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Bombardment From the Clouds!

June 25, 2022

Every year, the third week of June is the week that we observe "Lightning Safety Awareness", because about 1,000 people get struck by lightning every year in the United States. What does this have to do with Metro Archives? A lot actually. Presently, we're transcribing more of the weather reports from the Signal Service, and we have some interesting excerpts to share from these journals. 

Now, I'm not an expert on the matter at all, but after reading through some of these journals, I've come across several incidents that talk about lightning striking somewhere in the city and/or surprising people or cutting the electricity off of a building. Seems frightening but also fascinating to me since I'm not the surprised individual. 

But before I go into detail of the various incidents, I'd like to provide some further info about the location of the Signal Service office as we've recently discovered from the journals. Also, I did a previous blog post about these journals several years ago, so if you'd like to read more about what the Signal Service was and previous weather events - check out that blog post here


Where was the office located?

1888 Sanborn map of downtown
1888 Sanborn map showing the location of the Signal Service office - in the Vanderbilt Law School building. Today, the Doubletree Hotel resides there.

Whether this is where the office was located originally, I'm not sure - possibly based on this 1870 station report...

"I have the honor to make the following report in regard to kind size and position of my office. The room is situated on the second floor of a three-story building size 16 x 20 ft ceiling 13 ft high. Windows facing northeast. The barometer is hanging on the left side of windows 16 ft from cistern to ground. Thermometer in window facing northwest. There is a porch extending over windows. There is a “grate” in room. The rain gauge is up on roof of building 66 ft above surface of ground. Wind vane in is an exposed position 70 ft above ground and about 5 ft above roof. This is the most suitable room I could procure although assisted by Mayor and other gentlemen of Nashville. I obtained permission to use the roof for the erection of an instrument room. A window similar to the one described in the Smithsonian directions for taking meteorological observations could easily be constructed here."

But the January, 1890 description of the office within the Vanderbilt Law building states...

January, 1890 Signal Service report discussing the location of the station
January, 1890 entry of Signal Service weather report, discussing the location of the station.

"The office is on 5th floor, rooms 40 & 42, Law Dept. Vanderbilt University, No. 311 N. Cherry St. The station was inspected on the 9th, 10th, and 11th of January, 1890..."

Lightning and Storms Wreaking Havoc

February 24th-25th, 1890

Not so much lightning but definitely storms occurred on the 24th and 25th of February, 1890.

"Thunder first heard in NW, at 2:10 a.m., loudest 2:30 a.m., last heard at 3:10 a.m..."

Later in the day, the rain began and grew steadily more heavy. And then hail joined in on the fun for a brief amount of time. When the storm continued into the next day, it began again around 6:20 a.m. 

Nashville Weather Reports Collection - February 1890

Like you see above, when the lightning and thunder began on the 25th, it did it "with very angry looking clouds"; seems like a very scientific description. But these "angry looking clouds" caused a lot of noise and wind with this next phase of the storm - so much so - the roof of the Terry Manufacturing Co. was torn off and the building itself was badly flooded.


Storm report from February 1890 from the Nashville Weather Reports Collection

March 27th, 1890

The evening of the 27th turned into a bit of a show in Nashville - a scary one at that. At about 8 p.m., the wind was strong, coming in from the east, and "numerous flashes of lightning were seen over the entire heavens."

The storm reached its severity at around 9:20 p.m., and its...

"severity struck the city and the wind blew a gale from the east, reaching a max of 46 miles per hour at 9:20 p.m. The extreme velocity of 48 miles was recorded for about two minutes. The whole atmosphere was charged with electricity - as was shown by the continuous flashing of lightning."

Yet again, after this storm, there were windows blown out (or in) and rooves blown off of buildings and homes. Didn't seem to take much to cause some damage in Nashville, during the latter part of the 19th century. And if you were out and about walking around, it was "almost impossible to travel along the streets."

Excerpt from the March 1890 weather report

Year of 1892

Moving forward a little bit (but in the same book currently being transcribed), there were a few lightning-related events that occurred in the earlier part of the year.

May 13th, 1892

"Lightning stunned a plumber in basement of Combs building on Summer Street."

Weather report from May 13th, 1892

June 27th, 1892

A little over a month later, there was a storm that was...

"...Accompanied by a very brilliant electrical display. The lightning was almost continuous. The residence of Mrs. Bonner on Hawkins Street was struck and the flag staff on the Penitentiary was shattered by a bolt of lightning."

Weather report from June 27th, 1892

July 24th, 1892

And lastly, a storm during the afternoon of July 24th stunned a few people and caused some damage to the city reservoir...

Weather report from July 1892

These are only a few of the many thunderstorm related incidents that have occurred in Nashville over its 200+ years. And provide valid evidence that we've always been a part of "tornado alley" when it comes to severe storms. I'll leave you with a snippet of a news article from the "Nashville Banner" (August 1915) that talks about the various forms of lightning and how capturing these weather phenomena evolved quite a bit over the latter part of the 19th century. 

'Til next time, 


Nashville Banner article about identifying different types of lightning
lucille ball


Sarah is a Program Coordinator with Metro Archives. Her interests and areas of expertise are history, reading books (of any kind), music, travel, Harry Potter, and bingeing a good comedy series. When not in Archives, she is either nose-deep in a book or planning her next trip. Learn more about the fascinating materials found at Metro Archives through their website.