NASHVILLE, Tenn.- Middle Tennessee is an area of the country that continues to grow thanks to its beauty, economy and climate.
The mild weather stays relatively calm most days but on the worst weather days, the sky may not only be filled with ominous boiling clouds, brilliant lightning and damaging hail; it can also be filled with nature's most awesome force - the tornado.
Many people are familiar with tornado alley. Middle Tennessee is part of an area in the Southeast area nicknamed Dixie Alley. The region ranks No. 2 in the overall number of tornadoes.
The following are some facts about Dixie Alley:
It has almost the same number of strong to violent tornadoes, ranked F-3 or higher, as Tornado Alley
It has more tornado deaths because it's more densely populated areas
The area has a higher number of mobile homes
And more nighttime tornadoes occur in the region.
In May 2007 in Middle Tennessee specifically, National Weather Service data indicated a total of 421 people died in a total of 486 tornadoes since 1830.
Most of the deaths occurred in storms ranked F-4, like the F-4 that went through the Cool Springs area on the morning of Dec. 24, 1988. One person died. If that were to happen today, the death toll could have been much higher because there is now a mall and more housing in the area.
The average tornado path length in Middle Tennessee is 8 miles but the longest path is nearly eight times that at 62.5 miles. This happened with the F-5 storm that blew through Lawrence, Giles and Wayne counties before finally dissipating over Maury County, 62.5 miles from where it started on April 16, 1998. Also on April 16, 1998, at least two tornadoes ripped through Nashville, damaging at least 300 buildings and injuring more than 100 people.
Middle Tennessee tornadoes occur most often between 5- 6 p.m. with two thirds occurring in March through May and another peak time in November.
But be aware, tornadoes can touch down any month of the year in Middle Tennessee.
Tornadoes rarely hit between 7-10 a.m. and in September.
The strongest tornado to ever hit the state happened on April 16, 1998. This tornado was the F-5 tornado mentioned earlier. It slammed through southern Middle Tennessee, hitting Lawrence, Wayne, Giles and Maury counties.
While this storm was massive, at times up to one-mile wide, it fortunately wasn't the state's deadliest thanks to its relatively rural location and the excellent warnings issued by the National Weather Service.
In the early years, warnings were much harder to come by because of the technology that existed. That's one of the reasons Middle Tennessee's deadliest happened many years ago.
That occurred on March 18, 1925 when a large F-4 tornado, with winds above 207 miles per hour, roared through Sumner County.
The Liberty tornado, as it was known, killed 39 people.
This storm was the most deadly, but Sumner County hasn't seen the highest number of tornadoes since then.
That distinction goes to Rutherford County, which ranks No. 1 with 38 tornadoes since 1830. Davidson County has had 37 reports of touchdowns.
Giles County holds the distinction of the greatest number of strong to violent tornadoes, ranked F-3 or higher, followed again by Rutherford.
In 1974, there were 29 tornadoes that touched down in Middle Tennessee. All of those occurred during the worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history on April 3, 1974.
Many people, including NewsChannel 5 employees, vividly remember Middle Tennessee's costliest tornado. It blew through downtown Nashville on April 16, 1998, the same day as the F-5 tornado in southern Middle Tennessee. Nashville's twister, ranked an F-3, caused nearly $113 million in damage as it blew out windows, knocked down trees, and tore off roofs on its path across the city.
It also moved right over the NewsChannel 5 building. It was the first of its strength to strike the downtown area of a major city in nearly 20 years.
The best and worst places to go when a tornado warning is issued.
Thanks to NEXRAD radar used by the weather service and other technologies, most people have advanced warning that a tornado is on the way before it touches down. This gives people time to get in a place of safety before it's too late.
Many people have heard that a basement or storm cellar, underground, is the best place to be during a tornado. If there isn't a basement in the home, closets and bathrooms can serves as adequate protection.
People should avoid doors and windows because they can easily be blown out, showering anyone near with glass and debris.
If there isn't an underground shelter on the property, an above-ground tornado room can be a lifesaver. These rooms can be built when a home is under construction or retrofitted into existing homes. If built to correct specifications, they can provide excellent protection from the high winds of a tornado.
Crawl spaces, in general, are bad places in which to hide. Most foundations in Middle Tennessee are built of bricko blocks. These blocks are stacked on top of one another and held together by mortar. In many cases, the foundations will fail as the home shifts on top of them. The foundations can fail even if the home remains intact, crushing anyone who would seek shelter in the crawl space.
Going inside the home on the first floor is a much better alternative than in a crawl space.
Basements are good places, in general, during tornadoes but, if someone has a walk-out basement with garage doors, this can cause a problem. A structural study conducted in 1999 on homes damaged during an Oklahoma City tornado found that garage doors often fail in tornadoes.
This was also evident in 2006 in the Gallatin tornado. With this failure, extreme winds are allowed into the home, causing damage. If a basement has garage doors, go to the area most underground and get in a corner, under a workbench, inside a closet or bathroom. Get as far away from the doors as possible.
And most importantly, when any tornado warning is issued for in the area, it is important to heed it and to go to a designated safe place.