Thursday, April 4, 2013

The East Nashville Tornado of 1933


  My grandparents house was at 1300 McKennie Avenue in East Nashville where my brother Mark and I came to live with my Aunt Goldie "Didi" Anderson, and my cousins Roy and Alton, after our parents death there in January 1963. Just at the bottom of our back porch was a tornado shelter, or as we called it a "storm cellar". It was useless to us in the event of a tornado because the previous owner, for reasons I will never understand, had filled it in with dirt. I would love to have one today as nice as this one was. It was closed in by two wooden doors that lay flat over the entrance and as we found out later the steps were made of brick that led down into a brick lined room probably 10ft x 12 ft. Later on we wanted a club house and decided that the storm cellar would make a good one. The four of us along with neighborhood kids dug it out. We put chairs and a table down there and had a good ole time.

  It never occurred to me why we had a tornado shelter until I learned years later that many people in East Nashville had built them as a result of the deadly East Nashville Tornado of March 14, 1933. The tornado followed almost the same path as the East Nashville tornado of April 1998. The big difference between the two was the amount of casualties. There were far less people living in East Nashville in 1933 but eleven people died in that storm as opposed to 2 in 1998. There was no advanced warning in 1933 like there was in 1998 and the 1933 storm happened at night. The 1998 storm was during the daylight hours. March 14, 1933 was a mild day in Nashville. A warm moist air mass covered most of the southeast. A powerful cold front lay to the northwest. On March 13 the high was 73 degrees. By the morning of the 14th it was 61 degrees. Although it was cloudy the temperature rose to 80 by 3:00 pm. The cold front was fast moving and dumped 0.81 inches of rain in a short time.

  The tornado touched down near 51st Ave. and Charlotte in West Nashville. The storm was weak in intensity until it hit downtown but it blew out windows in the Capital building. It intensified as it hit the north side of the square. It crossed the Cumberland River above the Woodland St. Bridge and widened from about 400 feet feet to 800 feet. For three miles it tore through homes, churches, schools, and stores. There were 1400 homes destroyed, 16 churches, 36 stores, five factories, four schools, one library and a lodge hall. Eleven deaths occurred along with two million dollars in property damage. The storm weakened as it went through Donelson but strengthened as it hit Lebanon. It traveled a distance of 45 miles. The first set of pictures is of damage to homes, the second of a 2x4 blown through a door, and Bailey School on Greenwood Ave. where I attended from the 7th through the 9th grade. The school was split in half with only the two wings left standing. The 1998 tornado spared the school by skipping over it, according to witnesses.

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