We’re going to knock out a quick one tonight. I’ve had a long day and I’ve got a feeling tomorrow’s going to be a booger. We’ll get to that in a minute, though.
First, let’s talk about Nashville or, more specifically, the tornadoes that ripped through the entire state of Tennessee last night, killing 25 people at current count. Right now, they’re still picking through the rubble so there’s no telling the full cost when it comes to damages and loss of property. Putnam County, some 80 miles east of Nashville, saw 16 people die in the storms and Music City itself had no less than 48 structures either partially or complete collapse before it was all over.
This is actually the second worst tornado disaster Eastern Tennessee has faced. Back in 1952, 38 people died with 31 confirmed tornadoes struck when an F4 the area. Nashville’s had plenty of experience with tornadoes kicking the shit out of them in recent years, with an F5 in 1998 that killed 12 and saw more than 20 supercells as a part of a brace of storms that rampaged through the whole Ohio Valley. A particularly scary night in 2006 saw 10 killed and over $630 million in damage.
I went through Nashville after the 2006 storms. I’ve got friends up there, for one, and another, a deep love of country music. You might’ve gathered that, but it goes a little deeper than just digging the music. I’ve been a stone-cold fan of country music for nearly four decades and, indeed, refused to listen to anything apart from country music (and classic ’50s rock & roll) until I was in my teens.
And not to be “that guy”, it goes a little further than the hipster love that grew out of the popularity of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings album. The history, the stories, the legends, I am down with all of it. I’ve read a dozen books on the city and the music it made, both the cornpone smiles on Hee Haw and the dark Babylon that chewed up singers and spat them out. From Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge to Earnest Tubb’s Record Shop, Nashville has always been something of a magical place for me. Even after country music stopped being made for me, I loved going to the little dives on Broadway to see hungry, young kids from Kentucky or Illinois sing their songs, trying to be the Next Big Thing to come from Music Row.
Tornadoes are terrifying. I’ve gone through both them and hurricanes, and I will say without a doubt that tornadoes beat the latter hands down. You see hurricanes coming. They may turn on you without warning or sit on your face harder than you expect, but tornadoes come and go like a Tasmanian devil. You might get a warning, enough time to get into the basement or the bathroom, but you can’t count on anything.
Indeed, last night’s tornadoes caught pretty much everyone flatfooted, including the meteorologists. The storms hit in the wee hours of the morning, and apparently most people hadn’t seen the need to plan for it. We’ve had some ugly weather here in the Tennessee Valley as of late and the rain had come in last night when everyone had hit the sack, but no one expected what happened.
Back in 2011, a series of tornadoes blew through Smithville, a little town of less than a thousand people about 10 miles as the crow flies. Before the Tenn-Tom Waterway cut us off and made it a 26-mile drive, Smithville was our go-to town for just about anything that didn’t require dealing with the county government or going to Wal-Mart.
A few months after the tornadoes hit, I went home to visit and decided to take a detour through Smithville to see how bad it was. I knew it was bad – farm equipment that weighed a ton from the area wound up in my uncle’s yard just down the road from us – but I really wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I turned that last curve. It looked like a giant had just flattened one side of the town like a small child would crush a Styrofoam cup. It reminded me of the pictures of the devastation Katrina caused six years earlier.
And those poor bastards have to try to vote today. Yes – and wonderful transition, that – today is Super Tuesday and it could decided just who is the Democratic nominee for president come November. I’ve been studiously avoiding any news because all the opinions from the Twitter political experts is headache causing enough. Last I couldn’t miss, though, Bernie Sanders was doing a bit better than many had given him chance to.
But we’ll get into that tomorrow, when all’s over but the crying. For now, if you haven’t voted and still got time, do so. If you want to donate money to help out the folks in Nashville – or need help yourself – here are some links. If you want to read an nice piece on theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson, who died last week at 96, check this out.
Otherwise, stay frosty and pay attention to the weatherman. Also, wash your damn hands.