Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.
December 15, 2021

Happy Wednesday morning and thank you for joining us.

☀️ Today's weather: More sunny, warm weather: high of 65.

Today's newsletter is 885 words — a 3.3-minute read.

1 big thing: Planning for disaster

A scene of damage following the March, 2020 tornado in Nashville.
Damage following the March 2020 tornado in Nashville. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

Even before forecasters warned last week that Nashville was in the crosshairs of a storm with serious tornado potential, a coalition of nonprofits and government agencies was prepared to respond if disaster struck.

  • The Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) consists of about 30 groups that collaborate when destructive flooding or tornadoes hit Middle Tennessee.
  • The VOAD was formed in the wake of the deadly 2010 flood, but fell dormant through the years as Nashville was fortunate to be spared from major disasters.
  • It reactivated last year after a series of weather tragedies decimated the area.

Why it matters: Fueled by climate change, the South is expected to face more tornadoes, violent storms, and flooding. This new normal increases the need for an organized response when a storm like last weekend's impacts Nashville.

Flashback: Before the latest wave of tornadoes, Middle Tennessee had seen four natural disasters since the beginning of 2019 that required fundraising to aid survivors. The Community Foundation, a leading member of the VOAD, received nearly $16 million in donations for those four disasters.

The intrigue: Amy Fair, VP of donor services at the Community Foundation, says when the 10th anniversary of the historic 2010 flood arrived last year, community groups planned a series of events to commemorate the disaster.

  • "A lot of people were looking back. But one conversation I remember distinctly was, 'Instead of looking back, why don't we look ahead?'" Fair tells Axios. "Literally a day or two before the March 2020 tornado, a group got together at our office to talk about restarting the VOAD."
  • "Then, poof, a disaster happens."

Go deeper: Fair says because the partnership was reestablished, the VOAD was able to quickly respond to flooding that killed four people in March.

  • She says the alliance improves communication and creates a more cohesive disaster response instead of the nonprofits working independently.
  • A benefit of the VOAD is that it allows members to use a centralized computer system to log a survivor's needs so that each group can offer its assistance.

2. Our warming winters

Data: Climate Central. Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Temperatures in Nashville will be unseasonably mild for the rest of the week, with Friday’s high expected to break into the 70s.

  • Those numbers fit with a broader trend of winters in the U.S. getting progressively warmer.

Driving the news: A series of record warm air masses could make this the warmest December on record for some places, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

  • Nashville is expected today to be well above its average temperatures for Dec. 15, which are a high of 52 and a low of 33, National Weather Service meteorologist Brittney Whitehead tells Axios.

Why it matters: Scientists say warmer winter temperatures can create conditions that make severe storms more likely.

The big picture: Every season in the U.S. is getting warmer, in line with global trends. But the colder seasons are warming the fastest.

  • The average temperature in Nashville during meteorological winter, from December to February, has increased by 3.8 degrees since 1970, according to NOAA data analyzed by the climate research group Climate Central.
  • In the same time frame, Nashville has seen an increase of 11 winter days with highs well above average.

3. Emission tests' "diminishing returns"

Interstate traffic in Nashville
Interstate traffic in Nashville. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

Emissions testing in Nashville puts an "unreasonable" cost burden on residents, local health department official Tom Sharp told councilmembers Monday.

Why it matters: The Metro Council is poised to vote next month on a resolution to end local vehicle emissions testing. The health department's position on the issue could make it easier to get the votes.

  • Councilmember Kevin Rhoten's bill to eliminate the testing in Nashville has 23 co-sponsors.
  • The five other Tennessee counties that require testing are ending their programs in January.

Between the lines: In a statement to Axios, the Metro Public Health Department acknowledged "diminishing returns" from the testing program, adding that "other mitigation actions could make a bigger difference over time."

  • MPHD stopped short of disavowing the program, saying it has helped keep about 135 tons of nitrogen oxides out of the air annually. But the statement said the program only targets a relatively small portion of nitrogen oxides and that city resources could be put to more efficient use.
  • "If the Metro Council wishes to end the program, our position is that additional funding ... should be accessed to fund alternative mitigation strategies to protect and improve the quality of the air in Nashville."

The latest: Sharp urged the council to consider adding $4 to vehicle registration fees, part of which would fund other mitigation efforts.

4. The Setlist

Illustration of the "Batman building" in Nashville with a bat-signal, with a note instead of a bat, shining on it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🏥 Vanderbilt University Medical Center's plans to expand in Rutherford County are facing local pushback. (Tennessee Lookout)

🔍 Early plans for state legislative redistricting would require multiple Democratic incumbents to compete against one another. (The Tennessean)

🩺 A new historical marker honoring one of Nashville's first female doctors was approved. (WPLN)

🎙 A downtown museum and restaurant focused on Country Music Hall of Famer George Jones has closed. (Nashville Post)

5. 🥨 1 pretzel to go

A glass of beer and a large soft pretzel
Photo courtesy of Von Elrod's/Alex Bodenheimer

If you're among those mourning the loss of The Flying Saucer and its giant, fluffy pretzels, you might want to make note of a new special at Von Elrod's.

  • Every Tuesday, the Germantown restaurant and bar is giving customers a free Bavarian soft pretzel with any two beer purchases.

🥨 They're also reviving something called a "s'mores pretzel," which is dipped in marshmallow, sprinkled with graham cracker dust, and drizzled with chocolate.

Our picks:

🍑 Nate was fascinated by Axios Atlanta reporter Emma Hurt's story on Senate hopeful Herschel Walker.

🎄 Adam is celebrating the season with the saddest Christmas songs he can find.