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The Greatest Storms of the Century
in the Greater Washington-Baltimore Region

 



This is an attempt to compile a list of the worst storms of the 20th Century by the type or category of weather that impacted the Greater Washington and Baltimore Metropolitan Area. For large scale events that effected most of the region, a single event was chosen. The categories are listed alphabetically by topic.

1)  Coastal Storm (Nor'easter)  - The Storm of 1962
       The strongest nor'easter of this century struck the Mid Atlantic Region on March 5-9, 1962. It is known as the "Ash Wednesday Storm". It caused over $200 million (1962 dollars) in property damage and major coastal erosion from North Carolina to Long Island, NY. In New Jersey alone, it was estimated to have destroyed or greatly damaged 45,000 homes. The Red Cross recorded that the storm killed 40 people. It hit during "Spring Tide." When the sun and moon are in phase, they produce a higher than normal astronomical tide. Water reached nine feet at Norfolk (flooding begins around five feet). Houses were toppled into the ocean and boardwalks were broken and twisted. The islands of Chincoteague and Assateague were completely underwater. Ocean City, Maryland sustained major damage especially to the south end of the island. Winds up to 70 mph built 40-foot waves at sea. Heavy snow fell in the Appalachian Mountains. Big Meadows, southeast of Luray, recorded Virginia's greatest 24-hour snowfall with 33 inches and the greatest single storm snowfall with 42 inches. Nearly two feet of snow fell from Charlottesville (21 inches) to Luray (24 inches) to Winchester (22 inches). Roads were blocked and electrical service was out for several days. Washington and Baltimore fell into the mixed precipitation zone.
damage caused by Ash Wednesday storm of 1962Virginia Beach, March 1962
Picture from: Hurricane Survey, Norfolk Virginia: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk, VA, October, 1959.
 

2)  Cold Wave - The Great Cold Wave of January 1912
cold wave of 1912 temperature map      A record cold wave settled in over the region. Records set in Maryland during this period remain to the present day. It was close, but not quite cold enough to break the records in Virginia set during the February 1899 "Great Arctic Outbreak".  The cold wave of 1912 hit on January 5 and continued until February 16. It was one of the most severe and longest in duration on record.  Ice formed on the rivers and  the Chesapeake Bay. On January 13, Oakland in far western Maryland recorded the state's all time record low temperature of -40F. In Washington, DC, it reached -8F.  On the 14th, College Park reported -26F, Hagerstown -27F, Frederick -21F, Laurel -19F, Baltimore -2F and Washington, DC -13F.  The coldest temperatures in Virginia were -25 at Lincoln (Loudoun County) and Dale Enterprises near Harrisonburg.  Fredericksburg was -11F and Culpeper fell to -20F.  In the Eastern West Virginia Panhandle, temperatures ranged from -14 at Lost City in Hardy County to -30 at Bayard in Grant County.
 

3)  Drought : The Great Drought of 1930-1931
        The year of 1930 was the driest year since the drought of 1869 to 1870.  The drought caused $40 million dollars (1930 dollars) in losses to farmers in Maryland alone.  Forest fires caused by the dry spell caused $580,000 in losses in Maryland. The precipitation deficient began in December 1929 and was fully classified as a drought by May of 1930.  An extreme dry period set in from the end of June 1930 and continued through February 1931. During the 15 month period from December 1929 through February 1931, most places saw 60 percent or less of their normal rainfall.  The average precipitation across Maryland and Delaware was 29.58 inches which was 21.51 inches below normal.  Baltimore recorded 27.31 inches for the 15 month period which was 23.03 inches below normal or 54% or normal. Washington, DC recorded 26.78 inches which was 20.40 inches below normal or 57% below normal.  The drought of 1998 to 1999 did not come near this severity, but it was the second severest drought of this century.  The Palmer index, which is used to signal drought severity, classifies values of -3 to -4 as "severe drought" and values at -4 or less as "extreme drought".  The Palmer Index for the region reached its lowest values during the end of the extreme dry period. In Maryland, west of the bay, Northern Virginia and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, the Palmer Index was between -6.5 and -7.5 for January and February. Areas experienced up to 17  months of extreme drought conditions. The drought moderated some after February 1931 with periodic rains and showers through the summer months that helped the crops. However, these rains were not enough to restore the water table and water flows levels. Officially the drought did not end until about May 1932.
 

