The tornado near downtown reportedly stayed on the ground into Hermitage, about 10 miles east of the city.
Police officers and fire crews were responding to about 40 building collapses around the city, Metro Nashville police said.
John C. Tune Airport, Nashville International's sister airport in West Nashville, “sustained significant damage due to severe weather," spokeswoman Kim Gerlock said in a statement early Tuesday morning. Several hangars were destroyed and power lines were down, she said, adding that there were no reported injuries.
Gerlock asked that the public avoid the airport until further notice and that the Airport Authority has activated its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate response.
A video posted online from east Nashville showed what appeared to be a well-defined tornado moving quickly across the city. Lightning repeatedly flashed while much of the city was in the dark. The whir of the wind could be heard gusting after the tornado moved out of sight.
Images on social media showed extensive damage to buildings, mangled wires on downed power lines and structures that are now unrecognizable as the tornado had reduced them to rubble. One photo showed a white vinyl fence that had fallen a car. Another showed the roof and walls gone from a building that still had what appeared to be boxes stacked on shelves.
A reported gas leak forced an evacuation of the IMT building in the Germantown community, according to WSMV-TV. Photos showed dozens of people in the street carrying their belongings not long after the tornado moved through the city.
The American Red Cross of Tennessee said on its Twitter account that a shelter had been opened for displaced residents downtown at the Nashville Farmers Market, just north of the state capitol.
Two tornado warnings in Putnam County, east of Nashville, were reported a short time later. The National Weather Service said the tornadoes were confirmed on radar.
Jeff Roberts of the Elections Commission said in a statement early Tuesday that information about damage to polling stations was being collected as polls open for Super Tuesday. Any voter in Davidson County whose assigned precinct has been impacted may vote at the Election Commission Offices, the statement said. Polls open at various times, starting at 7 a.m. CST, depending on the county.
The storm system was forecast to bring an isolated tornado, damaging winds and large hail, news outlets reported. Heavy rain was expected to impact Gulf Coast states over the next several days, according to WTVF-TV.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.