Part 2 of a 2 part series remembering the 60th anniversary of Tennessee’s Deadliest Tornado Outbreak. Part 1 can be read here.
As midnight hit, residents of Tennessee towns, including Bolivar, Dyersberg and Moscow were searching for people, treating injured and trying to come to understand how their world of six hours earlier was so different from that moment. But the heavy weather had no signs of getting any lighter.
Part one of a two part series remembering the 60th anniversary of Tennessee’s deadliest tornado outbreak.
As spring began in 1952, Harry Truman was President and Gordon Browning was governor. US troops were involved in the Korean War. “Dragnet” and “I Love Lucy” had just been introduced that TV season. “The Greatest Show on Earth” was in the theaters and Elvis Presley was still a high school student. In West Tennessee weather felt more like an early May. Temperatures on March 21 hit 79 at Bolivar and Union City, 77 in Jackson and Brownsville and 75 in Moscow. But a cold front was poised to bring winter back for a while and drop the temperatures another 25 to 30 degrees. The official forecast in the afternoon paper was “Mostly cloudy this afternoon, tonight. Saturday; scattered thundershowers, windy and warm this afternoon and early tonight. Afternoon temperatures near 80. Cooler late tonight, low near 45.”
In eighteen hours sixty seven Tennesseans would die and another two hundred eighty three injured by tornados. Three hundred homes would be destroyed and more than six hundred others were damaged. Five more were killed in Middle Tennessee flash floods. Six million in property damage was the estimated loss- that is about $51.3 million in today’s dollars. It became – and still is- Tennessee’s deadliest tornado day. Sixty years later memories remain.
The waters are receding. People in places like Nashville, Dyersburg and Millington, plus many other smaller towns are returning to homes and businesses. The news media will be off to the next crisis. And the work begins.
So what happens now? No one can say for sure, but there are the memories of those who have been there who have seen their downtowns flooded. Downtowns are the soul of the city where most of the most recognizable landmarks, the oldest buildings and a large chunk of the workers all are centered. So a disaster Downtown is a disaster in everyone’s neighborhood. What is it like after The Big Dryout? A bit of perspective from those cities hit by downtown flooding may give an idea of what is to be expected.