tornado is a column of rapidly rotating wind that extends from a
thunderstorm cloud to the ground. It often appears as a funnel shaped
cloud or a spiraling column of debris. Tornadoes may be only several yards
across, or in rare cases, over a mile wide. Winds within a tornado can
reach speeds over 250 mph, but most tornado winds are 100 mph or less.
Weak tornadoes (F0-F1) often last only a minute before dissipating. Strong
tornadoes (F2-F3) may stay on the ground for 30 minutes or more traveling
20 or even 50 miles. The rare, violent tornado (F4-F5) can last hours and
travel over a hundred miles. The longest track tornado on record occurred
on March 18, 1925 and is known as the "Tri-State Tornado".
It cut a swath of damage across the Upper Mississippi Valley for three and
a half hours. It traveled 219 miles, killed 695 people and injured over
2000. Fortunately, only one percent of thunderstorms produce tornadoes and
only two percent of those are classified as violent (winds over 200 mph).
From 1950 through the year 2001, 377 tornadoes were documented in
Virginia. That is an average of 7 tornadoes per year. Nationally,
statistics have suggested that prior to 1990, only a third of all
tornadoes were actually recorded. Many occurred in unpopulated areas or
caused little property damage and therefore are not reported to the
National Weather Service. Others may have been recorded as wind events
instead of tornadoes. Based on these statistics, the actual average number
of tornadoes that Virginia likely experiences in a year is between 15 and
20. Tornado fatality records began in 1916 and since then only 65 people
have been known to have died from tornadoes in Virginia. A third of these
deaths occurred during a tornado outbreak on May 2, 1929, Virginia's worst
Fujita Scale (or F-Scale) on Tornado Winds
and Damage: (Numbers computed
for records 1950-2001)
||# in VA
||Deaths / Injuries
||Light damage. Tree branches snapped; antennas and signs
||0 / 0
||Moderate damage. Roofs off; trees snapped; trailers moved
||1 / 85
||Considerable damage. Weak structures and trailers
demolished; cars blown off road.
||3 / 72
||Roofs and some walls torn off well constructed buildings;
some rural buildings demolished; cars lifted and tumbled.
||19 / 102
||Houses leveled leaving piles of debris; cars thrown some
||4 / 248
||Well built houses lifted off foundation and disintegrated
with debris carried some distance.
All records were nearly broken on August 6, 1993 when one deadly tornado
killed four and injured 238 people. It was the first recorded violent
tornado in Virginia since 1950. Maximum winds were estimated up to 225 mph
from damage in downtown Petersburg. From 1950 until 1993 (44 years), only
192 tornado injuries had been recorded. That one tornado more than doubled
that number. In just four hours, 18 tornadoes struck. 1993 went on to
record 29 tornadoes for the year breaking the old record of 22 set in
1975. The least active year on record was 1982 with only one tornado
July is the most active month for tornadoes in Virginia. The hot, humid
days common to July are often accompanied by a late afternoon or evening
thunderstorm. The hot temperatures and humidity of the late afternoon fuel
the thunderstorm's growth. If certain conditions are right, a tornado may
develop. However, no tornado deaths have occurred in Virginia in July.
Most of July's tornadoes tend to be weak (89% are F0 or F1- see table
below). Tornado deaths in Virginia peak in the late spring and again in
the fall. While not as many tornadoes occur during those months, those
that do, tend to be stronger and therefore have a greater potential to be
Virginia Tornadoes by Month: (1950-2000)
Strong tornadoes are usually
produced by thunderstorms associated with strong, late spring and fall
cold fronts or low pressure systems approaching the state. Under these
atmospheric conditions, stronger winds aloft tend to lead to more intense
and longer lasting thunderstorms. This in turn increases the risk of a
strong or deadly tornado. The good news is that these strong atmospheric
conditions are more predictable with tornado watches posted in advance of
the storms. The stronger tornadoes are also more likely to be detected by
Doppler radar during their early development. This gives a forecaster a
chance to provide advanced warning. Virginia now has three Weather Service
Doppler Radars: One in Wakefield (between Norfolk and Richmond), one on a
mountain outside Roanoke, and one in the Sterling/Herndon area.
Tornado Deaths / Injuries by Month: (Data used from
1800 to 2001)
|# of tornadoes causing death /
|# of deaths
|# of injuries
When hurricanes and the
remnants of strong hurricanes pass by Virginia, it is not uncommon for
tornadoes to be spawned. Many of the strong and deadly September tornadoes
in Virginia's history were spawned by hurricanes. At least 15 hurricanes
this century have spawned tornadoes in the Commonwealth and you can find
more accounts in the 19th century records. These events are documented in
the chronology following this section.
Hurricanes Spawning Tornadoes:
|September 4, 1915
||1 small tornado
|October 29, 1917
||2 small tornadoes
|September 5, 1935
||5-7 tornadoes; 3 dead, 21 injured
|August 31, 1952 "Able"
||1 strong F2 tornado
|July 10, 1959 "Cindy"
||3 small F0-F1 tornadoes
|September 29, 1959 "Gracie"
||3 strong F3 tornadoes; 12 dead, 13 injured
|September 10, 1960 "Donna"
||1 strong F2 tornado
|September 5, 1979 "David"
||8 tornadoes, 6 strong ones; 1 dead and 19 injured
|July 25, 1985 "Bob"
||2 small F0 tornadoes and 1 strong F3 tornado
|August 17, 1994 "Beryl"
||1 strong F2 tornado injuring 10 people
|October 5, 1995 "Opal"
||3 small F0-F1 tornadoes
|July 12, 1996 "Bertha"
||5 small F0-F1 tornadoes injuring 9 people
|September 6, 1996 "Fran"
||2 small F0 tornadoes
|July 24, 1997 "Danny"
||3 small F0-F1 tornadoes
|September 4, 1999 "Dennis"
||1 strong F2 tornado injuring 6 people
Some areas in Virginia do
appear slightly more prone than others. It is believed that this is caused
by topographical influences on thunderstorms such as the change in
low-level wind flow and humidity caused by the orientation of the
mountains and the Chesapeake Bay. Below is a map showing tornado
occurrence by county. One maxima is seen in Northern Virginia to the lee
of the Blue Ridge. This maxima extends northeast across Maryland into
southeast Pennsylvania. A second maxima extends from North Carolina
northeast toward Petersburg. Smaller maxims are in the southern Shenandoah
Valley near Staunton and Harrisonburg and one that comes up from Tennessee
into extreme Southwest Virginia near Bristol. Some bias must also be
accounted for by population density with the denser population areas more
likely to report a tornado.
Virginia's tidewater counties see a small tornado maxima for two
reasons. Both are related to the Chesapeake Bay and coast. One reason is
that waterspouts are not uncommon. Occasionally a waterspout will come
onshore and do some damage. Once the waterspout comes onshore, it is
considered a tornado and is generally classified as a F0. In 2000,
16 waterspouts were reported into NOAA's Storm Data
publication. Of the 16, three moved onto land as a tornado. The second
reason this area sees an increase in tornadoes is that often during the
warm months there is a bay breeze or sea breeze front (bay or sea cooled
air on one side of the front and land heated air on the other). When a
large rotating thunderstorm moves over a boundary/front such as this,
there is an increased chance that conditions will be right for the
development of a tornado.
VIRGINIA TORNADO STORIES
18th Century Virginia Tornadoes
The following accounts are from David M. Ludlum's
"Early American Tornadoes: 1586-1870" published by the
American Meteorological Society, Boston, MA, 1970.
February 10, 1776: A tornado
struck the lower Rappahannock river area between 1 and 2 am on a Saturday
morning. It appeared to have been spawn by a thunderstorm in advance of a
strong cold front which moved through around 6 am. At one tobacco farm, it
damaged several buildings and killed 4 sheep and 3 lambs. Near Bramham's
mill pond, all the houses were lost and trees blown down.
April 6, 1790: Tornado struck
Charles City and Dinwiddie Counties destroying four mills and blowing down
four houses at the New Glass Manufactory with people in them who were
injured but not killed.
19th Century Virginia Tornadoes
August 25, 1814: This tornado struck Northern
Virginia and Washington, DC during the burning of the Capitol by British
soldiers in the "War of 1812." It was first documented in
Leesburg, Loudoun County where a tornado injured two people. The
Washington newspaper wrote that there was much forest damage. It is not
known if this tornado moved southeast into Washington or if more than one
tornado occurred. In Washington the tornado blew off roofs and chimneys
through the residential areas. The swirling debris killed and wounded more
British soldiers in the city then the American troops did.
