By Barbara McNaught Watson
There are four basic types
of floods that afflict Virginia: coastal flooding, urban flooding, flash
flooding, and river flooding. Coastal flooding usually occurs with the
storm surge of a hurricane (see chapter called Virginia Hurricanes) or
with a "Nor'easter", an intense low pressure system that moves
slowly up the coast with strong onshore winds. While the hurricane season
goes from June through November, Nor'easters occur from September through
March and are generally considered a winter-time storm (see chapter called
Virginia Winters). Urban flooding occurs in heavily paved areas. Pavement
does not allow water to be absorbed into the ground thereby increasing the
speed and amount of water run-off . If areas are without proper drainage,
or storm drains become clogged, then streets become streams and water
gathers in low-lying areas turning them into pond. If it rains hard
enough, underpasses can rapidly fill trapping motorists and streets can
accumulate enough water to submerge cars or carry them wherever the water
flows. This chapter will focus on flash flooding and river flooding,
Virginia's deadliest weather duo.
Flash floods occur in a short
period of time - a "flash". Rain falls at such a high rate that
water does not have time to be absorbed into the ground. It flows downhill
into ditches, lowlands and small streams. As the heavy rain continues,
ditches overflow, drains backup, water ponds in lowlands and streams rise
over their banks. Streams and creeks can become raging rivers in just
hours. People are often caught off guard, especially motorists. Half of
flash flood deaths in the United States are in automobiles. If you come
upon water flowing across a road, do not enter it. Find a new route. It
takes a surprisingly small amount of water to make a car float. Just one
foot of water can displace 1500 pounds. Also, if you can not see the road
beneath the water, then you do not know how deep it is. The road or bridge
may no longer entirely exist or may collapsed with the added weight
of the vehicle. Many people think that they can pass through the
water in their vehicle only to have it stall at the deepest point. The
water often continues to rise and sweeps the car away. If lucky, occupants
are rescued by emergency response people whose lives are now also at risk
as they try to make the rescue. People need to ask themselves if this is
worth the risk of entering the water or is it better to just turn around.
River floods occur when heavy
rains fall over a large area. In many cases in Virginia, it begins as
widespread flash flooding of small streams. About 60% of Virginia's river
floods begin with flash flooding from tropical systems passing over or
near the state. A recent example was Hurricane Fran in September 1996. The
flash flood waters in the streams and creeks flows into the larger rivers
and flooding can occur for the next couple of days as the bulge of water
progresses down the length of the river. River flooding also occurs as a
result of successive rainstorms (as seen in the widespread and prolonged
flooding in the mid-west during the summer of 1993). Rainfall from any one
storm is not enough to cause a problem, but with each successive storm's
passage over the basin, the river rises until eventually it overflows its
banks. If it is late winter or spring, melting snow in the mountains can
produce added runoff that can compound flood problems. The most recent
example of this was flooding in January 1996 with a rapid thaw of the 2 to
4 feet of snow that had fallen over the previous two weeks.
On the average, 150 people are
killed nationally in floods each year. About 75 percent of deaths occur at
night. The nighttime maximum is likely due to a combination of heavy
rain-producing thunderstorms during the late hours of the day and poor
nighttime visibility. Typically, these late night rain producers are
associated with tropical systems or a cluster of thunderstorms which
remain stationary or continuously redevelop or move over a given area.
Sometimes these systems are as big as a state and are called
"mesoscale convective complexes" or MCCs for short. While most
flash floods are associated with thunderstorms, a dam break can also cause
a flash flood from the sudden release of water. The dam may fail due to
heavy rains as in the case of the Timber Lakes Dam in Bedford County, VA
on June 23, 1995 or a structure or mechanical failure could lead to a
flash flood with no rain involved. Ice dams can also cause flooding
in Virginia. The month of December 1989 was cold enough that rivers froze
over in Northern Virginia. In January, a thaw began, the ice broke and
began to flow down river. The Shenandoah River had several ice dams that
formed at sharp bends in the river or up against bridges. One dam on the
I-66 bridge backed water up above flood stage into Front Royal. Another
ice dam near Fredericksburg caused minor flooding on the city's
waterfront. If a ice dam gets big enough, not only can flooding occur from
water backing upstream, but a sudden release of the jam will cause a flash
Most of Virginia's biggest
floods have been associated with hurricanes, tropical storms, and their
remnants passing over the commonwealth. The biggest cloudburst on record
occurred in Guinea, Virginia on August 24, 1906 when 9.25 inches of
rain fell in just 40 minutes! Virginia's worst disaster and
flash flood was associated with the remnants of Hurricane Camille on
August 20, 1969 when 27 to 30 inches of rain fell on the mountains of
Nelson County. Rarely does a tropical system pass over the state
without some portion of the commonwealth receiving a heavy rain and flood.