4)  Flash Flood - The Madison County Flood of June 27, 1995
        The Madison County Flood on June 27, 1995 was the worst flash flood that Virginia had seen since the remnants of Camille dropped up to 30 inches of rain one night in Nelson County in August 1969. The Nelson County flood ranks as one of the nation's worst flash floods of this century. The floods and landslides led to the death of 117 people.

Nelson County/Camille Flood damage, August 1969Nelson County/Camille Flood, August 1969
         The Madison County event was chosen because it is closer to the Baltimore-Washington region. The fact that only one person died versus over 100 in Nelson County can be attributed to three significant factors. 1) It was well forecasted. Flash Flood Warnings did not even exist in 1969. The National Weather Service in Sterling contacted the State Emergency Operations Center early that morning informing them that a significant flood was likely. 2) Early response and heroic actions by emergency responders made a big difference. Early warning by NWS to the state allowed them to call in resources before the flooding began to threaten lives. One Coast Guard helicopter came all the way from Elizabeth City, NC.  As conditions worsened through the day, the operators of the helicopters risks there lives flying in low visibility into mountain valleys to pluck people from roof-tops and carry them to safe shelter. Some 80 people were rescued! In 1969, there was little preparation for disasters and response to such situations took time to organize and gear up. Time that can cost lives. State and local emergency management has evolved greatly since 1969 and they are far more prepared to deal with such disasters before they even start. 3) The Madison County flood occurred in daylight when people could see rising water and attempt to move to safety and emergency responders could see people on roof tops and pluck them off. In Nelson County, people were asleep and awoke as their houses floated off their foundations.
map of rainfall totals madison county flood, June 21-28 1996    The weather that set up the flood included a semi-tropical air mass over the region; an upper level low over the Mississippi Valley which sent impulses/disturbances to the northeast across the area helping to trigger thunderstorms; slow moving cold front sliding south along the front range of the Appalachians and over the coastal plain which helped to focus where the thunderstorms were occurring; and the high pressure to the north which set up a westward flow of moist air from the oceans into the mountains. The mountains helped to lift the air where it condensed into clouds and rain. The focus for thunderstorm development on June 27 was the intersection of the weak cold front which stalled across the area and the upslope (east side) of the Blue Ridge mountains. A large thunderstorm complex developed early that day over Rappahannock County and slowly moved south over Madison County becoming nearly stationary over the southwest corner where it dumped 20 or more inches of rain in a relatively short period of time.
        Other heavy thunderstorms also occurred that day with additional flash flooding and some damaging mud/landslides (debris flows) in Nelson and Albemarle Counties in Virginia and the Keyser/Westernport area of Mineral County, West Virginia and Allegany County, Maryland. These areas as well as Madison and Rappahannock County saw rainfall rates of as much as 5 inch per hour which after a couple hours is enough to cause land to give way. Areas susceptible to these landslides are where the ground slopes at 30 or more from the horizon.
        Soil conditions were already wet from earlier rains during the week. Therefore, rain that was absorbed caused the ground to become unstable in some areas. Most of the rain turned to runoff which created a rapid rise on small streams and creeks and eventually into the smaller rivers. Soon water was out of its banks flooding roads, homes, and businesses and cutting off communication lines.  While Doppler radar indicated that rainfall amounts suggested that major flooding would occur, the first "ground truth" report came from a Skywarn Amateur Radio observer. Skywarn is a volunteer network of people who pass reports of severe weather onto the National Weather Service. He reported that 10 inches of rain had fallen between 10 am and 2 pm in the town of Etlan in the north part of the county. During the heaviest rain, radar was estimating 3.2 inches an hour for portions of the county. This ground truth report told us that our radar was underestimating rainfall by as much as one half . Indeed, conditions were bad. Nearly all roads and every bridge in the county were damaged or washed away. Half the farms sustained damage. The entire hay crop was lost and half the corn crop. Hundreds of livestock were killed and 500 to 1000 miles of fencing was damaged or washed away. In Madison County alone, total damages were estimated at $64 million with an additional $29 million in agricultural losses. The estimated cost of recovery to get the farm land suitable once more for crops may be as high as $1000 per acre. There was only one death in the county which was due to a home collapsing on a woman.  An additional death occurred with flooding in Rappahannock County and one in Warren County.
        The rainfall and flood waters from Madison and Orange Counties flowed into the Rapidan River. The Rapidan gets its name from the fact that it responds quickly (water rises rapidly) and it exceeded flood stage during the morning hours. The picture below is where the Rapidan crosses the Route 29. This picture was taken near its crest at that point around 2 pm in the afternoon. The USGS stream gage near Ruckersville in Greene County was destroyed by the raging water. The flood crest was estimated from high water marks to have reached 31.6 feet. This is a 500-year flood for that gauging point. This exceeded the old record of 20.8 feet set at that point in October 1942 by almost a foot. Downstream at the Culpeper gage, the river crested at 30.4 feet which exceeded the previous record of 30.3 feet set back on October 16, 1942. This is equivalent to a 100-year flood at Culpeper.
        The Rapidan River flows into the Rappahannock River, which was also accumulating rains from northern Madison County, Rappahannock and Culpeper Counties. On the 28th, the river crested 5 feet above flood stage at Remington. Farther downstream on the 29th, the river crested in the city of Fredericksburg at 7 feet above flood stage. The forecast point for the city is at the city dock which has a staff gage. Substantial damage was reported at both locations, and at numerous other  along the river.

