On January 24, 1997, a supercell resulted in a tornado outbreak that spurred 13 tornadoes across middle Tennessee with an estimated damage in excess of nine million dollars across the counties of Rutherford, Cannon, Wilson and Smith with more than 300 buildings damaged or destroyed completely which included homes, businesses, and public facilities. Reports state that 31 individuals were injured during the tornados, which are reported to have ranged from F2 to F4 in intensity. There were amazingly, no fatalities. The following table shows the Tennessee Counties in which Tornados occurred on January 24, 1997, with corresponding information on damages caused by the Tornados.
Figure 1 - Tennessee January 24, 1997,
Tornado History Project
Description of the Event and Responsiveness of Media Personnel
Reports state that severe weather was identified as a threat early in the afternoon of January 23, 1997 and that a special weather statement was issued reporting the threat to middle Tennessee for the following afternoon of January 24. Additionally, a special weather statement was issued early in the day of January 24 to ensure that the public was alerted to the severe weather potential. The tornado outbreak is reported to have "unfolded quickly across middle Tennessee during the early afternoon of January 24. Doppler radar indicated a tornado at approximately 3:30 P.M. when a funnel cloud was reported just east of Centerville, Tennessee and a tornado warning followed at 3:33 P.M. For Williamson and Maury Counties in Tennessee." (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, Nashville, TN, 1997, p.1) The tornado moved toward the area of Franklin, which was heavily populated. At 3:44 P.M. another tornado warning was issued for Maury County when Doppler radar indicated a tornado in western Maury County, approximately 15 miles west of Columbia, Tennessee. At 4:04 P.M. A severe weather statement warned of the tornado that was anticipated to move through Boston, Thompson, Station, Spring Hill and hear the area of Franklin by 4:30 .m. Short-term forecasts (NOWs) are reported to have been issued during the tornado event but stated to be "written in a broad-brush manner for the several counties warned and did not indicate specific storms." (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, Nashville, TN, 1997, p.1) Severe weather statements (SVSs) are reported to have replaced the NOWs for the purpose of maintaining the awareness of the public of the locations and movements of the tornados. (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, Nashville, TN, 1997, paraphrased) Both Maury and Williamson County public was warned extensively with each county having a reported "37 minute lead time before large hail occurred at 4:10 P.M. Additionally, phone calls were made to sheriffs' offices both to ensure the warnings were received and to exchange information regarding the tornadoes." (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, Nashville, TN, 1997, p.1) A tornado was issued for Rutherford County at 4:22 P.M. with the warning for Williamson Country extended until 5:15 P.M. Doppler radar indicated tornados from approximately 10 miles northeast and five miles west of Franklin and additionally along the county line between Mary and Williamson county. During this time there were stated to be "several weather spotters, amateur radio operators, and sheriffs' deputies were maintaining contact with NWSO Nashville and provided excellent updates of the tornadoes, which coincided with Doppler radar indications." (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, Nashville, TN, 1997, p.1) Just as 4:30 P.M. A severe weather statement was issued emphasizing the occurring tornados in Williamson County and included a statement making provision of critical information relating to the areas included in the Nashville metropolitan area in the paths of the tornados, which included areas such as Murfreesboro located in a heavily populated area of Rutherford County, Tennessee. Reports state that at 4:40 P.M., the "northernmost tornado about 5 miles northeast of Franklin continued to maintain itself, prompting a tornado warning for Wilson county valid until 545 PM." (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, Nashville, TN, 1997, p.1) At 4:54 P.M. another critical severe weather statement was issued indicating the locations of the tornados and pinpointing specific towns along the paths of the tornados. This statement made mention of the fact that tornados would be moving near to Murfreesboro between the time of 5:00 and 5:15 P.M. And…