These storms are often localized to a portion of the state such as Hugo in
September 1989 which caused flooding on the New River in Southwest
Virginia, but the remainder of the state was dry. Only in rare cases such
as Agnes in June 1972 does the entire commonwealth experience flooding at
the same time. Seven of the top ten river floods listed below were related
to tropical moisture brought into the state from hurricanes, tropical
storms, or remnant systems. The other three were snow melt and spring
Virginia's Top Ten Worst River
Floods (20th Century)
* Camille was Virginia's worst flash flood and
its worst disaster of the 20th century in terms of loss of life.
||June 21-24, 1972 - "Agnes"
||November 4-7, 1985 - "Election Day Flood"
||September 6-8, 1996 - "Fran"
||October 15-17, 1942
||January 19-22, 1996 - "The Great Melt Down"
||August 14-18, 1940
||March 18-19, 1936 - "The Great Spring Flood"
||August 20-22, 1969 - "Camille"*
||April 26-27, 1937
||August 18-20, 1955 - "Diane"
|Historic River Floods
|Richmond (James River)
|Scottsville (James River)
|Buchanan (James River)
|Buena Vista (Maury River)
|Culpeper (Rapidan River)
|Alexandria/Wash. DC (Potomac)
|| 7 ft
|Front Royal (S. Fork Shenandoah)
|Strasburg (N. Fork Shenandoah)
|Waynesboro (South River)
|Roanoke (Roanoke River)
|Alta Vista (Roanoke River)
|South Boston (Dan River)
|Radford (New River)
|Table Key: Red = Record
Flood Stage; Violet = Major Flooding;
Blue = Moderate Flooding; Green
= Minor Flooding; -- means that either it did not reach flood
stage; n/a means no data was available at that site.
Top Ten Floods determined by looking at river stage
records for 15 gauges across Virginia on 12 Rivers. For each gauge's
top ten floods, 1 through 10 points were assigned with worst flood
receiving 10 points and the tenth flood receiving 1 point. Extra
points were given as follows: 5 points for a record flood, 3 points
for major flooding, 1 point for moderate flooding.
Points were totaled for all of the floods and the top ten floods
were ranked according to the highest point totals.
Terms: "flood stage" is the height of the river
or stream when property damage begins. The river may already be out of its
banks and into lowlands along the river. Once the water rises above flood
stage, damage is expected. The "flood crest" moves like
the crest of a wave down the river. It is the highest height or stage that
the flood waters reach during an event.
VIRGINIA FLOOD STORIES
May 1771 - "The Great Fresh of 1771" : The
following is pulled from an even more detailed, three page article that
appeared in the Virginia Cavalcade in Autumn 1951 --
"In the spring of 1771 the lowlands of all Virginia rivers east of
the Alleghenies were inundated by destructive floods. This unexpected
tragedy was probably the most devastating act of God which has been
experienced in Virginia during the three and one-half centuries since the
English planted their colony at Jamestown. Many islands were torn to
pieces, hills of sand thrown up, channels stopped, the face of nature
While not a cloud was to be seen in the skies above the Tidewater,
torrential rains deluged the central Blue Ridge Mountain region throughout
ten or twelve days in May 1771. Rivers which drained this general area -
the James, the Rappahannock, and the Roanoke in particular - overflowed
when unprecedented quantities of water were funneled into their channels.
The Shenandoah, Potomac, and York rivers seem to have swollen to a lesser
degree, but whatever damage they did was overlooked in the colony's
greater concern over the more extensive destruction done by the other
For sixty hours the James river rose continuously, as much as sixteen
inches per hour. On May 27, a ship anchored near Warwick in Chesterfield
County, a few miles below Richmond, which made soundings from the first
perceptible rise, found itself riding a crest forty feet higher than the
common tides. Other observers claimed that this fresh was twenty feet
higher than the one in May 1766, and ten feet higher than those which had
come in 1720 and 1724. Richard Adams saw from his porch a flood "40
feet perpendicular." So dreadful was it, he remarked, that a truthful
description of it would not seem credible to anyone who had not seen it
with his own eyes. Old Joe, an honest and well-known Negro at the falls of
the James near the little town of Richmond, said that the water climbed
fifteen feet above the crest of the worst flood remembered in the
tradition of neighboring Indians. The Rappahannock River was reported in The
Gentleman's Magazine of London to have risen twenty-five feet higher
than it had ever been known to be.