****** In addition to David Ludlum's research, many of the
following accounts prior to 1950 were obtained from the book "Significant
Tornadoes 1680-1991" by Dr. Thomas Grazulis. Published by The
Tornado Project of Environmental Films, St. Johnson, VT., July 1993.
tracks of some early Virginia tornadoes.
July 27, 1816: A tornado touched down in Henrico
County and moved near Manchester, killing two people and injuring 3
more. It was on the ground about 14 miles.
June 4, 1817: A tornado touched down in Henrico
County moved east from the southern part of Chickahominy (about 15 miles
north of downtown Richmond) across Henrico County to the Pamunky River in
King William County, causing widespread destruction. The tornado was about
200 to 300 yards wide. It swept over several plantations. One person was
killed and four injured in Hanover and another was killed in King William
County. Leaves and twigs fell on Richmond. "The whirlwind extended to
a dark bluish cloud, whirling the lower end if it as quick as a
August 15, 1818: A tornado struck Stafford County
near Aquia, crossed over the Potomac near Quantico and moved into Charles
County, Maryland to near Mattawoman. On land, the tornado laid down trees
and fences and damaged houses. The Alexandria Gazette quoted Captain
Fugitt who witnessed the storm, "The gale did not extend further than
from Mattawoman to Aquia in its full force; between which places the
country is generally laid waste. The force of the gale was such as exceeds
all comparison". On the Potomac, several vessels were sunk in which
an estimated 30 lives were lost.
April 1819: A tornado moved through the northern end of
the city of Petersburg causing structural damage. The tornado path was
about a half a mile wide.
February 1820: A tornado struck Richmond around midnight
causing extensive structural damage.
March 7, 1830: A tornado touched down in Halifax
County and moved northeast of Meadesville destroying cabins and barns. The
tornado damage path was about a quarter of a mile wide and 15 to 20 miles
long. Many plantation houses were blown down. Three people were killed by
a falling chimney after surviving the initial destruction of their home.
Eight other people were injured.
May 5, 1834: A tornado or family of tornadoes
struck between 3 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon and tracked 70 miles
across Lunenburg, Nottoway, Dinwiddie and Prince George Counties. It began
about 2 miles north of Victoria, near Hungrytown and passed about 5 miles
south of Petersburg then moved into Prince George County about 2 miles
south of the James River. The path was a half a mile wide in places, but
narrowed with time to about 100 yards. There was immense damage to the
forest. Homes were destroyed on several dozen farms and plantations.
Debris was carried more than a mile. "The dense cone of clouds seemed
all the while boiling up like a vast cauldron." An official
account stated that 70 to 80 houses were blown down. Ten people were
killed and about 40 people were injured. That evening another
tornado moved through Caroline County and was nearly as violent and
destructive, but smaller in extent.
June 4, 1834: Just one month after the big May 5
tornado, another outbreak of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes occurred.
It began west of the Blue ridge Mountains in Rockbridge County. The wind
and hail was the most destructive storm to hit the county in their
memory. The damage path was some 18 miles long and up to 6 miles
wide. The hail stones were said to be hen egg size with some measuring 8
to 9 inches in circumference. Trees and fields were flattened and windows
broken. Another wind and hail storm struck Woodstock, Shenandoah County.
It destroyed crops and fruit trees, laid fences and broke thousands of
window panes. The hail was walnut size. Two large tornadoes were
documented, while many more tornadoes likely occurred in such an outbreak.
touched down in Chesterfield County and moved 20 miles east-southeast
passing about 10 miles north of Petersburg to near Broadway in Prince
George County. The damage area was described in several accounts as being
3 miles wide. It damaged houses, destroyed outbuildings and leveled crops
tornado touched down in Nottoway County and moved east-southeast across
Dinwiddie, Sussex and Southampton Counties. It destroyed forest and
plantations crossing the path of the long track tornado from just a month
earlier. Some plantations were damaged by both tornadoes. The damage track
was said to be 3 miles wide and it was 80 miles long. The large width of
damage might be explained by an account in the Farmville Journal
which stated "The width of the tract is not more than two or three
miles, and it would seem, that along this tract, there passed several and
different whirlwinds, always very narrow in their respective tracts, in
which alone, does there appear to have been any great danger."
Another account stated that the funnel "performed a very whimsical
and winding journey." This was perhaps a multiple vortex
tornado or a large thunderstorm with more than one tornado. There
were 2 killed and 20 injured with 15 of the injuries on one plantation.
June 21, 1834: A tornado moved southeast over part
of Williamsburg between 5 and 6 p.m., destroying several homes and about
40 chimneys. Boats were capsized in the James River, south of town. Three
people were killed and 20 more were injured. Either the same storm or
another one also struck Prince George County. Hail from the storm lay on
the ground for up to fourteen hours.
March 4, 1842: A tornado hit Cartersville in
Cumberland County at about 6 p.m. The path was about 8 miles long
and almost a mile wide. Three people were injured.
May 7, 1860: Tornado struck Loudoun County and tore down
a railroad bridge and uprooted trees.
July 5, 1877: At Wytheville (Wythe County), a half
dozen trees two feet in diameter were twisted off their base.
September 12, 1878: A hurricane spawned a tornado
outbreak with 5 significant tornadoes recorded. The first tornado hit
around 1 pm southeast of Petersburg. The second one moved west-northwest
and northwest in Dinwiddie County through Ford's Depot. Trees, a barn, and
small homes were destroyed. The third tornado struck Nottoway and
moved northwest from 1 mile west of Burkeville. The fourth tornado
hit Henrico County and destroyed small homes at Boshers Dam. One person
was killed and 7 were injured. The fifth tornado hit Goochland around 4
pm. It was on the ground for about 28 miles and moved northwest near Dover
April 18, 1887: Around 6:30 pm, a tornado hit 6
miles northwest of Suffolk at Myrtle Station. It killed 2 people and
injured 2 more in a home and scattered debris for a mile.
May 11, 1889: A tornado touched down around 4 pm in
Cumberland County and moved about 10 miles northeast, destroying a small
home. Two people were killed and one injured.
April 24, 1896: Around 4:30 pm, a tornado moved
northeast from Salem into Roanoke destroying a bowling alley and several
other buildings. A framed building near the bowling alley was leveled,
killing 3 of the 8 member family in the house. The five others were
July 8, 1896: At around 5 pm, a tornado moved
northwest between "Reams Station" and "Templeton"
about 10 miles southeast of Petersburg. This tornado looked like dense
smoke of a forest fire. All 9 injures were in one house. Timbers were
carried 300 yards. Clothes were carried a mile. This was one of at least 7
tornadoes spawned by a hurricane in Virginia on that day. Another tornado
hit Surry and James City. It moved northwest for about 17 miles. It was
seen to turn white as it crossed the James River above Williamsburg. At
least two, perhaps five, people were injured as barns and small houses
were destroyed northwest of Williamsburg.
20th Century Virginia
September 22, 1900: At around 7 pm in Augusta
County, a tornado moved northeast from a mile west of Mint Spring to
Barterbrook. A mother and child were severely injured when a small home
was destroyed and scattered for a half mile.
August 6, 1901: At 1:10 am, a tornado/waterspout
moved east-northeast up the James River at Norfolk, then hit land, and
moved north-northwest, then north-northeast in an "s-shaped
path". A row of six brick homes were unroofed and 7 others were
damaged. One person was injured.
February 21, 1912: A tornado moved north-northeast
for 4 miles from Buckingham into Fluvanna Counties crossing the James
River 2 miles west of Breno Bluff. At least one home was destroyed and 5
people were injured.
August 3, 1915: A hurricane spawned a tornado in
Dinwiddie County that moved 5 miles northwest and destroyed a small home 6
miles south of Petersburg. It then cut a swath across the Poplar Grove
National Cemetery. Hundreds of trees were uprooted and a farm was
unroofed. 3 people were injured. A second tornado was spawned in
Caroline County. It moved northwest for 2 miles destroying a barn and
unroofing several homes and a hotel at Milford.
...Beginning in 1916, Official Weather Service Records begin keeping data
on all killer tornadoes....
