National Weather Service
National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Flooding in Tennessee

On this page you learn what types of flooding are typical in Tennessee and how do you protect yourself, your family and your home. You will also find out more about significant Tennessee floods. Finally, you'll find links to NWS offices that provide forecast and safety information for Tennessee, as well as links to our partners who play a significant role in keeping you safe.

Flood Safety Home Page Turn Around Don't Drown Flood Safety Awareness Week Interactive Flood Map Types of flodding and associated risks NWS flood products forecasts and observations (AHPS) education and outreach partner agencies Flooding Navigation bar, hover for links Flood Safety Home Page Turn Around Don't Drown Interactive Flood Map Types of flodding and associated risks NWS flood products forecasts and observations (AHPS) flood safety education and outreach partner agencies National Water Center Flood Safety Home Page Turn Around Don't Drown Interactive Flood Map Types of flodding and associated risks NWS flood products forecasts and observations (AHPS) flood safety education and outreach partner agencies National Water Center Flood Safety Home Page Turn Around Don't Drown Flood Safety Awareness Week Interactive Flood Map Types of flodding and associated risks NWS flood products forecasts and observations (AHPS) education and outreach partner agencies Trailer Court Flooding South of North Watkins May 10, 2011 Flood Safety Home Page Turn Around Don't Drown Flood Safety Awareness Week Interactive Flood Map Types of flodding and associated risks NWS flood products forecasts and observations (AHPS) education and outreach partner agencies
 
Significant Tennessee Floods
  • The Nashville Flood, May 2010

    The Nashville Flood of May of 2010 impacted West and Middle Tennessee, including the Nashville Metro area. The flooding was the result of heavy rainfall from a stalled frontal boundary combined with a tropical airmass from the Gulf of Mexico, which had origins in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). The system impacted the area from May 1-4. Rainfall amounts of 12 to 20 inches were common, with many rivers setting new record crests. The Cumberland River at Nashville crested near 52 feet, which is the highest level seen since the 1937 Flood. A 2-day total of 13.57 inches of rain fell on May 1-2, more than double the previous 2-day rainfall record of 6.68 inches set in September 1979. This heavy rain event also set a new rainfall record for May in just 2 days, surpassing the 11.84 inches set for the month in 1983.

    There were 26 fatalities reported due to this storm system; 18 in Middle Tennessee (11 of those in the Nashville Metro area), 4 in western Tennessee, and 4 in Kentucky. Numerous rescues took place during the event as well, but no concrete statistics on the number of injuries could be found. Damage estimates of $2 billion were reported for the Nashville Metro area and close to $3 billion statewide.

    Many notable landmarks were flooded around Nashville, including the Grand Ole Opry House, Opry Mills Mall, and Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center east of downtown. In the downtown area, LP Field (home of the Tennessee Titans), Bridgestone Arena (home of the Nashville Predators), the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and many other commercial and residential buildings sustained damage either from flood waters or basement flooding due to rising water tables. The K.R. Harrington water treatment facility, operated by Nashville Metro Water Service, was also flooded and rendered inoperable. This caused water conservation measures to be in place for several weeks until the facility was brought back on-line.

    Cars and trucks on Blue Hole Road almost completely under water May 1-2 2010

    Learn More:



  • East Tennessee Flood of 1867

    The flood of 1867 is the most significant flood ever recorded in east Tennessee. The Upper Tennessee Valley was especially susceptible to flooding thanks to its location between the Smoky Mountains to the east and the Cumberland Plateau to the west. The valley gradually slopes from southwest Virginia to Chattanooga, TN, with nearly all precipitation runoff from across the region flowing through Chattanooga.

    Meteorological data was scarce in 1867, but one attempt by the Tennessee Valley Authority to reconstruct the precipitation event resulted in the following isohyetal map. 

    Estimated total rainfall, March 1-7, 1867. Taken from “Floods and Flood Control,” Tennessee Valley Authority, Technical Report No. 26, 1961, pg. 30.
    Estimated total rainfall, March 1-7, 1867. Taken from “Floods and Flood Control,” Tennessee Valley Authority, Technical Report No. 26, 1961, pg. 30.