Swept from their foundations, houses floated down the rapid currents.
Despairing people trapped on these makeshift crafts shouted pitifully for
help, but no attempts at rescue could be ventured. Wine casks, hogsheads
of tobacco, furniture, trees, lumber, and even large warehouses were borne
seaward by the swirling waters.
All told, one hundred and fifty persons were said to have lost their
lives. Many others had narrow escapes.
Both in the Piedmont and in the Tidewater property losses were
disastrous. Thomas Jefferson lost his gristmill at "Shadwell" on
the Rivanna River. Everything was swept off Farrar's Island.... Eighty
acres of rich topsoil on this farm were buried under ten to twelve feet of
sand overlaid by rocks flattened smooth as if by a modern steam roller.
...at Elk Island...nothing being saved but the people and five horses. It
is more meaningful to express the losses of this one estate in terms of
more than seven hundred livestock, nearly a hundred farm buildings, and
unknown quantities of grain and tobacco. At another plantation, located
where the Rivanna merges with the James, fourteen Negroes were drowned and
only one of forty houses was left standing.
How much destruction was done in the Valley it is impossible to
ascertain, but one surviving record indicates that the James River wreaked
havoc even west of its passage through the Blue Ridge. John Howard of
Botetourt County lost all of his growing crops, all but one of his tobacco
houses, his corn house and the feed stored therein, and some of his
livestock. It was only because of "the great goodness of God that my
People are all alive," he wrote thankfully.
Floods are dirty things, and this one was no exception to the rule.
When the rivers receded, carcasses, trees, and other debris were found to
be matted together in some places to heights of twelve and even twenty
feet. These confused masses of litter issued such a stench that there was
no undoing them. As may have been expected, a "sickly" summer
Flood of 1870 - Richmond:
Flood Stories of the 20th
March 17-18, 1936: During the period March 9-22,
successive storms crossed the eastern region of the U.S. with floods
occurring from Virginia to Maine. A total of 150 to 200 lives were lost
and damage was in the millions. In Virginia, the Potomac, Shenandoah,
Rappahannock, James, and York Rivers flooded. Most large flood events in
Virginia are associated with tropical systems. This flood was the largest
non-tropical flood event. The winter of 1935-1936 was marked by
long-continued periods of low temperatures and heavy snowfalls. In
December, it was estimated that areas in the northern Blue Ridge Mountains
exceeded 40 inches of snow. Some snow melted during a mild January, but
more fell in late January to mid-February. March began with warm
temperatures and a thaw. The first rainstorm came in the second week with
up to three inches falling. The rains melted the snow, adding an
equivalent of one to two inches of rainfall. This caused the rivers to
rise and set the stage for the next rain event.
The primary flood-producing rains came March 17 and 18 when a storm,
drawing moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, tracked right across Virginia.
It dumped an additional six inches of rain on top of the already saturated
soil. The North Fork of the Shenandoah crested eight feet above flood
stage in Rockingham County. At Front Royal, the Shenandoah flooded the
city rising to 14 feet above flood stage. The Potomac River in Washington,
D.C. rose nine feet above flood stage flooding portions of Arlington and
Alexandria including the old airport (where the Pentagon is now located).
The fresh water inundation on the Lower Potomac and tributaries killed
thousands of bushels of oysters and seedlings. In Culpeper, the Rapidan
crested at over five feet above flood stage and in Fredericksburg, the
Rappahannock flooded. The James River, at Richmond, reached 26.5 feet
(18.5 feet above flood stage) causing serious flooding to the city's
industrial and business sections.
April 1937: Just one year after the record flood of March
1936, another major flood struck Virginia. Heavy rains caused widespread
flooding over all but southwest Virginia. The Rappahannock Basin was hit
hardest. Fredericksburg saw its worst flood since 1889 when the river
swelled to 30 feet above normal. Three bridge spans were lost, home in low
areas were partially submerged and a score of gasoline storage tanks were
swept away. Four young Culpeper residents died in Madison County when
their car plunged off a bridge at Locust Dale into the Robinson River. The
approach to the bridge had been washed away by the flood waters. Another
person was lost in Amelia County when their car dropped into the river
where a bridge approach was washed out. A sixth person was drowned when a
roadway over a dam collapsed. Flooding on the Potomac was not as bad as
the previous year, yet the river reached 14.3 feet at Wisconsin avenue and
portions of Alexandria and Arlington again flooded. Total damages to roads
and bridges in Virginia came to nearly a half a million dollars.