October 29, 1917: At around 10:30 pm in
Pittsylvania County, a tornado moved north-northeast 2 miles near Gretna,
killing a baby and injuring at least 4 other people. It curved north and
dissipated east of Motley. Fifteen buildings including 6 homes were
August 7, 1922: In Albemarle County at around 3 pm,
a tornado moved east and east-southeast from just east of Crozet, passing
across Mechum and Ivy, and ending on the campus of the University of
Virginia. The tornado was destroyed a barn and unroofed the Mechum
railroad deport and part of a home. Over 1000 trees were blown down on
just one farm. East of Ivy, a second tornado was said to have formed, but
it did little property damage as it moved northeast.
April 29, 1923: A tornado moved over an island 13
miles south of Virginia Beach. Three small homes and two barns were
destroyed near the Little Island Coast Guard Station. Two people were
April 30, 1924: A tornado touched down in Amelia
County and tracked 10 miles killing one and injuring 7 others. It was
described as a "dense column of smoke". It moved northeast from
4 miles southeast of Jetersville, passing through Maplewood destroying
seven homes. It passed east of the town of Amelia and turned
north-northeast and ended south of Chula. A man was killed when his barn
November 26, 1926: A waterspout came ashore from
Elizabeth River and collapsed two 700 foot long warehouses. Two men were
killed in the wreckage and another 3 were injured.
November 17, 1927: A tornado touched down in a
rural part of Fairfax County and moved northeast across the western part
of Alexandria, then across the Potomac River and Washington, DC into
Maryland. Over 100 people were injured in Alexandria as over 200
homes were unroofed and torn apart.
May 2, 1929, "Virginia's Deadliest Tornado Outbreak":
It has been said that tornadoes do not occur in mountainous areas. This is
false. It was a warm May day with a cold front moving in from the west.
The first tornado hit Rye Cove in Scott County in extreme southwest
Virginia. The elevation of Rye Cove is about 1500 feet and it sits between
two ridges that rise another 500 feet above. The tornado struck the school
house and the principal described what he saw:
"It was raining at the time, 11:55 a.m., and classes were
recessed for noon. About 25 children were in the building, the remainder
being on the playground. I was walking down the hall when I saw what
looked like a whirlwind coming up the hollow. Trees were swaying and as
the whirlwind neared the building, it became a black cloud. It struck
the building and I believe I yelled. The next thing I remember, I was
standing knee-deep in a pond 75 feet from where the building stood. I
was badly shaken up and frightened and surprised that I was able to wade
out of the water. Bodies of children were scattered over a wide
Twelve children and a teacher
were killed and 42 more were injured. The school was an oak-framed,
well-constructed, two-story building. It contained 10 classrooms and an
assembly room. An eyewitness from a nearby hillside saw two clouds rush
together about a mile down the valley. They formed the tornado that struck
the school just moments later. The school collapsed and pieces were
scattered up to 2 miles. The tornado continued on for a few miles, but
fortunately, no other communities were in its path. Several buildings in
Rye Cove were destroyed. A total of 100 people were injured.
At Woodville in Rappahannock
County, the tornado was first seen a mile south of the town. In just a few
moments, it moved through the town destroying most of the buildings
including the high school. One student was crushed and killed by debris;
13 other students and 2 teachers were injured. Five were hospitalized.
Some were found unconscious 200 yards away from were the school had been.
There was nothing left of it. People felt it was a miracle that more were
not dead. Continuing to the northeast, the tornado destroyed several homes
at Flint Hill and killed two people. The tornado tracked 13 miles in
Rappahannock County killing three people and injuring 30 more.
In Bath and Alleghany Counties
lies Cowpasture Valley. This valley is at an elevation of 1500 feet and
lies between two ridges that rise 1000 feet above the valley. A tornado
struck around 6 pm. Property losses in Coronation and Sitlington were
great. At least 10 people were injured, but none were killed. An
eyewitness watched the tornado form near his home. He described everything
within 250 to 800 yards of the tornado's path being destroyed. The
postmaster at Covington followed the storm 17 miles. He watched it take
out 150 apple trees, lift the roof off a house, and sweep away a barn. In
the barn, a woman was milking a cow. She was found some distance from
where the barn had stood, under its floor. One edge of the barn floor was
resting on a stone wall and she, miraculously, was not injured, nor were
the six cows that had been in the barn. Poultry houses were swept away and
chickens were found dead and almost featherless.
The town of Hamilton is in
Loudoun County about eight miles east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and six
miles northwest of Leesburg. Elevation is around 1500 feet. Here, the
tornado path was 200 yards across and two miles long. It destroyed a
house, barn and some smaller buildings at one farm. The husband and wife
were injured, but only a cow was killed. Other nearby farms were damaged
as well as a brick church.
At 7:30 pm, a strong tornado
struck Lagrange in Culpeper County. Two people were killed when their
house was destroyed. The tornado tracked 10 miles into Fauquier County. It
traveled another eight miles and struck Weaversville, killing four people
and seriously injuring others. Eight people were sent to the hospital. Two
homes and a 14-room brick building were demolished; others were severely
damaged. A total of 15 people were injured. Also, a herd of 15 cattle was
killed and more died later from injuries. An eyewitness described the
event in a local newspaper...
"I was in my house and heard a terrible roar like several
trains. I looked out and saw black clouds swirling overhead. Trees were
bent to the ground and the house rattled. It was about 7:30 p.m. A
neighbor told me the cyclone had hit down the road, making it difficult
to drive. As I reached the place most severely struck by the storm, I
saw houses that had been flattened, telephone wires were all over the
place and debris was over a radius of several hundred yards. It was
raining in torrents and the wind was still blowing hard. Then came the
task of pulling the dead and injured from the ruins."
There were five tornadoes
reported on that day. More may have struck remote areas. Twenty-two people
were killed and over 150 injured with at least a half a million dollars in
damages. Four schools were destroyed; two of which were empty due to the
late hour. The severe storms moved northeast into Maryland where at least
two more tornadoes struck in four counties. Six people were killed and at
least a dozen more injured.
January 5, 1931: A woman was killed when a
tornado collapsed her small farm house 1 mile southeast of Boynton.
March 28, 1932: At just past midnight, a home was
destroyed by a F2 tornado near Centerville in Goochland County. Four
people were critically injured. A second strong tornado (F2) struck in
Essex County at 1:15 am. A boy was killed and his family (3) were injured
as a home was destroyed at Loretto. About 20 miles to the Southwest, near
Casco in Hanover County, a barn was destroyed by what might have been a
September 5, 1935: A hurricane spawned a series of strong
tornadoes in Virginia. The first one was in Pittsylvania County
around 10 am where it destroyed a home near Ringgold. The family (3
people) was injured as they ran from the house as it was being torn apart.
The next tornado struck Prince Edward and Cumberland Counties killing two
people and injuring 12. It moved from Hampton Sidney to 3 miles west of
Farmville. At Hampton Sidney College, huge trees were uprooted and the
administration building was unroofed. A nearby home was destroyed and one
person was killed. Near the end of the track, another home was leveled
killing another person. The storm also dropped 16 inches of rain. Another
tornado struck Southampton County near Courtland killing one person. The
fourth documented tornado struck the Norfolk area. An article in the
American Meteorological Society Bulletin (Vol.16, No.11,pp252-255) from
1935 called "Meteorological Features and History of Tornado in
Norfolk, Virginia" by J.J. Murphy described the following:
A tornado near Norfolk, VA, began by destroying trees and sheds on a
point of land. The twister then crossed a creek, sending up the water so
that the creek bottom was plainly visible and gouged out the exposed
mud, carried anchored small boats onto the shore, ripped off part of a
heavy pier, and destroyed some buildings. It became a waterspout in
Hampton Roads, but changed back to a tornado and dumped a railroad
gondola car and some refrigerator cars off the tracks in a railroad
yard; then sucked up another creek, damaged some airplane hangers; and
finally headed up the Chesapeake Bay as a waterspout.
The tornado tracked from Jordansville (now part of Portsmouth) northeast
through the western portions of the city of Norfolk, across Craney Island,
the Norfolk Naval Air Station, and onto Willoughby Spit. The last tornado
hit in Goucester County around 7:15 in the evening. It moved northeast
about 8 miles destroying 3 homes from Wood's Crossing to Deltaville and
Christ Church injuring 6 people. At least two other smaller tornadoes
touched down near the Middlesex County line.
