The Lay of the Land

I left work way before I needed to yesterday. It was sunny most of the afternoon and storms didn’t really start rolling in until 3:30 or so. And then, everything went south of me or north. It came up 40, cut across the south side of downtown, hit 40 again and went east. The Butcher had hail at work, but we didn’t here. Even the severe squall line thunderstorms that hit northern Davidson County stayed up on the ridge.

I have decided that there’s something about the lay of the land that affects how the weather gets to Whites Creek. It’s become obvious in my time here that our most dangerous weather comes from Ashland City. The tornado warning we had that ended up with all the trees in a suspicious looking line all getting sheared off about twenty feet up came from the northwest. When the cedar blew down in the back yard, it’s top ended up pointing south east.

This isn’t to say that I’m complacent in storms like yesterday, but I guess looking at them, I realized that there’s a way that storms operate like breakers. The wave can be moving from the south west but the individual break can be moving from the north west and thus that’s dangerous for us. But the southeast movement has to be long enough to get down the ridge in order for that to happen.

But I think there’s something about how the hills are situated that funnels weather up 40 (40 going where the hills are lowest, for obvious reasons) and then through downtown or just south of downtown where it’s flattest. But our hills here in Whites Creek seem to shelter us from a lot of southwest weather. I’m sure a strong enough storm could overcome that. It’s not like the hills are that high.

But I was looking, too, at how many of the places that got hit yesterday are places that have been hit before. Some of them in Alabama were places that got hit just last year. And I definitely wonder, in that case, if it’s because, a storm coming in from the west that isn’t below Birmingham isn’t likely to be able to get south of Birmingham, but is almost always just going to swoop through those same cities that always get hit by storms, because the bottom end of the Appalachians forces the storm either down toward Atlanta or up toward Chattanooga (or both, I guess) at that point.

I guess I just wonder, if we imaging the atmosphere as a liquid, if there’s something about the arrangement of the rocks beneath it that affects how the liquid flows.

10 thoughts on “The Lay of the Land

  1. We were talking about this yesterday as we watched the storms skirt mostly north of Huntsville just exactly like they did last year. It’s like grooves in a record.

    When I live in Arlington, VA, storms inevitably split before they got to Arlington/DC so that the worst of it hit Baltimore and possibly Richmond and then came back together in southern Maryland to almost always fire off some tornadoes. I always assume this pattern had something to do with crossing the Appalachians and then the Chesapeake Bay.

  2. I still lived in Nashville during the tornado of ’98. What I always thought was so very interesting about that tornado was that it “drove” down Lebanon Road. Like Jane suggests, that tornado was in the groove of a record…

  3. I don’t normally get nervous about storms, or i didn’t used to until last year. Yesterday, I drove to my best friend’s house – she lives on Shy’s Hill. Downtown is visible from the front room & yard. There was a slight amount of hail & a little rain, but that’s it. There’s something to what you’re saying.

  4. My car knows very well that we got lots of, sometimes rather large, hail. Those were some serious storms – they were just really contained with almost nothing coming before them. Now I just have to decide what to do about all those small dents.

  5. I think you’re right. It’s even more obvious when snowy weather comes through–always, the snow thins out around Bellevue, then shows back up just before Goodlettsville, which is why Metro Schools end up closing when 90% of Nashville’s roads are clear

  6. Years ago, while reporting science & tech, I looked into the “why do trailer parks keep getting hit in storms/tornadoes?” question, and people at FEMA explained that it’s related to your lay of the land observation. Trailer parks are often zoned into the most storm-endangered places, the cheaper land..It’s not that storms mysteriously track down the mobile homes in those land “grooves,” but that the mobile homes are virtually placed to seek out storm tracks..

  7. 34 years of living in Oklahoma City tells me you are absolutely right about the lay of the land affecting the path of storms. There are places where severe storms tend to turn, and certain paths storms tend to follow – even when the front in wide and deep some fairly narrow paths tend to catch the tornadoes and hail cores. Now that I am on the east coast I am nervous about storms because I don’t know what to expect yet.

  8. Barry, I have wondered about that. But that makes sense. Of course you put trailers on cheap land and it’s cheap to build in storm tracks and flood plains.

  9. In the decade I’ve been living up the road from where you are, just a few miles past the top of the ridge, I’ve watched a lot of storms blow through and I’ve always thought there was some sort of convection effect going on. Storms tend to come at us more or less from the west. The city is warmer than the surrounding countryside and since warm air rises it should make a sort of column over Nashville that nudges most storms to either north or south of town.

    Your “we get damage from the northwest” observation would hold up since those storms hit the Joelton/White’s Creek area before they get to that column of warm air. I could be totally wrong about this. Just a theory.

  10. Makes a certain amount of sense to me. It’d be interesting to see where the hottest parts of Nashville were, if Green Hills, for instance was cooler than Bellevue. I guess I’m saying I don’t think it’d be a cylindrical column, but some kind of almost bat-signal shaped column.

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