    The map above shows that during the first 7 days of March 1867, upwards of 12 inches of rain fell across an area extending from Lookout Mountain in northwest Georgia, to Maggie Valley, NC. Rainfall is estimated to have easily exceeded 6 inches across the remainder of the Upper Tennessee Valley and its drainages. But the heavy rainfall was not the whole story. The rain  produced rapid snowmelt across the higher elevations, which contributed to the total storm runoff. The course of the flood through the Upper Tennessee Valley was described as follows by the Report of Chief of Engineers, 1875-1876:

    “The flood of 1867 far exceeded all precedents for the past 90 years. It consisted of one great rise due to furious rain storms which covered its entire valley, particularly the mountain region. At Kingsport, on the Holston, rain fell nearly continuously from February 28 to March 7. At noon on March 7 the river attained its highest point, being 30 feet above low water and 4 feet above any other flood. In 20 hours it fell 10 feet. At Strawberry Plains [northeast of Knoxville] the freshet [flood waters] rose 52 feet above low water and 11 feet above any other flood. At Knoxville the river rose 12 feet above the high-water mark of 1847 and was over 50 feet deep. Near Harrison the Tennessee rose 15 feet above any known water mark. At Chattanooga the rise began on March 4, overflowed the banks on March 8, and attained height on March 11, being 53 feet above low water and 15.5 feet above the high water of 1847, the highest on record. The river fell with equal rapidity to the usual level. Rains were incessant for four days before the highest water….  The destruction of property and life occasioned by this flood was beyond parallel in the history of the Tennessee Valley. [Taken from “The Chattanooga Flood Control Problem,” 76th Congress, 1st Session, House Document No. 91, 1939, pg. 71].”

    Learn More:

    The web link below will take you to a more detailed description of the Flood of 1867 that quotes numerous newspaper articles and official reports from the era. You will also discover whether such a flood could ever happen again with all of the flood control systems now in place. You may be surprised.



  • Flood of 2011

    The flood of 2011 was one of the most prolific flooding events in recent history. Two major storm systems deposited a large amount of water into the Mississippi watershed in late April 2011. Combined with the springtime snowmelt, the Mississippi River and its tributaries swelled to record levels by the beginning of May. In Tennessee, much of the flooding occurred along the Mississippi River and its tributaries from the North Tennessee state line southward to north boundary of Bolivar County, MS. Many areas between levees were flooded, damaging or destroying many homes and businesses. A fatality was reported in Tipton County, TN, where a young boy rode a bike into the floodwaters. The exact cost of the damage in Tennessee due to this event is unknown, but it was likely hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Flooding of Tunica Lakes, Tunica, MS May 11, 2011
    Flooding of Tunica Lakes, Tunica, MS May 11, 2011

    Trailer Court Flooding South of North Watkins May 10, 2011
    Trailer Court Flooding South of North Watkins May 10, 2011

    Memphis Riverfront @ Riverside Drive May 10, 2011
    Memphis Riverfront @ Riverside Drive May 10, 2011

    Tunica River Park, Tunica, MS
    Tunica River Park, Tunica, MS

Flood Hazard Information
  • Flash Flooding

    Flash flooding is a rapid and extreme flow of high water into a normally dry area, or a rapid water level rise in a stream or creek above a predetermined flood level, beginning within six hours of the causative event (i.e., intense rainfall, dam failure, ice jam). More information...

  • River Flooding

    River flooding occurs when river levels rise and overflow their banks or the edges of their main channel and inundate areas that are normally dry. More information...
  • Debris Jams

    A back-up of water into surrounding areas can occur when a river or stream is blocked by a build-up of ice or other debris. Debris Jam: A back-up of water into surrounding areas can occur when a river or stream is blocked by a build-up of debris. More information...
  • Dam Breaks/Levee Failure

    A break or failure can occur with little to no warning. Most often they are caused by water overtopping the structure, excessive seepage through the surrounding ground, or a structural failure. More information...
Protect Life and Property NWS Forecast Offices and River Forecast Centers (RFC) Covering Tennessee
NWS Wichita, KS, link