May 20, 1938: At 1:30 pm in Culpeper County, a
tornado destroyed a barn and a home was unroofed near Culpeper, at
"Inlet". A second tornado struck around 3:30 pm and moved 8
miles to the northeast beginning near the Rappahannock River and passing 5
miles south of Farmham in Richmond County. A house was destroyed killing
the mother and two of her 10 children. The father watched the tragedy
helplessly from a distant field on the farm.
August 19, 1939: A hurricane spawned a tornado
which moved 25 miles north-northwest from Westmoreland County across the
Potomac River into St. Marys County, Maryland. In Virginia, a home and a
fish factory were destroyed near Reedville. As the funnel moved offshore,
a man drowned when his boat was overturned. In Maryland, three homes were
destroyed and another person was killed. A total of 20 people were
August 12, 1941: A tornado skipped northeast 4
miles through Dinwiddie and the City of Petersburg, unroofing part of
three factories and blowing down smokestacks. A man was killed by flying
March 4, 1944: In Lee, Wise, and Scott Counties,
what was probably an F3 tornado tracked 30 miles and injured 32 people. It
may have been two separate tornadoes moving east-northeast from Pennington
Gap, passing over an elevation of nearly 4000 feet and hitting Flatwoods
in northern Scott County. There was extensive damage along the path. At
Flatwoods, 9 homes and 20 barns were destroyed. Another tornado
touched down in Washington County. It moved east-southeast unroofing homes
in the Stonewall Heights area on the north side of Abingdon. Seven people
were injured on the east side of town as homes were torn apart. There was
$100,000 damage to two schools and total losses near $500,000.
May 21, 1947: In Albemarle County, a tornado moved
northeast tearing apart 2 homes and 2 stores at the north edge of
Scottsville. Two men were injured in a shed.
...Beginning in 1950, Official Weather Service Records begin keeping data
on all tornadoes....
June 13, 1951 "Richmond Tornado": A
severe tornado (F3) cut through the heart of Richmond (pop. 230,000) on
this late afternoon. It left a four mile path of damage that sent a dozen
people to the hospital, injured scores more, and left over a hundred
homeless. Thirty-five buildings were destroyed and 126 received major
damage; a 1000 buildings in all were damaged. Damage estimates were over
one million dollars. The tornado was seen tossing a car 30 to 40 feet into
the air. Eyewitness accounts were reported in the next day's Richmond
Times-Dispatch (Vol. 101, No. 165):
"It came on fast. It sounded to me like an earthquake. I saw
rooftops flying through the air. Pieces of tin and trees were falling on
South Granby Street. When it hit my house, the back of the house came
down. All the houses along here got hit in the back, and they all were
half ripped down." - Perl Price, 1835 Rosewood Avenue.
And from the Richmond News Leader came this quote by John L. Walker:
"I had spotted the twister when I was near the Jefferson Hotel.
It was a great swirling mass of wind, and I thought at first that there
was a huge fire somewhere. There wasn't any cone or funnel, like you
expect with a tornado. The wind seemed to swirl and swoop up everything
from the edges, carrying leaves and debris in and up. The air seemed to
be full of all kinds of objects." - Louis J. Patterson, Richmond
"Four different clouds - all funnel-shaped - were rushing toward
the city. Each one had a tail like a kite. Then the four came together
in the shape of a huge auger that picked up everything in front of
This report suggests that it was a multi-vortex tornado with, at one
point, four vortices visible. The strong Petersburg Tornado in 1993 was
also a multi-vortex tornado.
August 31, 1952: A F2 tornado, spawned by Hurricane
Able, tracked 2 miles hitting Franconia in Fairfax County. One home was
unroofed and torn apart and two others were mostly unroofed.
30, 1959: While Hurricane Gracie weakened to a tropical
storm and crossed the extreme southwest portion of the state, it spawn
killer tornadoes in central Virginia. This was the second deadliest
tornado day for Virginia history. Three strong F3 tornadoes struck
in the Charlottesville area. The first tornado struck Greene county around
4 pm. It tracked two miles hitting a cement block highway department
building near Standardsville and unroofing it. Cars were thrown from the
road and small buildings were demolished. The St. George Elementary School
was destroyed. The grounds Keeper died from injuries received in a shed
during the storm. Nine other people were injured. The second tornado
struck Albemarle County around 430 pm and tracked 4 miles. It moved east
from Mechum River near Crozet to Ivy which is about 6 miles west of
Charlottesville. 11 people were killed, 10 of them were in a single
building. It was a duplex that had been used as the apple pickers' bunk
house. One person was crushed under a chimney of a nearby home. Four
people were injured. The third tornado tracked six and a half miles on the
ground through Fluvanna, but fortunately, no one was injured. It badly
damaged 14 homes and many were unroofed 3 miles west of Palmyra. A church,
two barns and two of the 14 homes were completely destroyed. There was
also some damage in Cunningham.
September 10, 1960: Hurricane Donna spawned a F2
tornado that struck and unroofed 3 homes and destroyed 3 barns at the
southern tip of Buckingham County.
April 8, 1962: A F2 tornado tracked 9 miles across
the southeast part of Norfolk near St. Brides, Hickory, and Fentress. Many
buildings were unroofed and some outbuildings were completely destroyed.
The roof of one home was hit by a car and destroyed it.
July 12, 1964: Around 2:15 pm in Henry County, a F2
tornado tracked 2 miles unroofing two homes and 2 churches northwest of
Martinsville. The roof of one home was thrown 150 yards into a school.
Three people were injured. An F2 tornado also struck Pittsylvania County.
November 2, 1966: Three strong tornadoes hit. The
first one was around 2 pm, when a F2 tornado struck Brunswick County. At
2:50 pm, a tornado moved 3 miles north through Nottoway County striking a
residential section of Blackstone. Homes were unroofed and cars were
"piled up in a heap". Another tornado struck Richmond
County around 4 pm injuring two people. It touched down briefly destroying
a two-story farm house. One of the occupants was carried 200 feet. The
roof and freezer were found a half mile away. This storm was rated an F3
but may have reached F4 strength.
July 4, 1967: At 12:55 pm EDT, a F2 tornado touched
down 15 miles south of Suffolk and moved 2 miles north destroying 2 small
homes. Five people were injured. A home was shifted in the Cypress Chapel
March 24, 1969: Two tornadoes struck. At 9:20 pm in
Halifax County, a F3 tornado hit 7 miles southeast of South Boston totally
destroying a six room farm house and scattering it over several acres. A
four year old girl asleep inside was killed and her body was found 75
yards from where the house once stood. There was scattered tree damage for
5 miles. A barn, stable, and trailer were also destroyed. This tornado may
reached F4 intensity. A second tornado (F2) struck Richmond injuring
one person and causing up to a half a million dollars in damages.
November 3, 1971: A tornado hit Portsmouth, Norfolk
and moved out over the Chesapeake Bay. Eight businesses and 22 homes were
damaged in Portsmouth. In Norfolk, the SCOPE center was damaged as were
several stores. Two trailer parks were hit, over half the trailers were
demolished, overturned, or unroofed. Eleven people in all were injured and
damages were in the millions.
April 1, 1973: It was a little past 3 p.m. when
a strong tornado (F3) struck a populated area of Northern Virginia. It
touched down in Prince William County and traveled 15 miles northeast
through Fairfax and into Falls Church. Extensive damage occurred along
six mile stretch in Fairfax. W.T. Woodson High school, two shopping centers,
an apartment complex, and 226 homes were damaged. A total of 37 people
were injured, but it could have been much worse. It was Sunday and "Blue
Laws" were still in effect. The normally busy shopping center which
had extensive damage was closed and school was not in session. Damage
totaled $14 million (1973 dollars).
April 4, 1974 "Super Outbreak": It
was before sunrise when the severe thunderstorms rolled into southwest
Virginia. The storms were part of a squall line ahead of a cold front, and
they had a history of being deadly. It was the worst tornado outbreak in
U.S. history. April 3-4, 1974 is known as the "Super Outbreak"
with 148 tornadoes, 315 people killed and 5484 injured. It was the most
tornadoes ever in recorded in a 24 hour period and it was the worst
tornado outbreak since February 19, 1884.
