Tennessee State Library and Archives
Disasters in Tennessee
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Winter Weather in Tennessee


Snow-Laden Automobiles, Nashville, 1951

 Snow-Laden Automobiles, Nashville, Tennessee, 1951 

Ralph Morrissey Collection

One thing we can count on in Tennessee are the ever-changing weather patterns we have learned to live with over the years. Tennessee's topography, which ranges from the low-lying land near the Mississippi on its western border to the higher altitudes of the Smoky Mountains far to the east, means Tennesseans can experience extremes in climate from one side of the state to the other. Though Tennessee is in a temperate zone and typically experiences moderately mild winters, exceptions do exist, such as the chilling winters of 1940, 1985, and 1993. The relative rarity of these events can compound their effect and bring life in Tennessee to a standstill for days and even weeks.






  Harveys Ad, 1951  

Harveys Department Store Advertisement
in the Nashville Tennessean, 1951

Newspaper Microfilm

Blizzard of 1951
The storm began on January 28, 1951, with rain in the Nashville area. Temperatures began to drop during the afternoon and evening as a strong cold front moved into the region, and the rain turned into a mixture of freezing rain, sleet, and snow. Technically, it was not a blizzard but an ice storm, and the worst one Nashville had ever seen. Real problems began on January 31, when the storm dumped additional snow and rain in the greatest one-day total of precipitation for the month of January in the city's recorded history. Thousands of homes and three hospitals in the city lost electricity and telephones. The roofs of many homes and businesses collapsed from the weight of the snow and ice, exacerbating the troubles facing the multitudes of Nashvillians without heat or any means to keep warm. Icy runways and streets further paralyzed the city: flights were grounded and numerous car crashes effectively shut down Nashville's transportation system for three days. Utility crews, the Red Cross, churches, and hospital volunteers worked diligently in the frigid weather to assist the many people in need. By February 5 the city began to thaw, and its residents slowly emerged and began the slow process of recovery.


Lowest Temperature:

-13° Fahrenheit at 6:45 a.m. on February 2

Amount of Precipitation:

8 inches of snow, ice, and sleet

Power Disruption:

16,000 homes in the Nashville area alone lost power and more than 2,000 telephones lost service


10 days


The only time Middle Tennessee has faced such low temperatures was in February 1899, but the effects of the 1951 storm on daily life were unequaled in the region.


  Frazier letter, February 2, 1951  

Sadie Warner Frazier Papers

Page 2     Page 3

Page 4     Page 5

Page 6     Page 7

Descriptions of the blizzard
Nashville resident George A. Frazier on February 2, 1951:

...We had a combined rain, sleet, and snow storm beginning Sunday a.m., continuously falling and getting colder and colder, it stopped snowing early this a.m. the temperature was 4 below zero at 8 a.m. got to 12 below in parts of Nashville. The ice covered trees and road is beyond conception, most of Mrs. Benedict's old trees are down. The big willow which fortunately did not fall on the house but tore down a large maple, our weeping willow is down, fell with a loud crash.

We had candles, not electricity, no coal, furnace went out we could hardly sleep Wed. night 40 in our bedroom, 8 above outside NO heat no coffee no nothing before 7 am Sadie called hotels only emergency service allowed not a room available in town, no heat everything dead. This is the most terrific storm since 1865 the River froze over...

Nashville Tennessean, February 4, 1951:

Ellis R. Sweeney, Jr., Gilman Ave. has a claim to fame. He drove all the way from Columbus, Miss., to Nashville Friday without chains. "I saw 150 utility poles down in one 50-mile stretch or road, and there were hundreds of cars off the road." he said.

"But I didn't have any trouble."

Nashville Tennessean, February 11, 1951:

The electricity went off in our little town last Wednesday, was off 36 hours in some places. This particular family I'm writing about is still without electricity. They haven't any way of cooking, so they found a coaster wagon, put it on the hearth, and filled it with hot coals. They are still cooking by setting their skillet on that hot coaster wagon. — Sadie Jean Agnew, Alexandria, Tenn.

After a night of sleet and snow, we were awakened at 3 a.m., Feb. 1 by our tenant who lived a half-mile away. His home was ablaze! They awoke just in time to escape without sufficient clothing. We tried to start the car to go for the family. It was frozen. Sleet was packed against the doors housing the trucks. I tried to call someone to go for them — telephone lines down. After 30 minutes we managed to get a truck out. I'll never forget that family barefoot, huddled in the snow and silhouetted against their burning home. — Mrs. James W. Warner, Chapel Hill, Tenn.

Nashville blizzard, 1951 Nashville blizzard, 1951

View of Snow-Covered Street & Ice on Trees,
Nashville, Tennessee, 1951
Ralph Morrissey Collection

Unidentified Persons Surveying Neighborhood,
Nashville, Tennessee, 1951
Ralph Morrissey Collection



Section researched and written by Lucinda Kinsall, Library Assistant