The ‘forgotten F5’ tornado of April 16, 1998

A violent F5 tornado tracked across Lawrence County in Tennessee on April 16, 1998

DEERFIELD, Tenn. – An historic tornado outbreak of at least 13 tornadoes struck Middle Tennessee on April 16, 1998.

Many of these tornadoes were strong or violent and tracked long distances, killing 4 people and injuring nearly 100 people, while causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The most infamous tornado during the outbreak struck downtown Nashville, blowing out numerous windows in skycrapers and causing the collapse of some older buildings.

Other notable tornadoes included three violent tornadoes in southern Middle Tennessee that reached F4 to F5 intensity, and an F3 tornado in Pickett County that damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. Wilson County was struck by 4 different tornadoes during the event.

An historic tornado outbreak of at least 13 tornadoes struck Middle Tennessee on April 16, 1998 (Image: NWS Nashville)

Giles, Lawrence and Wayne County tornadoes

A single supercell thunderstorm produced three separate tornadoes across southern Tennessee, all of which were of F4 intensity or higher.

The first tornado began in Hardin County, Tennessee and tracked into Wayne County. This tornado was rated an F4. The tornado killed 3 people in Wayne county. 2 females, their ages 75 and 57, were killed in a modular home on Lay Creek Rd . Another female, age 69, was killed on Lay Creek Road in a wooden frame home. The tornado left nothing but the foundation. A lumber yard was destroyed. Many trees were down in the path of the tornado. Many houses and mobile homes were destroyed. 34 homes were completely destroyed, 14 homes had major damage and 22 had minor damage.

The tornado lifted briefly as it approached the Lawrence County line before touching down again. The second tornado ended up being the most powerful and was rated an F5. 21 people were injured by the second tornado in Lawrence County, but miraculously no one was killed.

This tornado is considered to be the only F5 tornado to ever touch down in the state of Tennessee.

The third tornado touched down near the Lawrence/Giles County line, well northwest of Pulaski. The most extensive damage was north of Yokley. There were downed trees and power lines, a ruptured gas tank, cars overturned, and homes damaged. 5 homes and 8 mobile homes were destroyed in Giles county. The heaviest damage in Maury County was in the Culleoka-Tice Town area. An 18 wheeler was blown over. Many homes were damaged, trees and power lines were down. Several trailers were destroyed or damaged.

The ‘forgotten’ F5

On the morning of April 16, local media began continuous live coverage of the tornado outbreak.

This coverage rapidly intensified to a national level when Nashville was struck by an F3 tornado in the downtown area at 2030 UTC. All three national news networks either led off with coverage of the Nashville tornadoes or reported it during the first five minutes of the newscast.

The local, state, and national news justifiably focused on the Nashville tornadoes, thus greatly overshadowing the Lawrence County F5.