In Virginia, eight tornadoes hit. One person was killed and 15 injured,
all in mobile homes. Over 200 homes and barns and over 40 mobile homes and
trailers were damaged or destroyed. A quote from the local Saltville
Progress "Tornado warnings were blaring on the televisions and
radio stations, and Saltville and Smyth County were on the list. But they
had heard warnings before, so why believe them now? After all, Saltville
was completely surrounded by mountains so why worry about it?"
Saltville area and Roanoke were the hardest hit.
The first tornadoes entered the far southwest from Tennessee during the
very early morning hours. Two weak tornadoes struck near the
Kentucky line. One was a F0 in Lee County and one F1 in Dickerson and
Buchanan Counties. It came off of Pine Mountain and passed through the
town of Breaks. In Washington County, near Bristol around 4 am, a F0 to F1
tornado struck a mobile homes and threw them up against some trees,
demolishing them. Four people were injured.
The storm then produced a stronger (F3) tornado that hit the Saltville
area. Twister came up the valley of the North Fork from Washington County
to Tumbling Creek, followed Tumbling Creek into Poor Valley, up Poor
Valley to Cardwell Town (Saltville, Smyth County) . Henry Marshall
describes what he saw at about 4:30 am EDT. He said it sounded like a huge
tractor-trailer or jet stopping in his front yard, so he went to the front
door to see.
"I heard it coming, but it
hit before I could get to the door. It was all I could do to get the
door closed. In three more seconds I would have been in the breezeway. I
went to the window just in time to see the roof blow off of Fred's house
[his brother]. As far as I could see down the road,
everything was white, solid white. The wind ripped the storm door off it
hinges .... It felt like the house was leaving the ground and I think it
did at one time, because the bricks on the foundation are loose.
Everything was flying through the air. Tin rubbish, and everything else.
I realized then that we were in the center of a twister. Everything it
picked up landed somewhere else in pieces. It was unbelievable.
Something went flying through the picture window, through the house, and
out another window. There's no way to describe it all. "
He watched it lift over the hill,
"It looked like a solid black
wall and I could see it going round and round. It was just as light as
it is now from the streaks of lightning. They were coming one right
after another so fast that it never got dark."
One person was killed when he was pinned under his demolished home and
another injured when she was thrown into a nearby field. Two houses, two
mobile homes, a church and three barns were destroyed. 42 houses were
damaged along with another 2 mobile homes and the roof of a high school.
Total damages were estimated at $400,000.
An F3 tornado touched down on the west edge of Roanoke, near Salem around
5 a.m., and moved through the north part of Roanoke to Bonsack and
into Botetourt County to the Blue Ridge area. The path was initially a
mile wide, but it continued to narrow to 75 yards across near the end of
its nine track of damage. It hit four schools (two lost portions of their
roof and two had windows broken out) and two apartment complexes,
Grandview Village Apartments (18 buildings damaged) and Ferncliff
Apartments (lost roof). The Red Cross reported 120 homes damaged or
destroyed in the Roanoke area. Trees were down on buildings and cars.
Carports, garages, and pouches were flattened. Roofs were partly blown off
several houses in Botetourt.
An F1 tornado touched down in Augusta County traveling 18 miles on the
ground northwest of Staunton beginning in Westview moving northeast to
Weyers Cave and then Fraks Mill just inside Rockingham County line. It was
spotted by a State Trooper at Mount Sidney. He described it as being
"fairly large" and "churning in a swath a half mile
wide". The tornado hit Mount Sidney blowing over several large barns
and signs. The Verona area was hit hard. Chicken houses, barns, sheds,
garages, carports, trees, antennas, all damaged. Campers and trailers
overturned. The Fort Defiance High School was hit and lost a portion of
its roof. Hail and strong downburst winds accompanied the storm and
widespread wind damage also occurred throughout the county. The storm
caused a lot of roof damage including to City Hall in Staunton as well as
taking down a lot of trees. Estimated damages were near $1 million.
East of the mountains, not associated with the initial squall line, a
small tornado hit around 2:30 in the afternoon near Kentbridge in
Lunenburg County. Damages reached about $20,000 to a farm and a warehouse.
No one was hurt. That evening, another small tornado struck Martin's
Corner in Nottoway County around 6 pm. It tore the roof off a church and
ripped off the roof of a home. It was seen sucking the water out of a
3-acre pond and twirling it in the sky.
Wind damage was also reported in Wythe, Russell, Tazewell, Bland, Bath,
Highland, Pulaski, Montgomery, Franklin, Madison and Loudoun Counties.
While downburst winds did accompany the storms it was impossible to
officially survey all areas reporting damage. It is likely that the number
of tornado touch downs was way underestimated. In Bath County, near
Bacova Junction, roofs were blown off, windows broken, and a barn
demolished with pieces blown into the next field and creek. An apple
orchard was destroyed with trees broken off over about 2 acres. In
Millboro, more roofs were damaged, windows broken, and a barn was
flattened. Roads were closed by fallen trees. Another possible touch
down was in Highland County in the Big Valley area. A building was lifted
off its foundation along with damage to a barn and chicken house. In Scott
County, one mobile home was damaged, 19 houses and barns were damaged, and
two barns were destroyed. In Tazewell, people heard the sound of a freight
train and 9 mobile homes were damaged or destroyed along with several
buildings and trees. In Blacksburg area, five people were injured when
winds reportedly demolished 3 mobile homes on Mount Taylor Road. The homes
were flattened and carried as much as 50 feet from their foundations and
parts were strewn across fields.
December 1, 1974: What made this tornado
unique was that it not only occurred in December, but during a powerful
nor'easter. Like with a hurricane, the tornado tracked to the
north-northwest. The small tornado (F1) touched down between Hunter
and Kingsland Roads in Chesterfield County and was on the ground for about
a mile. It injured seven people when it destroyed a mobile home. It also
damaged a greenhouse and a warehouse. Damages were estimated at $75,000.
January 25, 1975: A F2 Tornado touched down in
Washington County near the Glade Spring exit of 180. It moved east into
Smyth County along River Road (Rte 2) and destroyed a barn, a garage, and
damaged a couple houses and a car. It then moved down the Middle Fork of
the Holston River tearing up trees and ended at the Greenhill Subdivision
near Chilihowie where it destroyed a barn. Two people were injured.
April 25, 1975: In Richmond County near Downing, a
F2 tornado severely damaged three homes. Then, in Gloucester and Matthews
Counties, eight people were injured when a F1 tornado struck and
demolished three mobile homes.
July 8, 1977: At 2:30 pm, a small F1 tornado in
Caroline County destroyed a mobile home injuring one man. It downed trees
and did some moderate damage to nearby structures.
July 19, 1977: At 4:15 pm, A small F1 tornado moved
northeast just south of the town of Orange. It struck an auto showroom
busting 9 of the large plate glass windows which seriously injured the
owner inside. Two cars were moved 30 to 50 feet and the roof of another
building was torn off.
August 12, 1977: At 3 pm, a small tornado struck a
golf course near the Rappahannock Academy in Caroline County. It torn
apart the pro shop and carried a portion of it 40 feet into a car,
destroying it. A pro who had been working inside was found injured under
January 26, 1978:
A strong (F2) tornado touched down during the night (2:10 am) on the
Quantico Marine Base and moved north. It hit the housing project on the
base and destroyed 13 duplex units and damaged 28 other. It then struck a
trailer park were a family of six was tossed in all directions and a three
year old boy was killed. Damages reached $270,000.
April 19, 1978: A F2 tornado skipped across Sussex
and Surry counties. It touched down 7 miles northwest of Jarratt and
moved northeast 35 miles to 3 miles north of Dendron. There were 3 touch
down points. At Waverly, a van was lifted 30 feet breaking power lines. A
welding shop and 5 trailers were destroyed injuring 3 people. A barn was
destroyed near Dendron. Damages were estimated at $365,000.
5, 1979 "Hurricane David": Hurricane David spawned
34 tornadoes, 8 of which were in Virginia and 6 of those were strong ones.
