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We study the tropicalizations of Severi varieties, which we call tropical Severi varieties. In this paper, we give a partial answer to the following question: “Describe the tropical Severi varieties explicitly.” We obtain a description of tropical Severi varieties in terms of regular subdivisions of polygons. As an intermediate step, we construct explicit parameter spaces of curves. These parameter spaces are much simpler objects than the corresponding Severi variety and they are closely related to flat degenerations of the Severi variety, which in turn describes the tropical Severi variety. As an application, we understand G. Mikhalkin’s correspondence theorem for the degrees of Severi varieties in terms of tropical intersection theory. In particular, this provides a proof of the independence of point-configurations in the enumeration of tropical nodal curves.