National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Tornado in Davidson County, Tenn., on May 12, 1923.

(By R.M. Williamson, Meteorologist, Weather Bureau, Nashville, Tenn.)

The elongated barometric depression extending from Arkansas to New England on the morning of May 12, 1923, contained some features which usually attend the formation of tornadoes, but it could hardly be considered an ideal type of tornado low. The sharp temperature contrast was lacking, at least on the surface. There was a well-defined wind shift line running northeastward through the trough and a drop in temperature accompanied the shift of winds from the southwest to northwest, but the change to cooler was only moderate. It was by no means a hot, sultry afternoon in the vicinity of Nashville, the maximum temperature being only 71 degrees, and the temperature change with the shift of the wind not exceeding 10 degrees. The long, narrow trough of low pressure had two centers, one of which was over Indiana at 7 a. m., or due north of Nashville, the other over western Pennsylvania. By 2 p. m., at which time a tornado of considerable violence developed some miles north of this station, the Indiana center had doubtless moved to a location about northeast of Nashville. This tornado, therefore, was distinctly within the southwest quadrant of the storm, another feature which occurs only occasionally. The tornado moved in a general west-east line, although in a part of its course it bore somewhat toward the southeast. That it did not take the usual southwest-northeast direction was due unquestionably to the fact that the pressure trough, by reason of its position and extent, was drawing the winds almost uniformly from the southwest and the shift in direction was from the southwest to west or northwest instead of the usual change from southeast to southwest or west.

So far as is known here, only one tornado occurred. It started, apparantly, in the north-central part of Davidson County about 8 miles north of Nashville, being first observed near and to the east of some hills that rise 200 to 300 feet higher than the surrounding country. It moved eastwardly across the Dickerson and Gallatin pikes, through the village of Edenwold, across the Cumberland River into the Powder Plant, and on into the southern part of Sumner County, where it spent its force. The length of the path was about 10 miles. Its width varied from 50 to 200 yards, being determined to some extent, no doubt, by the rolling character of the country. Fortunately, it passed mostly through open country and not much timber was destroyed. A few large trees were in the path, some being uprooted, others twisted into shreds, while still others were carried away entirely leaving only a portion of the trunk standing.

The storm crossed the Dickerson Pike near Lowe's Store, about three miles south of Goodlettsville. Here one residence and five barns were damaged to the extent of about $2,500. A house a mile or so east of this pike was partly wrecked and a portion of the roof dropped into a yard near Edenwold, more than a mile away. From that point the destruction was of little consequence until it struck a large handsome residence a little east of the Gallatin Pike, tearing a gaping hole in the roof and wrenching off and carrying away a two-story veranda extending a distance of 125 feet along two sides of the house. The village of Edenwold, next in its path, suffered severely, several residences, two stores, and the schoolhouse being completely demolished and other buildings partly so. Six persons were injured at this point, one seriously, but, strange to say, no lives were lost. In one instance, there was nothing left of an eight-room cottage except the floor, and yet the occupants, a mother and two daughters, received only slight injuries. A man was buried beneath a pile of brick and debris as the roof of another house collapsed, but escaped with only cuts about the head. One house clearly showed the effect of the sudden expansion of the air within. The roof was entirely gone and two of the walls were flat on the ground, as if pushed outward, while the remaining walls were unharmed. The loss from the storm in the vicinity of Edenwold was probably not less than $35,000, at least half of which was suffered by the large mansion, mentioned above.

The storm turned slightly southeastward from Edenwold and after crossing a mile or two of open country it devastated an area of the U. S. Government Powder Plant (Old Hickory), wrecking seven iron buildings, either partially or totally, the estimated loss being $25,000. Fortunately, the government stores, consisting of smokeless powder, were not damaged by water as they are contained in water-proof boxes. Had the storm taken a different course through the reservation the loss might have been tremendous, inasmuch as the buildings are compactly arranged and represent a total outlay of more than $50,000,000. After leaving the powder plant the storm crossed the river again and continued somewhat southeastward into Sumner County, where it is reported that many trees were uprooted.