...Other Flash Flooding...
        Other flash flooding caused road closures from rock slides, mudslides, and bridge washouts, in Allegany County Maryland and Mineral County, West Virginia. Once June 27, near one million dollars in damage occurred to 200 buildings in Allegany County near Westernport. Total damage estimates including roads was $1.76 million. In adjacent Mineral County, $1.1 million in damages were estimated with 66 homes and 8 businesses damaged. Heavy rains in the mountains caused mudslides and washed debris up against bridges. Temporary debris dams backed up water then broke causing additional flooding downstream. In Piedmont (Mineral County), over five and a half inches of rain fell on the 27th with most
of it falling between 2 and 4 pm. Flooding occurred in both Piedmont and Keyser. Up to 17 inches of rain also fell in Augusta County, Virginia. Earthen dams in southeastern Augusta County were perilously close to failure at one point, but survived as the rain areas shifted away.

image of Rapidan River crossing Route 29 in Madison County    The Rapidan River crossing Route 29 in Madison County
Photograph by Stephanie Gross; Published in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, June 1996

image of Landslide in Madison County, VA
Landslide in Madison County, VA                                       Picture from U.S.G.S. web site
 

5)  Hail Storm - April 23, 1999
        On Friday, April 23, 1999 a horrific hail storm moved southeast from Pennsylvania across Garrett County, MD and into the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. It had weakened some as it crossed Garrett County and the Allegany Front, but as it passed east of Keyser, WV, hail began to increase in size once again. By the time it reached Capon Bridge in eastern Hampshire County, WV, the size of the hail had grown from golf balls to baseballs. As it moved into Frederick County, VA, the hail storm continued to grow dropping golf ball size hail in a swath now reaching from the north of Winchester, south to Stephen City (about 10 miles). The intensity of the hail stripped and shredded leaves and bark from the newly budding trees. Hail stone grew to the size of Grapefruit (4 inches in diameter) just east of Winchester. The storm continued east through Clarke County, southern Loudoun and northern Fauquier doing considerable damage to Middleburg, then across Fairfax County hitting Centreville, Chantilly, Fairfax, Burke, Springfield, and Lorton with golf ball to baseball size hail. It crossed the Potomac River and weakened just slightly. It moved across northern Charles, clipped southern Prince Georges and then into Calvert County with 1 inch to 1.5 inch diameter hail and onto the Chesapeake Bay continuing southeast to the ocean.  The damage left behind was incredible. In Northern Virginia alone, it amounted to over $50 million dollars in losses to public and private properties. Some communities saw a third of the homes with siding and roof damage. Some required total replacement. Windows were broken, cars dented and windshields smashed. Piles of shredded plant debris were left on the ground in the storms path. In about 6 hours of time, this one thunderstorm, moving at about 50 mph, did $75 million in damage. There have been other bad hail storms to hit this area before, but none to have caused this much damage to property.
radar image, Hail Storm - April 23, 1999 NWS Doppler radar picture at 3:54 pm, April 23,1999.
Hail batters cars in Winchester  Hail batters cars in Winchester. Photo from Winchester Star.
 

