Tornado damage in Nashville.
Tornado damage in Nashville.
Photo: AP

The threat of dangerous weather hangs over the southern United States as voters head to the polls for Super Tuesday. Residents in Nashville awoke to tornado damage after a twister swept through the city early on Tuesday. The National Weather Service is forecasting more heavy rain and potentially severe weather from Texas to North Carolina, potentially throwing a wrench in primary voting.

Tennessee’s capital was the epicenter of severe weather overnight. The city saw a tornado touch down northwest of downtown and roar through the city into East Nashville around 1 a.m. local time. Video captured during the tornado from downtown shows a huge debris cloud and large flashes as the tornado rolled over power lines and other electrical equipment.

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As the sun rose, the toll of the tornado has become clearer. Widespread areas have been devastated with houses, apartments, and commercial buildings toppled and numerous trees down. At least eight people have died, and thousands are without power. Schools in the city have also been closed for the day. Other parts of Tennessee were also impacted by tornadoes.

With cleanup ongoing and power out, the severe weather response is being complicated by ongoing voting (and vice versa) as Tennessee is one of 14 states to hold a Super Tuesday primary for the Democratic presidential nomination. Emergency management personnel are also having to contend with voting. At least one shelter in the city is currently being used for voting, forcing Nashville Emergency Operations Center to correct itself in a tweet after announcing the shelter was open. And the city is updating polling locations for those affected by the tornado. Many of the new locations are miles away and will require residents to navigate what may be tree-clogged streets or interrupted public transit service.

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While the city and surrounding towns recover from the overnight tornado damage, the threat of severe weather isn’t over yet for Tennessee or elsewhere in the South. The National Weather Service is forecasting a soggy Super Tuesday, with up to two inches of rain possible in parts of Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas, in addition to Tennessee. There’s also a chance of tornadoes or other severe weather in those states. Portions of southern Alabama are under a tornado watch this morning while the agency’s Storm Prediction Center warned, “severe storms with large hail and damaging winds are expected tonight, mainly across central Texas.”

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The wild weather could impact the Democratic primary, which has been upended over the past 48 hours with moderates candidates Senator Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropping out and endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden. That leaves Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard (yes, really) in the race for voters’ hearts and minds.

Research has shown that rainy weather can have an impact on voting at the margins (though with the caveat most studies have looked at the general election). A 2007 paper found that an inch of rain depresses turnout by about 1 percent, though there may be more to the story. Results from a 2017 paper show people are more likely to vote Republican in rainy weather, something the researchers suggest the fact that “people tend to embrace politically conservative ideology when they want to reduce anxiety, uncertainty, or ambiguity.” Still other findings from 2013 back that up, showing that when other variables are controlled for, “bad weather depresses individual mood and risk tolerance, i.e., voters are more likely to vote for the candidate who is perceived to be less risky.”

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These are, again, marginal shifts, and only some states will see crummy weather (it’s all sun in California, for example). I doubt the primary season will be won and lost on a few raindrops. But it’s possible the potential for rainy and even dangerous weather could provide a little bounce for a former Republican like Bloomberg and the supposedly “safe” choice of Biden while cutting into progressives Sanders’ and, to a lesser extent, Warren’s margins as the candidates pose the most drastic—and needed—overhauls to our broken political system.

Regardless of your intended vote, keep an eye on the forecast today if you live in the South—and heed all National Weather Service warnings.

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Managing editor, Earther

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