Agricultural losses came to over a million dollars in Northern Virginia
October 1942: Torrential rains fell from October 12-16 in
Northern Virginia causing the worst river flood in the history of
the state. 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. 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. The Potomac at Washington reached 17.6 feet (flood stage is seven
feet). Areas of Alexandria and Arlington were seriously flooded. Flooding
was not quite as serious on the James River, yet the flood crest in
Richmond reached 16 feet above flood stage.
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 mountains into
Highland and Bath Counties of far western Virginia. Highways and bridges
were washed away. Over 1,300 people were left homeless in Albemarle,
Spotsylvania, Stafford and Warren Counties. Miraculously, only one person
died. Transportation was interrupted for three days. Severe damage
occurred to Virginia 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.
June 1949: Severe flash flooding struck the southern
Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and Potomac Highlands of West Virginia in
June 1949. High pressure over New England combined with a tropical low
near Georgia to set up a flow of moist, tropical air from the Virginia
Coast westward against the east slopes of the Appalachians. As the air
lifted along the mountain slopes, rain began. Flood-producing rains
occurred from mid day on the 17th into the morning of the 18th while the
tropical low moved from the North Carolina Coast to southern Virginia. In
Virginia, the heaviest rain fell in the Bridgewater-Stokesville area of
Rockingham and Augusta Counties. Witnesses say that rain fell in sustained
torrents from mid afternoon to past midnight. Car headlights could not
penetrate the rain more than 5 feet. At the North River Dam Station nearly
10 inches of rain was recorded over three days with 7.75 inches of it
falling in a 24 hour period beginning the morning of the 17th. However,
much greater rainfall amounts fell in the hardest hit area. Rainfall was
so great in the upper reaches of the Little River that it caused large
landslides on the steep slopes. The North River and it tributaries above
the mouth of the Dry River were all at record breaking stages. Interviews
(by the Division of Water Resources) with the oldest inhabitants
established that this flood was higher than the 1877 flood. The USGS gage
on the North River near Burketown (downstream from Bidgewater) indicated a
crest of 36.3 feet, about 4 feet higher than the October 1942 flood crest.
A preliminary report by the Weather Bureau read as follows:
Stokesville, Va., where heavy damage occurred, is located just below
the confluence of the Little River and the North River. It received the
combined flow of both streams, which apparently peaked at about the same
time. From eyewitnesses' accounts, this combined flow made such a sudden
rise that it gave the effect of a "wall of water" traveling down
the channel and causing extreme damage all the way to Bridgewater.
The path of the high-intensity rainfall also included the headwaters
of Briery Branch, causing a great flood on this stream. The town of
Bridgewater, Va., received the flood waters from the combined North River
-- Little River -- Briery Branch drainage areas, apparently with their
peak flows nearly simultaneous.
The Stokesville area is a community of 76 families. This area saw 14
homes destroyed, 29 homes damaged, 20 brooder houses destroyed, 2 barns
and 75 smaller out-buildings lost to flood waters. Another 31 smaller
buildings, two gas stations, and an undetermined number of cars and trucks
were lost. Several hundred chickens and turkeys and 36 head of livestock
were lost. Total damages to this small community came to nearly half a
million dollars. About 25 homes were lost along Briery Branch. The town of
Bridgewater had a population of around 1000. Here, three lives were lost
and damages totaled nearly one million dollars. Some 50 homes were flooded
and one was destroyed. Municipal installations such as water supply and
sewage disposal were heavily damaged. Power and phone lines were lost as
well as over 50 vehicles. The Highway Department listed damages at a
quarter of a million dollars. A 240-foot bridge at Mt. Solon in Augusta
County and two 100-foot bridges aCROSS THE NORTH rIVER IN rOCKINGHAM
cOUNTY WERE LOST. Practically the entire highway along the North River
between Towers School and Stokesville was destroyed. Agricultural losses
from the flood were half a million dollars. Total flood damage was a
little over 2 million dollars.
