On March 3, seven devastating tornadoes tore across a 50-mile-plus swath of Tennessee, killing around 25 people and destroying hundreds of buildings. The winds reached up to 165 miles an hour during the worst storm, which was categorized as a “Strong” EF3 twister—one notch below the EF4 and EF5 “Violent” category.
In addition to dangerously high speeds, the tornadoes took Tennesseans by surprise: They occurred between about 10 p.m. Monday and 2 a.m. Tuesday, when most people were asleep. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Davidson, Sumner, and Wilson counties at 12:35 a.m., but evacuation numbers were likely still low.
“The intensity of the tornadoes and the weak structures filled with sleeping people in their path were a recipe for disaster,” says Kelsey Ellis, a hazard climatologist at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.