24th anniversary of Middle Tennessee's powerful F5 tornado in 1998

Twister Visualization
Posted at 5:33 PM, Apr 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-17 18:33:01-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In Middle Tennessee, on April 16, 1998, a tornado outbreak consisting of more than 20 supercells and 10 confirmed tornadoes struck the area. Nashville was hit with three tornadoes — one rated F3 and two rated F2. It was the first time in 65 years that a twister struck downtown.

In the intensive coverage of the city's onslaught, a much larger, more dangerous F5 tornado in Lawrence County was nearly overshadowed.

In the world of weather reporting, tornadoes are rated on a scale — the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale) — from F0 to F5.

When tornadoes reach the level of F5 on the EF Scale, it means its winds have reached speeds of 260-318 mph. F5s are incredibly violent.

In the history of Tennessee, only four times has any tornado ever been rated F5. Once in 1952, twice in 1974, and finally in 1998. But some meteorologists have successfully argued that only the 1998 F5 has legitimately earned such a ranking.

This makes April 16 the anniversary of Tennessee's only officially documented F5 tornado in the history of the state. Fortunately, no one was killed.

The 1998 F5 tornado grew to be one mile wide and touched down in largely rural areas of Lawrence County for 23 miles.

Well-constructed homes in the area were completely leveled, with foundations wiped clean. Several trees were debarked and a one-ton pickup truck was hurled more than 109 yards, approximately the length of a football field.

The tornado weakened to an F4 once it reached Giles and Maury Counties, but it continued to produce damage for 17 more miles.

As we remember the powerful force that hit in 1998, it is important to pay attention to updates when threats arise in Tennessee's peak tornado season.

According to the National Weather Service, Tennessee's tornado season peaks in February, March and April, but the state is more or less accustomed to tornado threats year round. A second, fall tornado season is also typical around November.