Camping World Truck Series races that were initially scheduled for Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, would be postponed until Monday.
By Saturday evening, a new batch of severe storms exploded from northeastern Texas, through Arkansas and into western Tennessee. Out of these storms came several reports of large hail, including at least one instance of hail 3 inches in diameter in Lonoke County, Arkansas.
The tornado threat across the region began to ramp up early Saturday evening. Tornado watches were in effect beginning Saturday evening from eastern Texas to northern Alabama and the western half of Tennessee. For several hours Saturday night, over 7.3 million people were under tornado watches.
As of early Sunday morning, there were a total of 16 tornado reports submitted to the NWS’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC). These reports stretched along a focused corridor from northeastern Texas, through Arkansas into western Tennessee. Damage to homes and other structures, as well as downed trees and power lines were reported as a result of these possible tornadoes. Fortunately, no fatalities or injuries have been widely reported as a result of these twisters.
“In the immediate wake of the cold front that triggered all of the severe weather and flooding, much calmer conditions will settle over the Mississippi and Tennessee valleys and Southeast,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Renee Duff said.
Dry weather into Tuesday across these areas will be just what residents need to recover. However, even amidst the dry weather, there can be some risks.
“Into Tuesday, temperatures at night will be on the chilly side, generally in the 30s and 40s F, which can make it difficult for those left without power or proper shelter to stay warm,” Duff added.
The next opportunity for wet weather across the South will arrive late Tuesday into Wednesday. AccuWeather forecasters are concerned that the rain from this system falling on already saturated ground can worsen ongoing flooding problems, in addition to slowing down clean-up efforts.
“While the risk of severe weather with this next storm does not appear to be as widespread as recent events, any threats for feistier storms will be carefully monitored early this week,” Duff said.
Saturday’s damaging weather comes only days after Thursday’s destructive event that impacted a similar area. At least six people were killed after long-lived tornadoes touched down and caused devastation across parts of Alabama and western Georgia on Thursday and Thursday night. In total, the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center reported a total of 23 tornadoes with one in Mississippi, five in Georgia and 17 in Alabama.
Just a week earlier, a tornado outbreak spawned dozens of twisters, again with Alabama placed squarely in the crosshairs. Parts of Louisiana and Mississippi also faced heavy damage from violent storms. Despite widespread damage, no fatalities were reported. Officials and forecasters credited communities for being prepared and hunkering down during storm and tornado warnings for the miraculous outcome.