August 1955, Connie and Diane: On August 12, Hurricane
Connie dropped a record 8.79 inches of rain on Richmond. Connie moved up
the Chesapeake Bay on the thirteenth, across Baltimore and into
Pennsylvania. The rains produced by Connie saturated the soil and set the
stage for Hurricane Diane. Hurricane Diane, just five days after Connie,
moved across central North Carolina, central Virginia, Washington, D.C.
and into Pennsylvania. Diane dropped an additional 10 inches of rain on
the Blue Ridge Mountains. East winds in advance of the storm lifted the
heavy moisture-laden air into the mountains. The heaviest rains again fell
along Skyline Drive. Many areas, from Danville to Fredericksburg to
Winchester and Staunton, set new record rains for the month of August.
Luray recorded 8.82 inches of rain on the 18th from Diane, setting a new
24 hour record for the site and had a new monthly record near 20 inches.
Big Meadows, in the mountains southeast of Luray, set a new record for
August with near 24 inches.
Except for some local areas, river flooding was not as severe as the
1942 and 1936 floods. The heavy rains resulted in flash flooding along the
piedmont and over the Shenandoah Valley. Water flowed into nearby rivers
causing the heaviest flooding on the Shenandoah and the Rappahannock
rivers. The Rappahannock River crested in Remington at 8.5 feet above
flood stage setting a new record and at Fredericksburg, it crested 11.5
feet above flood stage. In Richmond, the James River crested nine feet
above flood stage but well below the flood of 1936. In Rockingham County,
the Shenandoah River crested one to two feet above flood stage (nine feet
below the 1942 flood) and downstream, at Riverton, it crested near 30 feet
(7 feet above flood stage).
August 19-20, 1969: Hurricane Camille made landfall on
the Louisiana Coast and maintained hurricane strength for 150 miles up the
Mississippi Valley. The storm turned east and headed for Virginia. It
tapped into the warm moisture-rich air over the southern Gulf Stream and
drew it northwest toward its center and toward the Virginia Mountains.
Thunderstorms began to grow and it started raining. The storms formed a
band with each thunderstorm following the one before it as they rose up
the mountain slopes between Charlottesville and Lynchburg. An area 100
miles long and 25 miles wide received more than 10 inches of rain. In
Nelson County, the storm total came to 27 inches and unofficial rain total
was estimated at 31 inches! Rain from Camille produced the worst flash
flood in Virginia's history. It was so devastating that 117 people
died, all communications were cut off to the outside world and damages
came to over half a billion dollars.
The following stories were obtained from the Charlottesville Daily
Progress and published in the Southern Climate Review in the
Autumn 1989 addition:
Wayne Oliver, of Lovingston, awoke around 3 a.m., heard some unusual
noises, decided to get out of bed and have a look around. Eight inches of
water were on the bedroom floor. "We'd been having some trouble with
the water system and I thought maybe a pipe had burst, so I went to check
it out. That's when the house started moving." The wife and two young
children huddled on the bed while Wayne fought to open the water-swollen
attic door and lift them above the rising water. "The bed was
floating and it got higher and higher and you could feel the house moving.
The boards were cracking and popping and first the floor came apart in the
kitchen and then it came apart in the bedroom and then the bed hit the
ceiling with me on it and the whole house came apart! It threw me into the
water and carried me away and I couldn't hold them any more. I never saw
them again.... I don't know how far I drifted. There were boards hitting
me and I was groping for them but nothing would hold me up until I finally
came up on a piece of the house. I think it was the livingroom." Mrs.
Oliver was washed a mile from her home. Her husband wound up in a tree a
half mile away. The children were never found.
A mother and child stayed in their home as it was torn from its
foundation and floated over seven miles downstream. They were unharmed.
Dora Morris lived at the head of Davis Creek where its average depth is
a few inches. In virtually continuous lightning, she estimated it had
risen to a height of 50 feet. "The awfullest roar. It was a horrible
sound. I suppose it was the landslides and the trees tumbling down the
hollow, tearing at everything." She said it lasted four hours.
By 1 a.m., August 20, the amount of rain was enough to undermine the
forest floor, and mudslides - soil, rock, boulders, trees, and some
inhabited houses poured down the ravines. At some points, these slides
were blocked and created temporary dams that impounded acres of water.
Finally, the dams would give way sending torrents down the creeks into Tye,
Piney, and Rockfish Rivers. For five miles down Davis Creek, logs were
piled 30 feet high.
Curt Matthews smelled it coming. The scent of crushed pine pitch,
amidst the roar of the mudslides, invisible in the storm, was what saved
his life. At 1 a.m. "I had gone in to lay down for a while, and when
I came back out on the porch, I smelled the unusual odor of bark and sap
and green timber. I'm in the logging business and I know that smell, but I
never in my life smelled it so heavy, even in a sawmill. The air was like
sticking your head in a sack of bark. Finally, I couldn't stand it any
longer and I went to wake up my wife and told her we had to get out. She
didn't want to go and it took me 20 minutes to get her and the child
ready. But in 20 minutes, the water rose from three to eight feet in my
yard.... It must have been all these trees coming apart and washing down
the hollow that I smelled. I guess I was one of the lucky ones." His
home and land disappeared without a trace, but the family got out in time.
