20 Years Later: Deadly tornado outbreak hit downtown Nashville, midstate counties

Rick Murray: Memories By Murray Photo

It's been 20 years since 13 tornadoes ripped through middle Tennessee, striking downtown Nashville and several counties.

Four people were killed in the tornado outbreak on April 16, 1998, according to the National Weather Service.

One of the most notorious tornadoes hit downtown Nashville, blowing out windows of skyscrapers and causing the collapse of some older buildings. The NWS says the tornado was to blame for the death of a ROTC student at Centennial Park.

FOX 17 News viewer Rick Murray recalled being in the Parkway Towers building on that tragic day.

Murray was on the 11th floor of the building, sitting at a corner office across from the Municipal Auditorium. He remembers hearing an evacuation being called out because "a tornado was coming" over the loudspeaker, but from his view, he only saw sunny skies and a few "ominous clouds."

That's when a friend told him to look out of the front of the building and Murray saw rotation in the skies that started to snake to the ground. Right then, the friends started hearing explosions of transformers exploding. At that time, the tall building still had windows which were open from the inside and blinds started being sucked out into midair. Murray estimates the tornado was about 200 feet from him.

Murray remembers seeing a woman who was 8 and a half months pregnant at the time, looking terrified. There wasn't time to get to the basement, so the two took shelter and waited for the tornado to pass. It was nearly 45 minutes before any of Murray's co-workers had seen him, and some suspected him dead. Everyone is his building was unharmed.

Murray went back out to document the tornado damage the next day, which can be seen in the photos above.

The tornado then moved on to East Nashville and Wilson County.

Downtown Nashville Tornado from the NWS:

  • An EF-3 tornado touched down at 3:30 p.m. one mile west of Charlotte Pike and I-440. A tree fell on an ROTC student at Centennial Park while he was attending an ROTC picnic. He died later on May 4 from his injuries.
  • The tornado went through downtown Nashville at 3:40 p.m. and on toward East Nashville, Donelson and Hermitage. The tornado blew out many windows on office buildings. The Nations Bank Office Towers were one of the hardest hit buildings in Nashville. Tennessee Performance Arts Center (TPAC) and the Tennessee Towers sustained damage.
  • 35 buildings in downtown Nashville were "red tagged", meaning these buildings were structurally unsound. Many signs in Davidson county were blown down or severely damaged. The tornado blew down 3 out of 10 construction cranes on the construction site of the Tennessee Oiler's Football Stadium near the Cumberland River. The tornado continued east and hit the residential section of East Nashville. At least 300 homes were damaged in East Nashville.
  • The tornado then moved to Wilson County and caused many trees to be uprooted, power lines were knocked down, signs damaged or blown down, and there was roof damage to homes.
  • The tornado was reanalyzed in 2013, and the NWS said now, it would be classified as an EF-2.

Tornado Outbreak Statistics:

  1. Dickson EF-3
  2. Montgomery/Robertson EF-3
  3. Humphreys EF-0
  4. Macon EF-2
  5. Cheatham EF-0
  6. Davidson/Wilson EF-3 (1 death)
  7. Wilson/Trousdale EF-1
  8. Hardin/Wayne EF-4 (3 deaths)
  9. Wilson EF-2
  10. Wayne/Lawrence EF-5
  11. Davidson/Wilson EF-1
  12. Pickett EF-3
  13. Lawrence/Giles/Maury EF-4

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