6)  Heat Wave - July and August 1930
         July 18 through August 10, 1930 was the longest and most intense heat wave of record. Temperatures averaged 8 to 10 degrees above daily normals through the period. During the 24 days that the heat wave latest, Frederick Maryland saw 20 days over 100 with three days in July (21,22 &26) hitting 108 and one day in August (4) hitting 106. The high temperature rose above 90 on July 16 and did not fall below 90 until August 11. That was a total of 26 consecutive days.  In Woodstock, Virginia,  17 days were over 100 with a high of 109 on July 21 and 107 on August 4. Moorefield, WV set the state record high temperature with 112 recorded on August 4.  Even higher elevation sites topped 100. Frostburg (elev. 1929 ft.) was 101; Emmitsburg (elev. 720 ft.) reached 104; and Western Port (elev. 1000 ft.) reached 106.
        Washington, DC tied its all time record high with 106 on July 20. Washington had 11 days with temperatures over 100 during this period. Four of the days were consecutive (July 19-22). This remains the record for DC.  While Baltimore officially only recorded a high of 104 (July 21 and August 4) and a total of 7 days over 100, it was reported that many people in the city died from the heat and others were hospitalized. The entire area was in severe drought. Little
precipitation fell through July and August (The two months total precipitation was 6 inches below normal).
Heat Wave - July and August 1930 temperature map
 

7)  Hurricane - Hazel, October 15, 1954
        The first two weeks of October were hot. La Plata was 96F on the 4th. Washington and Baltimore were 92F. Hurricane Hazel struck on the 15th. Cool weather would follow the storm. At 12 a.m. on the 15th, Hazel was a Category 4 storm still 250 miles south of Wilmington, NC. Her shield of clouds already reached north into Pennsylvania. Rain began over the area during the early morning hours and continued into that evening. The hurricane struck the coastline south of Wilmington around 10 a.m.  It maintained hurricane force winds as it rapidly progressed north passing west of Washington and near Hagerstown between 5 and 6 p.m. that evening. It weaken to a tropical storm of Pennsylvania.
path of hurricane Hazel, october 1954        Hazel produced record wind gusts at a number of locations. In Hampton, winds gusted to 130 mph; Norfolk had 78 mph sustained hurricane force winds with gusts to 100 mph. Washington National Airport in Arlington, VA had sustain winds reach 78 mph (over hurricane force) with a gust of 98 mph; Baltimore had a sustained wind of 73 mph with a gust to 84 mph; Salisbury recorded 52 mph with a gust to 101 mph and Philadelphia gusted to 100 mph.
        Heavy rains fell over western Maryland dumping 5 to 6 inches in 12 hours over the Allegheny Front. Luke, MD reported a record stage on the North Branch of the Potomac. Storage of rainfall behind the new Savage River Dam was believed to have prevented a record flood from occurring at Cumberland.
        Tides reached 2 to 6 feet above sea level around the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay. In Baltimore, high tides in the harbor flooded basements and streets adjacent to it. Waves pounded the docks and shore line.
        Virginia lost 13 people and damages were very conservatively estimated at $15 million. About 18,000 homes and a considerable number of farms and business buildings were damaged. Hundreds of thousands of trees were damaged or destroyed. Half of the phone and electric lines in the Virginia were knocked out equaling about $2 million in damages. Marine damage ran high. A 150 foot microwave telephone tower was toppled near Warsaw. 200 plate glass store fronts in Richmond were broken. In the Shenandoah Valley, Turkey Growers lost between 150,000 and 250,000 turkeys when poultry sheds were wrecked. Small crafts were driven ashore or sank. Four people died when a tug capsized on the James River about 25 miles from Richmond. Piers were demolished and private docks swept away in the  Tidewater rivers. The Potomac rose to 5.4 feet above MSL at Dahlgren, Va and Colonial Beach. Damage from flooding  begins between 3 and 5 feet. However, add on waves from strong winds and considerable damage was reported along with much erosion of the beach and banks. The Potomac at Alexandria rose to around 7.5 feet.
        In Maryland, six people were killed and an unknown number injured. Damages to homes and commercial buildings was estimated at $8 to $10 million. Homes mainly suffered damage from roofs being blown off, windows broken or trees falling on them. A few homes floated off their foundations in the high tides. An estimated $750,000 in damage occurred to boats on the Maryland Chesapeake Bay and another $1 million to wharves and private docks.  Utilities suffered about $1.26 million in damages along. There was half a million dollars in damages to bridges and roads in tidal areas. An estimated half a million trees fell. There was $9 million dollars in damages to farms and another $300,000 in damages to apple and tobacco crops. The total damage to the poultry industry in Maryland was about $5 million.  Erosion damage caused by the spray of salt water to adjacent land areas and flooding of low-lying areas in counties bordering the Bay and coast caused appreciable damage to the soil, trees, and shrubs. Total salt damage and loss of land by erosion were estimated at 1 to 1.5 million dollars. Total damages in Maryland were about $28 million.
        In the District of Columbia, there were three fatalities. Damage occurred to houses, power facilities, telephone services, and trees. The cost of debris removal amounted to $595,000 (1954 dollars). The Public Housing Administration estimated $300,000 in damage to World War II built public housing in Virginia, Maryland and DC. Installations at Washington National Airport were also damaged.
        Hazel caused a total of 95 deaths in the U.S. and over a quarter of a billion dollars (1954 dollars) in damages.
 