Two cities and five counties were hit. There was a total of one death, 19
injuries and nearly $6 million in damages. An F3 tornado struck Newport
News injuring 2 people and doing $2 million in damage. It hit the James
Landing section destroying 3 homes and damaging 73 others. An F2 tornado
struck Hampton injuring 9 people and causing half a million dollars in
damages. It unroofed a home and damaged 27 others at Buckroe Beach. A F1
struck Gloucester County, a F2 struck King George County, and a F1 struck
Stafford County doing damage but no injuries. Then a strong F3 tornado
struck Fairfax County tracking 18 miles, killing one and injuring six
people. It struck the same school hit by a tornado on April 1, 1973, this
time causing $150,000 damage. Numerous cars were demolished, 90 homes
damaged, and trees and debris blocked roads. Damages in Fairfax County
reached $2.5 million dollars. An F2 tornado struck the Sugarland Run
Subdivision of Sterling in Loudoun County injuring 2 people and damaging
80 homes. Four homes were unroofed or seriously damaged. Damages were
estimated at a quarter of a million dollars. Another F2 hit also hit
in Loudoun with no injuries, but considerable damage. Because the
tornadoes were associated with the spiral bands of a hurricane, they moved
from the southeast to the northwest, unlike most tornadoes which move from
southwest to northeast. Seven more tornadoes set down in Maryland.
March 30, 1981: A F2 tornado touched down northwest
of Como, North Carolina and moved 9 miles east-northeast into Suffolk
Virginia. A woman was killed and her son injured as their mobile
home was destroyed. Damages to farm houses, barns and another mobile home
totaled $250,000 and two more people were injured in North Carolina. Along
the 3 mile path in Virginia, 5 storage barns were destroyed on a farm
southwest of Whaleysville after which the tornado hit 4 homes. Two were
completely destroyed. Total losses in Virginia were $250,000.
October 13, 1983: Damage left behind suggested that a
family of downbursts and 8 tornadoes had occurred. The thunderstorms were
associated with a strong cold front moving through the region. After
striking Virginia, the storms moved into Maryland producing another
tornado and injuring 16 people. Damage also occurred in North Carolina and
Damage began in Roanoke around
2 p.m. with storms progressing to the northeast throughout the afternoon
and evening. The first tornado (F1) occurred at 4 p.m. in Goochland County
(central Virginia). It tracked 25 miles into Louisa County. A few
buildings and trees were destroyed or damaged. At 4:30 p.m., a funnel was
sighted near the Charlottesville Airport. At 4:45 p.m., a small intense
tornado (F2) struck Drakes Branch Community in Charlotte County. It stayed
on the ground for five miles hitting a farm near Keysville. A tornado (F1)
formed near Rice in Prince Edward County and traveled six miles into
Amelia County. Several homes and barns were damaged along with trees
knocked down. At 5 p.m., three funnels were sighted near Warrenton. One
touched down (F0) damaging a barn and cutting down a 600 foot swath
through a wooded area. At 5:45 p.m., an intense tornado (F2) was observed
moving along the west side of Lake of the Woods. It nearly destroyed three
homes and damaged another dozen. Six people received minor injuries. At
6:15 p.m., waterspouts were sighted on the Potomac River near Widewater.
Two of them were small, but the third was of significant size. At 6:55
p.m., a weak (F0) briefly touched down in the city of Fairfax. Another
tornado (F2), (likely from the same storm) touched down in Fairfax and
moved seven miles into Falls Church and McLean heavily damaging many homes
and overturning cars and trucks.
May 8, 1984: Severe thunderstorms marched across
the state from east of the Blue Ridge to the coast spawning tornadoes and
producing significant downburst wind damage. The first
"supercell" thunderstorm developed over Orange County and moved
east across Spotsylvania and King George injuring two people. A waterspout
was seen over the Potomac and it went on to produce tornadoes in Maryland.
The most damaging cluster of severe thunderstorms struck the Petersburg
area were a family of strong tornadoes and downbursts occurred. A F1
tornado touched down at 4:05 pm in southern Chesterfield County near
Matoaco and moved east toward Colonial Heights destroying a mobile home, a
dairy barn and trees. At 4:15 pm, a storm just to the south dropped a
strong F3 tornado on Petersburg. It cut a two mile path through the city
causing extensive damage to buildings and roofs. The roof of the hospital
and a medical building was torn off. Other buildings were demolished,
windows blown out and trees downed. A funnel was observed just
east-northeast of Colonial Heights at 4:20 pm moving toward Hopewell.
There was tree damage and minor damage to some buildings in Prince George
County. At 4:25 pm a strong (F3) tornado tracked 5 miles through Hopewell
causing extensive damage across the city to buildings and trees. A
hospital, chemical plants, and various structures were damaged. The
Seaboard Coast Line Railway Office was demolished. Fifteen people were
injured in Hopewell. It crossed the James River into Charles City
County adding another 15 miles to its damage path. It's maximum strength
was F2 here and its was about 300 yards wide. Severe downburst winds
accompanied the storms leaving a total damage path 10 miles wide. At least
a thousand trees were lost. The storm continued east. In New Kent, a barn
and out buildings were damaged and a boy was injured by a falling tree. In
James City County, 3 mobile homes were destroyed. A water spout was
sighted by deputy sheriffs crossing the York River into Gloucester County.
Additional damage occurred across Northampton and Accomack Counties. In
Accomack County another possible tornado destroyed a mobile home and a
chicken house. Another cluster of thunderstorms caused damage to Newport
News, where a person was killed by a falling tree, Norfolk, Chesapeake,
and Virginia Beach. Damages were around $50 Million dollars.
July 25, 1985: Hurricane Bob moved up from
North Carolina into central Virginia and spawned three tornadoes. Two
small short-lived F0 tornadoes touched down. One was in Goochland near
Manikin and the other in Hanover near Holly Hills. No significant damage
was reported. A third tornado briefly touched down at 1:15 pm in northern
Albemarle County near the Greene County line and U.S. Route 29. It was a
strong F3 tornado. It struck the Countyline Grocery store taking off the
roof and blowing out windows and then hit the West Lee Subdivision in
Greene County uprooting trees and destroying two homes by taking off the
entire roof and caving in the walls. Several other homes were damaged by
flying debris (airborne missiles).
October 14, 1986: Four strong tornadoes
struck. The first one hit Brunswick County around 6:50 am. An F3 tornado
touched down about 5 miles east of Lawrenceville and moved northeast to
near the county line doing close to a million dollars in damages. 15 homes
were damaged and trees were cleared to the ground in some areas. The next
tornado was a F3 that struck the Sandy Point section of Charles City
County around 8 am (EDT) and tracked 5 miles. Another 12 to 15 homes
were damaged along with trees and utility lines. Damages were over
$100,000. The third tornado touched down near the Sussex-Prince George
County line just east of Carson. The F2 tornado moved north-northeast for
about 15 to 18 miles destroying a mobile home and a barn. A tree was
lifted out of the ground and blown across a one story home with 5 people
inside. One person was injured and had to dig themselves out of the
rubble. Damages were between $100,000 to $200,000. The fourth tornado
struck about the same time (8:20 am) in northern Dinwiddie County and
moved north-northeast clipping the west side of Hopewell and then crossing
the James River. F2 damage was occurred near Hopewell. Metal from an
Allied Chemical Plant was carried threw the air. Scattered damage from
strong downburst winds estimated to have reached 110 mph in some locations
was also reported in Surry, James City, York and Gloucester Counties with
damages equaling $1.8 million.
August 29, 1988: A F2 tornado touched down around
3:10 am (EDT) in Mecklenburg County about 8 miles southwest of Chase City
moved north crossing state route 49 and leaving a damage path of about 8
miles. A mobile home was wrapped around a tree. One man was injured and
had to be dug out of the debris. Nine other buildings were damaged or
destroyed and several vehicles were damaged. Estimates totaled around
November 28, 1988: At just past midnight, a F1
tornado hit Brunswick County injuring one person. At 3:20 am in
Southampton, a second tornado (F2) touched down 4 miles north of Franklin
and moved northeast to Windor in Isle of Wight. Most of the damage was
from just south of Walters to Windor. Mobile homes and many farm buildings
were torn apart. There were circular swaths cut in the fields near the
touch down indicating that suction vortices were likely present.
April 2, 1990: Three tornadoes struck. The first
one was a weak F0 tornado north of Gretna in Pittsylvania County that
damaged some trees and did minor damage to a few buildings. The second
tornado was a strong (F2) in Chesterfield County that hit an auto
dealership on Route 1 and 301 doing considerable damage to the structure
and about 25 cars. Two nearby homes were also damaged. Damages were near
$500,000. The third tornado was a F1 that destroyed a mobile home with 3
people inside. One person received minor injuries. Another home and
several other buildings were also damaged.