Samuel Johnson of Massies Mill was washed through the eaves of his
two-story house at 3 a.m. He rode the water a half mile downstream and
lodged in a tree. "The house went away like a paper bag
bursting." He spent over six hours in the tree with "not a rag
on my body...just the same as I came into the world." The other
family members in the house did not survive the night.
Mr. McQuary of Rockfish: "The first thing I heard was this water
on my porch. I kept fussing with my wife, but she didn't want to leave her
belongings. There was this rumbling...like thunder...and the ground
trembling. As my wife stepped off the porch, the house began to go...rocks
and water just squished it off...we managed to get away." Within a
half hour, "the thundering came back and big rocks and trees came
down.... All I saved is what I had on my back."
June 1972, Agnes: Hurricane Agnes, in its tropical storm
stage, caused torrential rains over Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic States.
In Chantilly (near Dulles Airport), 16 inches of rain fell. All rivers in
Virginia were affected. Ten inches of rain fell over northern Virginia
resulting in widespread flash flooding and major flooding on the Potomac
River. New records were set on the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers. In
Lynchburg, the James River crested eight feet above flood stage. In
Richmond, the 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. A total of 63
counties and 23 cities qualified for federal disaster relief. There were
13 deaths and $222 million in damages. Sensitized by Camille, quick
evacuation saved lives. Numerous homes were destroyed, 600 roads went
underwater and 103 state highway bridges were washed out or damaged.
November 1985: This was the most recent major flood in
Virginia causing 22 deaths and nearly $800 million in damage. Extensive
flooding also occurred in eastern West Virginia and western Maryland.
Heavy rains began on the fourth of November causing flash flooding.
Roanoke recorded a record 6.63 inches of rain in 24 hours. The Roanoke
River rose seven feet in one hour and 18 feet in six hours. It crested at
23 feet on November 5 - Election Day. Eight feet of water stood in
downtown Roanoke causing extensive damage. Mobile homes were swept down
the river. Boats and helicopters were used to rescue people from the cold
waters and pluck them off roof tops.
Flash flooding occurred in normally dry hollows. The flood waters
carried tremendous amounts of debris which wiped out bridges and left
channels filled with rocks. In Lynchburg, the James River reached a new
record flood stage: seven feet above the old water marks. Stored tobacco
valued at $8 million was lost in several warehouses along the James.
Canisters of deadly chlorine gas were washed into the river from a plant
near Lynchburg. In Richmond, the river flooded several blocks of
commercial and industrial buildings.
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) declared 50 jurisdictions
disaster areas, and 4,331 people applied for temporary housing. A total of
1.7 million people were affected by the flooding with the majority in
Roanoke, Salem, Lynchburg and Richmond. Nineteen election polling stations
had to be moved due to the flooding and it should be no surprise that the
turn out was considered poor.
June 1995: This was the worst flash flooding in Virginia
since Camille in 1969. It is estimated that near 20 inches of rain fell in
southwestern Madison County in less 12 hours.
Disaster Report: June Floods of 1995: Virginia Piedmont, Dept.
of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, May 1994.
Preliminary Report of Flood Damage: Potomac Watershed, Virginia:
Bridgewater Flood, June 1949, US DOC, Weather Bureau, June 1949.
Flood of June 1949 in Stokesville-Bridgewater Area, Bulletin 10,
Virginia, Dept. of Conservation and Development, Division of Water
Resources, Charlottesville, VA, 1950.
David Ludlum. The American Weather Book. Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1982, pp. 9-10, 16, 29-31, 54.
"The Great Fresh of 1771": article in the Virginia
Cavalcade, Autumn 1951.
Storm Data, Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS.
East Coast Storm: March 5-9, 1962 - A Preliminary Report and Special
Weather Bulletins Issued. US DOC, Weather Bureau, March 1962.
*New York Herald Tribune, New York, NY, April 27, 1937.
*The Evening Star, Washington DC, April 28, 1937.
*Journal, Sioux City, IA, May 1, 1937.
Local Climatic Data for Washington, DC. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA,
Local records from the Washington DC Forecast Office, Weather Bureau,