8)  Ice Storm - February 1994
         The Back to back ice storms struck on February 8 to 9 and again February 10 to 11 leaving a coat of ice, one to three inches thick, across much of the area. Areas west of Frederick County, MD saw anywhere from five to nine inches of sleet accumulate. Toward the end of the storm, this area saw light freezing rain solidify the sleet on the ground and but a glaze across trees and wires. There were scattered outages and at least 75 ice-related injuries that were treated at area hospitals. Across central and northern Maryland, Northern Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley, and the central Piedmont of Virginia, about 4 to 7 inches of sleet fell. Again in this area, light freezing rain toward the end of the storm which solidified the ice and coated everything. It was enough to do about $5 million in damages across this region.
        The hardest hit area was Southern Maryland, Annapolis, and the Eastern Shore and southwest across Fredericksburg and the Northern Neck area and down toward Lynchburg and Danville in Virginia. Here, the combination of the two storms left 3 to 5 inches of ice on surfaces. It was too much for trees and wires. Some counties lost 10 percent of their trees. Fallen trees made roads impassable. Some trees fell on cars and houses. Electric and phone lines were down with as much as 90 percent of the area's people without power. Even with help from out-of-state utility companies, many people were without power for a week. A presidential disaster declaration was given for the counties effected in a 40 to 50 mile wide band all the way from Delaware southwest to Tennessee. Damages were estimated at near 100 million dollars for the Virginia-Maryland area. There were hundreds of injuries from automobile accidents and people falling on ice. It was likely the iciest winter the Baltimore-Washington area has ever seen.
 

9)  River Flood - October 1942
president roosevelt tours flood area in 1936  Washington Post, March 20, 1936.
october 1942 path of tropical storm
        The three biggest flood events of this century were the "Great Spring Flood" in March of 1936 (shown in top picture above), and two tropical related rain events, October 1942 and Agnes in June of 1972 (discussed under the topic - Tropical Storm). The October 1942 storm was chosen because it is the flood of record for Washington, DC, Front Royal and Fredericksburg, VA. Still it was a very tough choice because the March 1936 flood is the flood of record at many points along the Potomac River including Cumberland, Hancock, Williamsport, Shepardstown, Harpers Ferry, Point of Rocks and Little Falls. The picture above was taken at the Virginia approach to Chain Bridge where you can see the water breaking over the roadway. The 1942 flood reached a similar height. It is remarkable that these two record floods would occur just 6 years apart.
        A tropical storm moved in across eastern North Carolina into central Virginia on October 12, 1942. Torrential rains fell from October 12-16 in Northern Virginia and Maryland. It caused the worst river flood in the history of the Virginia and DC. The hardest hit was the mid portion of the Rappahannock River and the Shenandoah River. On the  Rappahannock, damages came to $2.5 million (1942 dollars) and most of that was in Fredericksburg, where the river rose to 41 feet (27 feet above flood stage). On the Shenandoah River, a stage of almost 50 feet was reached at Riverton on the morning of the 16th. storm total precipitation, october 11-18 1942 Flood stage is 22 feet and it broke the record set by the March 1936 flood by 12 feet! Flood losses on the Potomac River were $4.5 million. Water was 3.5 feet deep in downtown Cumberland and 8 feet deep on the main business street in Hancock. At Williamsport, the river expanded 4 miles from its normal banks.  Two homes were swept away at Harpers Ferry were the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet. At Point of Rocks, more houses were lifted off their foundations. The Potomac at Washington reached 17.6 feet (flood stage is seven feet). Areas of  Alexandria and Arlington were seriously flooded. The Anacostia River flooded as well as 6 feet of water was across the boulevard in Bladensburg.
        Ten to 12 inches of rain fell from Fredericksburg to Warrenton. Seventeen inches were recorded in Front Royal. In Shenandoah National Park, along Skyline Drive, rainfall totals reached 18 to 19 inches! To the south, Nelson County received 16 inches. Another maxima of 12 to 16 inches fell from near Paw Paw, West Virginia south along the Shenandoah Mountains to west of Harrisonburg. About 6 to 8 inches fell over much of central and western Maryland. Highways and bridges were washed away across the region. Over 1,300 people were left homeless in Albemarle, Spotsylvania, Stafford and Warren Counties in Virginia. About 750 people were displaced from homes in Maryland. Hundreds of homes were flooded in Georgetown. Miraculously, only one person died. Transportation was interrupted for three days. Severe damage occurred to crops: peanuts, cotton, sweet potatoes, soybeans, shocked corn and late hay. The heavy rains caused a million bushels of apples to drop before they were picked.
 