May 4, 1990: At around 7:30 pm on a Friday evening,
a F2 tornado cut through the heart of the small town of Augusta Springs
southwest of Staunton in Augusta County. It destroyed five buildings and
damage almost all of the others in town. Seven people were injured and
others lost everything they had. The tornado was on the ground for about a
mile. It lifted as the storm passed over a 2500 foot mountain. On the
other side, another tornado touched down in Swoope cutting across cow
pasture and striking a mobile home. Two men were killed and two women
injured in the mobile home. A young boy was asleep in the camper cab on a
truck parked next to the trailer. The truck was thrown and he was injured.
Pieces of the home site were strewn for over a mile across fields.
In Chesterfield County, a F2
tornado touched down and tracked about 5 miles doing significant damage to
22 homes. Heavy rains, extremely strong winds and hail up to the size of
golf balls accompanied the storm. About 15 minutes later, another strong
tornado produced by the same storm struck Colonial Heights damaging a
number of business along I-95. It hit the Wal-Mart (now a Sam's Club) at
Southpark Mall. The same Wal-Mart that was later demolished by a tornado
October 18, 1990: This small severe weather outbreak was
similar to October 1983. Five tornadoes and several downbursts struck. The
first tornado hit Orange County (central Virginia) around 1:15 p.m. It
destroyed a newly constructed home, a nearby barn, cars and farm
machinery. Two men inside the house found shelter in a small interior room
and were unharmed. Another man was in his small truck which the tornado
picked up, tossed around, and dropped on its roof. It took 45 minutes to
cut him out of the truck but he only received minor injuries. The tornado
cut a swath across a corn field and up a wooded hillside where it damaged
several more homes. It was rated an F3 and was on the ground for 3 miles.
Less than 20 minutes later, the
same thunderstorm produced a second, weaker tornado (F1) that struck the
main street in Remington. It was on the ground for only a minute. There
was a dozen eyewitnesses, but no one was injured. One eyewitness saw the
tornado lift off the ground just prior to hitting an elementary school
full of students. Three hours later, a line of severe thunderstorms
marched east across Virginia. A weak (F0) tornado was witnessed in Herndon
At 5 p.m., another strong (F3)
tornado struck. This one was a killer. It moved five miles through King
William County killing a man when it demolished the barn in which he had
sought refuge. The last tornado of the day struck Cluster Springs, Halifax
County (south central Virginia) damaging a few home and injuring one
person. The storms continued into Maryland and Delaware producing more
damage and injuries. Five tornadoes were recorded in those states. An
apartment complex near Baltimore suffered major damage and nearly 60
people were injured.
August 6, 1993 and the "Petersburg/Colonial Heights
Tornado": The first tornado touched down around 12:45 in the
afternoon. It traveled 38 miles and was on the ground for about 45
minutes. Unfortunately this tornado went unreported and undetected because
the next tornado to touch down struck Petersburg at 1:30 pm, just as the
first one was dissipating. This was a violent F4 tornado causing major
damage to the Old Towne section of Petersburg and destroying the historic
community on adjacent Pocahontas Island.
The tornado crossed Interstate-95 damaging several stores and businesses
before smashing the Wal-Mart at South Park Mall in Colonial Heights. By
this time, the tornado had weakened some, but it did considerable damage
to the store killing three people and injuring 198 others when a wall and
part of the roof collapsed. Urban Search and Rescue dug 50 people out of
the store's rubble. The tornado continued into Prince George County where
it struck a sand and gravel pit company. A cinder block building collapsed
crushing a man. Finally, the storm hit Hopewell causing extensive damage
to the roof and upper siding of an apartment complex before it dissipated
over the James River. In all, this violent tornado tracked 12 miles. It
was on the ground for 15 to 20 minutes. It killed four people, injured 238
and did 47.5 million dollars in damages.
A tornado struck Newport News a little past 3 p.m. A man on the James
River Bridge saw three funnel clouds over the river. Two dissipated and
while the third touched down moving through the woods on the Newport News
side of the river. The tornado tracked 12 miles through Newport News,
Hampton and Langley Air Force Base (AFB). In Newport News, eight people
were injured, 163 homes were damaged, 12 were condemned and damage costs
were 1.2 million. In Hampton, two people were injured, 85 homes were
damaged, 8 condemned with damage costs near three-quarters of a million
dollars. On Langley AFB, the tornado damaged several F-15s parked at the
end of a runway for an air show scheduled for the next day.
The second strongest tornado
(F2) of the day struck the City of Chesapeake around 4 p.m. It hit the
Great Bridge area moving through the Etheridge communities. Fortunately,
many residents were not at home. While only 35 homes were damaged,
estimated costs reached 1.8 million dollars. A total of 18 tornadoes
wrecked damage across Southeast Virginia in just four hours on this day
setting a new record for the Commonwealth. A total of four people were
killed and 259 injured and damages totaled 52.5 million dollars making it
the state's costliest tornado outbreak.
August 17, 1994: Remnant of Beryl spawned a tornado
over Henry County. It touched down north of Ridgeway and moved to 1.5
miles south of Martinsville. The F2 tornado damaged 100 homes and 30
businesses, injured 10 people and did an estimated $8.7 million in damage.
October 5, 1995: Remnants of Hurricane Opal spawned
3 small tornadoes in Virginia and more in Maryland. The first tornado in
Virginia touched down 2 miles south of West Point. It struck a small
airport overturning 4 planes, destroying two of them. Major damage was
done to an airport hangar. The tornado moved northeast for 3 miles to the
Shacklefords area damaging trees. Two small, weak tornadoes briefly
touched down in Isle of Wight. One damaged trees and tore the roof off a
garage and the other damaged some outbuildings in the Burnt Mills Lake
November 11, 1995: High winds, tornadoes and
microbursts swept across the state with as a powerful cold front dropped
temperatures 30 degrees. The storms did about a million dollars in
damages. A small (weak F1) tornado cut a narrow path of damage through the
west and north sections of Suffolk. One person was injured. Several cars
were damaged by falling debris.
24, 1996, "Centreville Tornado": A strong rotating
thunderstorm developed over Virginia. After dropping hail in the
Shenandoah Valley, it moved east. A State Trooper spotted a small funnel
drop down and pick up some trees along Route 50 west of Middleburg. It
quickly dissipated. and 20 minutes later, NWS Doppler radar in Sterling
(just 5 miles north) identified a tornado wind couplet in the doppler wind
display indicating winds over 100 mph. An F2 tornado (winds 100 to 150
mph) moved from the southeast tip of Loudoun County into Fairfax County
and struck the Sully Station community of Centreville. Seventeen homes had
major damage and six of them were condemned. Dozens more had moderate
damage. After about 5 miles, the tornado began to weaken as the storms
strong rear-flank downdraft began to pull the tornado more to the
The tornado had weakened to a
borderline F1 (70-90 mph winds) as it moved across the southern outskirts
of Fairfax City. Homes here were in a heavily wooded area and so unless a
tree fell right on the house, they were somewhat protected by the
strongest winds. Soon the downburst wind from the rear-flank of the storm
became stronger and bigger than the weakening tornado. It was a small weak
F0 tornado by the time it passed George Mason University and reached the
Capitol Beltway. The downburst with winds up to 80 mph, however, continued
into Alexandria and across the Potomac into Maryland. A US Air Shuttle
almost crashed on takeoff into the winds. The storm eventually spawned
another tornado in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Power was out to 80,000 homes
and some did not have power restored for a week due to the extent of the
storm. Insurance estimates of county-wide damage from the tornado and the
downbursts ranged between 3 and 6 million dollars. Only one injury was
July 12, 1996: Tropical Storm Bertha spawned small
tornadoes in Virginia as she tracked across the southeast portion of the
state and three more across the Potomac River in Southern Maryland. The
tornadoes were F0 to F1 in strength and hit Smithfield, Yorktown, Severn,
and Woods Xrds in Virginia. The most damaging tornado struck the
Edwardsville area of Westmoreland County injuring 9 people and causing a
quarter of a million dollars in damages.
September 6, 1996: Hurricane Fran spawned two small
tornadoes in Virginia. An F0 near Remington in Fauquier County and a F1 in
Madison County. Damages were to trees and corn only.
