NOAA’s National Weather Service Releases Report on May 2010 Nashville Flood

January 12, 2011

Severe flooding.
Severe flooding.

Download here. (Credit: With permission from Rick Murray.)

On May 1-4, 2010, greater Nashville and the surrounding region experienced catastrophic, record flooding. Despite ongoing forecasts and warnings for heavy rain and widespread flooding several days in advance, 26 people died in the region – 11 of those in Nashville, where property damage exceeded $2 billion.

Shortly after the flood, NOAA’s National Weather Service sent a 10-person team to Nashville to examine the agency’s service to the community before and during the flood. The team spent seven days in the field interviewing flood victims, first responders, local business owners, the media and local officials. Their goal was to identify best practices and determine if the National Weather Service could have done anything differently for a better outcome.

“The team found that personnel in every agency involved in the flood were making all efforts to maintain operations and provide emergency support services to the community,” said Jane Hollingsworth, a Reno, Nevada weather forecast office meteorologist leading the assessment team. “Their capability was pushed to the limit due to unprecedented rainfall and record flooding. The magnitude of the rain and flood impacts was unimaginable and to some degree beyond the current state of science to predict.”

The team’s report includes a timeline of events leading up to and during the flood, a summary of their field research, facts about National Weather Service preparation, and actions and operations before and during the flood. The team identified four key findings and recommendations, among 13 in total, which are available in the report.

Jack Hayes, PhD, director of the National Weather Service, said that local offices have addressed the team’s key recommendations in the eight months since the flood. “The assessment team’s deliberative review is of great value, but we didn’t wait for the final report to make improvements to better serve the citizens of Nashville and the rest of America,” he said.

Among these improvements are:

Below are the team’s key findings and recommendations:

Recommendation: The National Weather Service should take the lead to engage partners in regular interactions and exercises. Results of this effort should be a clear understanding of operating needs and procedures of each agency during routine and extreme weather events, creating quality long-term relationships and ensuring open and timely communications.

Recommendation: Weather Service field offices should employ proven pre-event staffing models during high-impact weather. Staffing should include an event coordinator.

Recommendation: Develop high resolution flood maps for Nashville and other highly populated and flood prone areas. Do this through the Integrated Water Resources Science and Services Consortium, a broad multi-agency initiative NOAA is leading to streamline water resource information, management and forecasting. There is an urgent local need for flood maps to help people identify their personal risk. The team recommends that development of the Integrated Water Resources Science and Services Consortium be expedited.

The National Weather Service often conducts service assessments after severe weather with significant socioeconomic impacts to a community. By documenting and sharing lessons learned from catastrophic weather events, the agency ensures continual improvement of its service to America.

The National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. It operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy. Visit us online at weather.gov and on Facebook.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Find us online and on Facebook.