 

 

10)  Snow Storm - January 1922, The "Knickerbocker Storm"
        Exactly 150 years after the "Washington and Jefferson Storm" which dropped 3 feet of snow on the region, came the deepest snow of this century to the greater Washington and Baltimore region. The snow came on the heels of a cold spell. High temperatures did not climb above freezing from the 24 through the 28th and the low temperature dipped to 11F on the 26th. Snow began at 4:30 p.m. on the 27th and continued until just past midnight on the morning of the 29th. A record 21 inches fell in a 24 hour period on the 28th. The heavy band of snow stretched across Richmond (19 inches), Washington, DC (28 inches), and Baltimore (25 inches) immobilizing the region. Strong north to northeast winds accompanied the storm drifting snow into deep banks. Roads were blocked. Main highways were the first to open in 2 to 4 days.
          On the evening of the 28th, the weight of the snow became too much for the Knickerbocker Theater on 18th Street and
Columbia in Northwest Washington, DC. The horrible scene was described in the Washington Post on January 29th and
30th and was reprinted in the Post on January 19, 1996 following another big snow. They described it as "the greatest
disaster in Washington's History". The theater was cramped with an estimated 900 movie goers. The roof of the theater
collapsed taking the balcony down with it and crushing 98 people below to death and injuring another 158. People were
pulled from the rubble for hours and bodies were pulled out for days. A small boy squeezed into small holes and between
crumbled cement slabs to give those injured and trapped pain pills. From this disaster, the storm is known historically as the
"Knickerbocker Storm".
 

11)  Tornado:

Most Deadly: The La Plata Killer Tornado, November 9, 1926 at 2:30 pm
        A tornado (estimated to be F4 with winds up to 250 mph) touched down about 5 miles southwest of La Plata at about 2:30 pm. It moved northeast through La Plata and continued on the ground traveling 18 miles in 20 to 25 minutes to Cedarville in Prince Georges County. Its damage path was about 500 feet in width. Little thunder occurred with the storm. Torrential rain occurred at the time of the tornado's passage. Some hail fell. The tornado's roar was heard up to 3 miles away. Debris from the tornado was blown inward and forward (a classic tornado pattern). From this description in Monthly Weather Review for November 1926, the "vortex swayed from side to side as it progressed", it was likely a multi-vortex tornado. Large tornadoes often break down into smaller vortices which rotate around the wall of the larger cyclone. At some places, the tornado "furrowed into the soil".
        In La Plata, four homes, several large barns and the school house were completely demolished - lifted from their foundations and shattered. The schoolhouse, with its 60 children and two teachers was lifted from its foundation and smashed against a grove of trees 50 feet away. Debris from the school, children's belongings, and school furnishings were scattered in all directions. Some of the children were carried 500 feet and the body of one child was found in the top branches of a tree 300 feet away. Parts of desks were found 7 miles away. Some of the wreckage of the schoolhouse was found deposited in a field a mile north of Upper Marlboro, 25 miles away. A page from a school ledger was found in Bowie, 36 miles to the north-northeast. About 6.5 miles from Annapolis, almost 50 miles from La Plata, a 8 foot by 2 foot piece of galvanized roofing from the school fell. Of the school, 14 children were killed. The two teachers and all the other children but one were injured.

