LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — It wasn’t a traditional Christmas. Not even for the south. Void of snow, unseasonably warm weather sparked an outbreak of storms across the region on Christmas Day, leaving a path of destruction and flooding in its wake.
Much of Southern Middle Tennessee was spared from the deadly storm outbreak that ravaged the Southwest portion of the U.S. last week. Even so, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) reported on Monday that the agency remains at a Level III-State of Emergency, which was declared at 8 p.m. on Wed., Dec. 23 due to severe storms, tornadoes and periods of heavy rain impacting the state.
A second rain front began crossing Tennessee Monday and began gradually moving northward into Kentucky. TEMA was expecting this current system to compound the widespread flooding issues from the heavy rain on Dec. 25.
However, local county Emergency Managers have reported only localized, minor flooding issues impacting roadways in many Tennessee counties. After this period of rain exits, the National Weather Service expects a return to more normal weather conditions with no expectation currently of severe weather in the coming few days.
The National Weather Service has confirmed an EF-1 tornado touched down in Bedford County on Dec. 25, impacting both the Calsonic and Rubbermaid manufacturing plants.
According to the National Weather Service, an EF1 tornado hit Perry County and an EF3 tornado hit the Lutts community in Wayne County last week.
TEMA confirmed that six people died when the wave of severe storms swept through the region beginning the night of Dec. 23. Two people, a 69-year-old woman and 70-year old man, died in Perry County. A 22-year-old man in Rhea County also died. A 19-year-old woman and two 22-year-old men were killed in Maury County, TEMA announced.
Reports of tornadoes, strong winds and hail followed the line of storms.
Almost all of last week’s fatalities were blamed on tornadoes, making this the year’s deadliest tornado outbreak. Until this outbreak, only 10 people had died in tornadoes across the nation, the fewest number on record.
According to TEMA’s report on Monday, counties in Middle and East Tennessee are still being assessed for damage from the severe storms, tornadoes and flooding. Monday’s rain continued to impact the ability of local Emergency Managers to conduct damage surveys in flooded areas until flood waters could recede.
In Lynchburg, East Fork Mulberry Creek was well out of its banks, as water spilled into Wiseman Park beginning Dec. 25. Water had started to recede Sunday, before Monday’s rain brought levels back up. The park was still flooded on Tuesday and county emergency officials had the main entrance gate locked.
Storm clean up
The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is warning Tennessee residents to be safe when cleaning up after recent storms.
According to OSHA, only workers with the proper training, equipment and experience should clean up after severe weather. Hazards can include downed power lines and unstable structures.
OSHA maintains a comprehensive website to keep disaster site workers safe during tornado and storm cleanup and recovery operations.
Individuals involved in recovery efforts may also call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or visit <www.osha.gov> to reach local representatives who can provide on-site assistance. The Tennessee OSHA Office can be reached at (615) 741-2793.
TVA opens flood gates
The Tennessee Valley Authority has opened flood gates on all of its nine mainstream dams on the Tennessee River and is holding back water in its upstream storage reservoirs.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the move comes after nearly a foot of rainfall in parts of the Tennessee Valley over the past week put the river above flood stage in parts of northern Alabama.
Spokesman Travis Brickey said the agency is in flood control mode and working with the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages other river systems and dams in the Tennessee Valley.
The increased water flow has shut down barge traffic through Chattanooga and boosted the river level there by 7 feet from last Wednesday.
—By Robert Holman, MCN Publisher (firstname.lastname@example.org); Additional information from The Associated Press