The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Nashville said a complex of severe thunderstorms developed over Kansas on Saturday night, before trekking across southern Missouri and western Kentucky by Sunday morning in time to reach the Nashville area by the afternoon.
"These storms produced widespread straight-line wind damage across nearly every county of Middle Tennessee, with numerous trees, power lines, and buildings damaged," said the NWS office.
Forecasters said the complex of severe thunderstorms produced a "derecho."
A derecho causes major wind damage over hundreds of miles. Images and video shared to social media showed the approaching storms on Sunday in Tennessee.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), derechos can produce destruction similar to that of tornadoes, but the damage typically moves in one direction along a relatively straight swath.
"By definition, if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph or greater along most of its length, then the event may be classified as a derecho," the NSSL states.
The thunderstorms that blasted the Nashville area brought winds between 60 and 80 mph. Forecasters said a 72-mph wind gust was reported at Nashville International Airport, the fifth-fastest wind gust officially measured in the city's history.
High winds knocked out power to more than 130,000 customers -- one of the worst power outages on record for the city. As of Tuesday, 81,000 customers are still without power, according to Nashville Electric Service.
Power officials said during a news conference on Monday that people may be without power for up to a week. Additional crews are arriving to help, but the coronavirus pandemic is preventing some states from sending workers.
Adam Elrod with Middle Tennessee Electric told FOX17 the storms created a domino effect on power poles that led to quick, widespread outages.
“When it’s one big gust coming through, once you knock down one pole on a system sometimes, it can pull down two or three beside it," he said Monday.
There was one weather-related death due to the storms across Tennessee, while three other people were injured by falling trees due to the storms.
Spring Hill firefighter Mitchell Earwood died in a weather-related incident at his home while he was off duty.
"Our hearts go out to the Spring Hill Fire Department and the Earwood family," the Spring Hill Police Department said on Facebook. "Fire Fighter Earwood served the City for 10 years. Rest In Peace Brother."
According to forecasters, the violent thunderstorms that struck Tennessee on Sunday were likely the worst straight-line wind event across Middle Tennessee since a derecho that struck on July 13, 2004.