Miss Ethel Graves, a school teacher at the La Plata School describes what happened:

"It was just a few minutes before 3 o'clock that I heard a rumbling roar and the wind seemed to increase tremendously. I was just getting ready to take the children to some safer place when the glass from all of the windows blew out. The children had started toward me then and were beginning to group themselves about me when it seemed as if they and everything in the room about me had been pulled up be some unseen hooks. Then we were flying through the air. It seemed to me as if some of the children and parts of the building passed me several times. I lost consciousness then."
        An additional four homes were badly damaged and 14 tobacco barns and their contents of 4,000 to 7,000 pounds of tobacco were a total loss. At Cedarville, one home, one store, and 4 barns were destroyed. Several other homes were badly damaged. Six families were rendered homeless. A mother and her three children were injured when her home collapsed. The clerk of the general store was sucked out the front door, across the road, and slammed against a telephone pole were the wind tore his trousers off of him. On a farm, a barn in which a horse and cow were feeding was picked up and carried away, leaving the animals in their places uninjured. Chicken were defeathered. In the destruction of homes, 9 people were injured and 3 more were killed.
        Barns, sheds, outbuildings, fences, garages, a gas station, trees, and telephone poles in the path of the tornado were all leveled. A number of automobiles were demolished. Damages were estimated at $100,000 (1926 dollars). A total of 17 people were known to have died with 60 reported injured.
        The weather Pattern: An intense low pressure area was moving rapidly northeast from central Indiana to extreme southern Ontario. A trough extended south from the low center over the region. Winds ahead of the trough were south to southwest at the surface and southwest aloft to 2000 meters. At about 5000 feet, the winds were from the southwest at 48 kts (56 mph). The trough passed Washington, DC later that night at 10 pm. About the same time as the tornado struck La Plata, a thunderstorm dropped 0.65 inches of rain in DC in just 9 minutes.

Most Recent Violent Tornado: Frostburg, Maryland on June 2, 1998 at 9:45 pm
house leveled in frostburg tornado         This was part of a killer outbreak of tornadoes that moved southeast from Pennsylvania. The tornado entered Garrett County, Maryland striking the town of Finzel. It then moved up and over Big Savage Mountain in Allegany County ripped through the  northern portion of Frostburg. It reached its peak strength as it crossed the ridge where the home seen on the left once stood. Winds were estimated between 210 and 250 mph (F4 on the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale). This was the first tornado to "officially" be rated a "F4" in the State of Maryland. The Fujita Damage Scale was adopted by the National Weather Service for use in 1950.
        The total damage path of the Frostburg tornado was over 25 miles long (8 miles in Allegany County) and up to a half mile wide. Along most of its path it was producing winds over 125 mph (F2 or stronger). The damage path was continuous as it moved up and down over 2000 foot mountain ridges. The fact that no one was killed in Maryland was attributed to 5 to 10 minutes warning that was well communicated to people in Frostburg over television, radio, scanners, telephones and sirens and people taken quick action to move to their basements. A mother and child rode out the storm as it destroyed the house shown on the left under a table in the basement. They were shaken but unharmed. Debris from Frostburg homes were found 25 miles away. A diploma was found near Winchester, Virginia and a bill was found near Sterling Virginia (about 100 miles away). Click here for more pictures of this event and a full report.


