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Virginia's Significant Tornadoes and Risks to Schools
By Barbara Watson

        Governor Mark Warner has proclaimed March 26, 2002 as Tornado Preparedness Day in Virginia. People are asked to review and discuss what actions they should take if a tornado warning is issued by the National Weather Service. In particular, Virginia schools are asked to participate by holding a tornado drill in their school. During a tornado drill, students move into interior hallways and rooms. They crouch down placing their hands over their heads to protect them from potential flying debris. This drill is vastly different from the commonly practiced fire drill, where students vacate the building.

        Some people in Virginia are unaware of the tornado risks. While it is not as common a threat as experienced in the Midwest, significant tornadoes do strike Virginia communities during the school year.

        About 24 percent of the tornadoes in Virginia are rated F2 or stronger on the Fujita Damage Scale. That means that destructive winds within the tornado are over 112 mph. These winds are strong enough to damage school roofs, break windows, and demolish trailer classrooms. Significant injuries and death can occur from the flying debris and missiles generated from such a tornado. F3 tornadoes with winds over 158 mph to 206 mph can collapse portions of the outer walls of a school building as well as remove large sections of the roof.

        Since 1950, 91 significant tornadoes have been recorded in Virginia. Roughly two-thirds of these (58) struck between September 1 and May 31. Many Virginia schools begin during the last week of August and go through the second week of June. Over 80% of the tornado deaths reported in Virginia have occurred during the September to May time frame.

        Since 1916, at least 25 schools in Virginia have been damaged or destroyed from tornadoes. There have been at least 15 deaths and 67 injures. Thankfully, it is rare for a significant tornado to strike a community or a school. But when it does happen, and warnings are given, knowing what to do can save lives.


Significant Tornado Days During the Virginia School Year:
(From tornado records from 1916 to 2002; F2 (115 mph wind) or stronger; in Northern and Central Virginia Counties (Augusta, Nelson, Albemarle, Orange, Spotsylvania and King George northward):
  • September 22, 1921
    • F2 tornado touched down in Mint Springs and moved to Barterbrook in Augusta County. Mother and child were injured when their house was destroyed.
  • May 26, 1925
    • F2 tornado touched down near Massanutten Mountain in Page County. It moved through Stanley and dissipated near Mauck. 50 buildings were unroofed.
  • November 27, 1927
    • F2 tornado touched down in Fairfax County near Mount Eagle (rural at the time). It moved northeast across western Alexandria and southern Arlington County before crossing the Potomac into the District of Columbia. It injured over 100 people. 32 buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed.
  • May 2, 1929
    • F3 tornado struck Woodville in Rappahannock County. It totally destroyed Woodville High School injuring half of the students and two teachers. The tornado killed 3 people and injured 30 others.
    • F3 tornado moved through La grange in Culpeper County killing 2 people and injuring another 7. It left a damage path 18 miles long through Culpeper and Fauquier Counties. In Fauquier County, it hit Weaverville killing another 3 people and hospitalizing 8 more.
    • F2 tornado struck near Hamilton in Loudoun County. Two people were injured when their farm was destroyed.
  • May 20, 1938
    • F2 tornado struck Inlet in Culpeper County.
  • May 21, 1947
    • F2 tornado touched down near Scottsville in Albemarle County injuring 2 men.
  • April 5, 1952
    • F2 tornado injured 2 people in Augusta County.
    • F2 tornado touched down in Rockingham County.
  • September 30, 1959 (Remnants of Hurricane Gracie)
    • F3 tornado touched down near Crozet and moved to Ivy in Albemarle County, just west of Charlottesville. Eleven people were killed and another 9 were injured when their homes collapsed.
    • F3 tornado struck Greene County killing 1 person and injuring 9 others. St. George Elementary School was destroyed and the grounds keeper at the school was killed.
  • November 29, 1963
    • F2 tornado touched down in Augusta County.
  • April 1, 1973
    • F3 tornado touched down in Prince William County and moved northeast crossing Fairfax County to Falls Church. It was on the ground for 15 miles. It damaged 226 homes, destroyed 20 of them and damaged 42 stores. 37 people were injured. Woodson Hill School was damaged but it was Sunday and no one was there.
  • April 4, 1974
    • F2 tornado touched down in Westville and moved to Weyers Cave in Augusta County. The damage path was 18 miles long. 90 barns and 2 homes were destroyed, 4 more homes damaged. One school was hit. It was the last tornado of the famed "Super Outbreak" (148 tornadoes in 2 days from the Mississippi River Valley east)
  • June 12, 1976
    • F2 tornado touched down near Pratts in Prince William County.
  • January 26, 1978
    • F3 tornado destroyed 13 duplex units and damaged another 28 at a housing are associated with Quantico Marine Base in Prince William County. There was one death (3 year old in a trailer) and 10 others were injured.
  • September 5, 1979  (Remnants of Hurricane David)
    • F3 tornado moved from Groveton to Fairfax to Great Falls. One person was killed and 6 injured. 90 homes were damaged and 17 more were destroyed. It damaged Woodson High School in Fairfax (second tornado hit in 7 years).
    • F2 tornado touched down near Dahlgren in King George County.
    • F2 tornado struck Sterling in Loudoun County. 80 homes were damaged and 4 destroyed in the Sugarland Run subdivision. Two people were injured.
    • Another F2 tornado touched down in Loudoun County.
  • June 3, 1980
    • F2 tornado touched down near Mount Weather and Airmont in Loudoun County and moved northeast to Philmont.
  • October 13, 1983
    • F2 tornado moved through Lake of the Woods in Prince William County injuring 6 people.
  • May 4, 1990
    • F2 tornado struck Augusta Springs in Augusta County. Seven people were injured.
    • F2 tornado demolished a mobile home in Swoope in Augusta County (same storm). Two people were killed and three more were injured.
  • October 18, 1990
    • F3 tornado destroyed a home near Rapidan in Orange County. One person was injured.
  • September 27, 1993
    • F2 tornado touched down near New Baltimore in Fauquier County and moved into Prince William County to Nokesville. Two people were injured.
  • June 10, 1995
    • F2 tornado moved through the southwest side of Waynesboro in Augusta County.
  • September 24, 2001
    • F4 tornado demolished a home near Rixeyville in Culpeper County. The tornado then moved through Jeffersonton injuring 2 people and damaging many more homes, churches and businesses.
        While significant tornadoes can occur at any time of the year, the cases listed above show a peak in May and a second peak in September. Because of this, we recommend that schools conduct tornado drills twice per year. Once at the end of March before the spring peak and once again upon the start of the school year in early September. Many tornadoes strike in the late afternoon, so we also ask schools to think about creating specific tornado safety procedures for activities on the school grounds after the school day has ended.

Last Updated March 25, 2002


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