July 24, 1997: Tropical Storm Danny intensified as
it moved northeast across North Carolina to the Virginia Capes. It spawned
3 small tornadoes in the Norfolk-Chesapeake area as it passed. Each
tornado was on the ground for about a mile. One moved through south
Norfolk, damaging a business, destroying a car wash, causing major damage
to a dozen structures.
April 1, 1998: A strong (F2/F3) tornado cut a 9
mile path from near Coatesville in northwest Hanover County east to near
Ruther Glen in southern Caroline County. The width ranged from 200 yards
to a quarter of a mile. The most significant structural damage was to two
houses near Coatesville. One home was completely destroyed killing two
people and the other was severely damaged. Numerous other homes sustained
lesser damage. Two mobile homes were destroyed in Caroline County and one
other person received minor injuries. Damages totaled near $1 million. To
see damage pictures of this storm and radar images link to www.nws.noaa.gov/er/akq/svrwx.htm.
May 7, 1998: A F1 tornado touched down two and a
half miles west of Blairs in Pittsylvania County. The tornado ripped the
roof off a house, damaged 25 other homes and a garage, broke off and
toppled trees. 2 people were slightly injured.
March 3, 1999: A F1 tornado touched down in Fort
Fisher, 1 mile south of Jack in Dinwiddie County. The tornado moved
north-northeast into Chaparral Steel Construction site where it destroyed
3 construction trailers and damaged 10 to 12 others. In addition 2
vehicles were overturned and several others were damaged by debris. The
tornado was on the ground for about a mile injuring 17 people and causing
about $150,000 in damages.
July 24, 1999: A F1 tornado touched down in Orange
County near Lake of the Woods and followed route 3 to the east-southeast
for 20 miles cutting across Spotsylvania County, the City of
Fredericksburg, and into Stafford County. It took down thousands of trees
and damaged exteriors of houses, schools and businesses.
September 4, 1999: A F2 tornado touched down in the
City of Hampton. It did extensive damage to a three block area. There was
numerous minor injuries with 6 people transported to the hospital. Three
apartment complexes and an assisted living facility were condemned. Two
additional apartments complexes were partially condemned. The damage
caused 460 people to be moved from their homes. Many roofs were lifted off
buildings and as many as 800 vehicles were damaged. The tornado formed
from a thunderstorm band ahead of Hurricane Dennis.
May 13, 2000: At 7:45 pm on a Saturday, a F1
tornado touched down two miles west of Charlottesville in Albemarle County
and moved into the City hitting Albemarle High School. It damaged the roof
and one of the modular classrooms. The tornado then moved through the
business district along route 29 damaging exteriors and taking down trees.
A window at a restaurant was blown in injuring a waitress another person
was injured by flying debris outside. The tornado moved into a residential
area and weakened. The storm also produced strong downbursts that caused
damages equal to that of the tornado and over an even larger area. Winds
were estimated at 80 to 100 mph. Damages were around a half million
24, 2001: Between 3:00 and 6:00 pm , an outbreak of
tornadoes struck Virginia, DC and Maryland. Five long-tracked tornadoes
were spawned by two supercells and one weaker shorter lived tornado by a
third storm. The first one of the day was the strongest, it was on the
ground for 10 miles. Most of the time, its strength was F1 to F2 (100-150
mph winds), but shortly after it touched down at 3:03 pm, it briefly
peaked in strength as a F4 (near 210 mph) when it demolished a 3 story
brick home outside of Rixeyville in Culpeper County. The tornado continued
northeast through Jeffersonton were it damaged some homes, churches, and a
trailer park. Three trailers were destroyed and four more damaged.
One person was injured in a trailer and another was injured by flying
debris while clinging to a pole outside. The tornado moved into Fauquier
County southwest of Warrenton. Here it weakened to an F1. It took the roof
off a barn and damage a few buildings, but most of the damage was to
trees. Total damages from this tornado are estimated at $2 million. The
tornado was on the ground for almost 25 minutes. At 3:49 pm, a second
tornado from this same storm touched down in norhtern Fauquier County
striking three homes in The Plains. The tornado was an F1 was on the
ground for almost 15 minutes covering 6 miles. It dissipated as it
approached the town of Middleburg. There were no known injuries, but the
tornado did about $180,000 in damage. During this time, a small tornado
briefly touched down at 3:35 pm in Orange County just 2 miles west of
Gordonsville and cut a swath through trees near Route 33 and Route 645.
pm, another thunderstorm moving north from the Fredericksburg area became
tornadic and produced a series of tornadoes. The first one touched down
around 4:10 pm in northern Stafford County and moved across the Quantico
Marine Base. It was weak (F0) and took down some trees and did some very
minor damage to a few homes in southern Pince William County. Dispite
being weak, it persisted and tracked about 10 miles on the ground between
the two counties. At 4:44 pm, the storm dropped its second tornado (5th of
the day for Virginia) in the Newington area of Fairfax County. Again
it was weak, but persistant. Its strength varied between F0 and F1 as it
moved up across Franconia, Alexandria, Shirlington, Pentagon City and into
the District of Columbia. It was on the ground for almost 25 minutes
and traveled close to 15 miles across a very populated area. It crossed
the Interstates three times during rush hour traffic. Cars were hit with
flying debris and some windows were blown out. Hundreds of
homes and numerous parked vehicles were also damaged. Most of the damage
was minor to the exterior and roofs of homes. A few homes suffered more
significant damage, mainly in Shirlington area of Arlington County. Total
damages are estimated at around $1 million. Only two people are
known to have been injured. Before the tornado moved into DC, it
passed right by the Pentagon City Mall and the Pentagon itself. Numerous
recovery workers at the Pentagon in the aftermath of the 9-11 attack had
to take cover from the tornado in underground tunnels.
tornado dissipated shortly after passing the Jefferson Memorial and
Washington Monument in DC, but a new deadly tornado was about to be born
from this storm. The last tornado of the day was nearly as strong as the
first. It was an F3 with wind speeds up to 200 mph as it cut a swath
through the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Maryland. It
killed two students in one of the many cars that it tossed. It injured
more than 50 more people. It was on the ground for another 15 miles from
College Park through Laurel to Columbia. This strong tornado did $100
million in damages in Maryland, making it Maryland's worst tornado
in over 50 years. For more information on this outbreak and to view
radar images go to http://www.nws.noaa.gov/er/lwx/Historic_Events/924tornadofiles/sep24.htm
Photo by Michael Shore of the September 24 tornado as
DC. Washington Monument is to the left of the U.S. Flag
Nationally, the US. averages over 800 tornadoes per year. Tornadoes can
strike anywhere in the US. during any month and any time of day. Virginia
has seen as few as one tornado in a year (1982) to as many as 29 tornadoes
(1993). Tornadoes have occurred during every month and every hour of the
day. It can happen here. It could happen to you. Be prepared by knowing
what to do when a tornado threatens.
For more information:
How to develop a school, business or hospital severe weather safety
plan, go to http://www.nws.noaa.gov/er/lwx/swep/
More information about tornadoes and severe weather safety go to http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/svrawar/svrwx.htm
Virginia Tornado Statistics. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS,
Virginia Tornado Statistics. Dept. Of Commerce, NOAA, NCDC,
Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, Jan. 1975.
Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, July 1977.
Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, Aug. 1977.
Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, Sept. 1979.
Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, May 1984.
Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, July 1985.
Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, Oct. 1986.
Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, June 1996.
Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NCDC, 1999 - on-line data
Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NCDC, 2000 - on-line data
David Ludlum. The American Weather Book. Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1982.
David M. Ludlum. Early American Tornadoes: 1568-1870. Boston:
American Meteorological Society, 1970.
Richmond Times-Dispatch (Vol. 101, No. 165), Aug. 7, 1993.
The Staunton Leader, April 4, 1974.
Bristol Herald Courier (103rd year, No. 24839), April 5, 1974.
Smyth County News, April 9, 1974, Marion, Virginia.
Saltville Progress, Special Tornado Edition, April 5, 1974.
The Times, Roanoke, VA, April 5, 1974.
Highland Recorder, April 11, 1974.
Clinch Valley News, Tazewell, VA, April 10, 1974
J.J. Murphy. "Meteorological Features and History of Tornado in
Norfolk, Virginia". Boston: American Meteorological Society Bulletin
(Vol.16, No.11, pp252-255), 1935.
Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: by Thomas P. Grazulis, The
Tornado Project of Environmental Films, St. Johnson, VT, July 1993.