12)  Tropical Storm - Agnes June 21-23, 1972
        This storm had to be covered as one of the top storms of the century even though flooding, flash flooding and hurricanes was captured by other storms, hence this category as the top tropical storm and quite a disaster it caused to the Mid-Atlantic region. Agnes was like many early June tropical cyclones. It developed in the Gulf of Mexico to become a weak Category 1 Hurricane by the time of landfall on the Florida Panhandle. It weakened to a depression as moved inland across Georgia and the Carolinas. It emerged off the Virginia Capes and strengthened back to a tropical storm as it headed north to make landfall once again on New York's Long Island. None of this sounds very noteworthy especially when compared against large and powerful storms such as Hurricane Floyd appeared as it approached the Bahamas. Agnes is a reminder that we can not assume that the size and category of hurricane tells the whole picture. Total storm damage in the United States from Agnes was estimated at just under $3.5 billion with a death toll of 122 lives. Agnes produced tornadoes in Florida and flooding up the East Coast. Hardest hit states from flooding included Virginia, Maryland, DC, and Pennsylvania. Even with the storm center passing well off the Delmarva Coast, Agnes managed to drop torrential rain over the region averaging close to 8 to 10 inches over many basins and with as much as 16.65 inches recorded at Washington-Dulles Airport in Virginia just west of Washington, DC. Widespread flash flooding and major river flooding resulted.
        In Richmond, the James River crested 6.5 feet above the old record flood marks dating back 200 years. Water supply and sewage treatment plants, along with electric and gas plants, inundated and were partially shut down. Four of the five bridges crossing the James were closed. A 200 block area of downtown Richmond was swamped and closed off for several days. Flooding occurred on the Appomattox River with Farmville suffering its worst flood in history. The Dan River at Danville and the Roanoke River in Roanoke exceeded previous record flood stages set in August 1940. The Shenandoah and the Potomac Rivers flooded as well. Most northern Virginia streams and creeks overflowed their banks during the night,
washing out roads and, in some cases, destroying homes. Uninsured homes and a lifetime accumulation of household goods were quickly swept away. Northern Virginia was particularly hard hit. Fairfax County reported an estimated $25 million damage, by far the largest in the state. Manassas was badly flooded as was the Occoquan River which washed out a section of the U.S. Route 1 bridge.  In Virginia, a total of 63 counties and 23 cities qualified for federal disaster relief. There were 13 deaths and $222 million in damages. Sensitized by the Nelson County/Camille Flood in August 1969, quick evacuation saved lives. Numerous homes were destroyed, 600 roads went underwater and 103 state highway bridges were washed out or damaged.
        In Maryland and the District of Columbia, heavy rains in less than 24 hours, on the 21st and 22nd, resulted in severe flooding. Maryland's heaviest rains occurred in the north central part of the state where totals set all-time records. Highest total rainfall was 14.68 inches at Westminister and 13.85 inches at Woodstock. Totals of 8 inches or more fell in an area west of the Chesapeake Bay and east of Hagerstown. The District of Columbia reported more than 7 inches. The 11.55 inches at Westminister and 11.35 inches at Woodstock on the 21st, are among the greatest one-day falls in Maryland history.
One-day record rainfalls for Maryland include 14.75 inches at Jewell in July, 1897 and 12.61 inches at White Marsh in August, 1971. The previous one-day June record was 6.05 inches at Elkton on June 27th, 1938. A 24-hour (not limited to one day) total of 7.19 inches at Washington National Airport on June 21-22 was second only to the 7.31 inch total of August 11-12, 1928.
        The heavy rains caused disastrous flash flooding of creeks and streams in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Major flooding followed. The Potomac fed by heavy rains over its entire basin began flooding on the 22nd. At Little Falls, just outside Washington DC, the river crested at 22.03 feet in the early hours of the 24th. Flood stage is 10.0 feet. Meanwhile at Wisconsin Avenue, downtown Washington, a 15.45-foot crest had occurred and persisted for about 8 hours. Along the Monocacy River, a crest of 35.90 feet occurred at Frederick, Maryland. The previous record was 30.0 feet set back in 1889. Flooding also occurred along the Anacostia and Patuxent Rivers and along Seneca and Rock Creeks. Flooding along the Patapsco River broke all existing records. It was the worst flooding that the Baltimore area had ever seen. Near the Pennsylvania border the Susquehanna, which had devastated much of the Keystone State, threatened the Conowingo Dam. Flood waters covered small towns of Port Deposit and Harve d'Grace below the dam and a wide swath of land on both sides of the river from the dam to the river's mouth at the Chesapeake Bay, some 12 miles away. Flood gates were opened for more than 48 hours and the dam held.
        Total storm damage in Maryland and the District of Columbia was estimated at $110 million. There were 21 storm deaths in Maryland and none in the District of Columbia. The following Maryland counties, including Baltimore City, were declared disaster areas: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince Georges and Washington. Along the Chesapeake Bay, the counties named were Calvert, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne's, St. Mary's, Somerset, Talbot and Wicomico.
 


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