CAMILLE TURNS 40

By Jim Hudgins

 

Hurricane Camille formed August 14th, 1969 near the Cayman Islands and then moved northwest making landfall along the Gulf Coast near the mouth of the Mississippi River on the night of August 17th as a Category 5 hurricane.  The system then weakened across the mid Mississippi River valley before turning east and increasing in forward speed as it crossed the Appalachians on the evening of August 19th.  As the remnant tropical depression moved into Virginia, it encountered a leftover frontal boundary as well as deep moisture laden air. This large area of moisture acted to rejuvenate Camille resulting in renewed thunderstorm activity and subsequent devastating rainfall amounts across parts of the Virginia Mountains.  The system finally emerged into the Atlantic near Virginia Beach on the 20th and regained tropical storm status before moving well offshore.

Camille dumped torrential rainfall totaling between 12 and 20 inches, with a maximum of 27 inches or more in Nelson County, Virginia. Most of this rain fell in a 3-8 hour window on August 19th and 20th as the system accelerated eastward.  The ensuing flash floods and mudslides killed 153 people, including 133 bridges washed out, and left some entire communities under water. The flooding also cut off communications across the region as some communities such as Buena Vista got inundated with five feet of water. This also lead to record flooding at Lynchburg as well as extensive river flooding along the Maury River at Buena Vista were crest levels were 14 feet above flood stage. Along the James River, Scottsville reached 10 feet above flood stage while Columbia rose to an unprecedented 23 feet above the established flood stage. The rains, flash floods, and rain-induced landslides accompanying the storm's passage led to the worst natural disaster ever to strike Virginia.  Throughout the state, Camille destroyed over 300 homes and left damages amounting to over $140 million.

This August marks the 40 year anniversary of this catastrophic event and the National Weather Service in Blacksburg is planning a Town Hall/Camille conference outreach event later this summer. Please stay tuned for later updates about this meeting through our web page and local media announcements.

Track of Camille from a Cat 5 along the Gulf Coast to a depression over Virginia
Track of Camille from a Cat 5 along the Gulf Coast to a depression over Virginia

 

Rainfall depiction showing arc of heavy rain with 25+ inches in Nelson County Va
Rainfall depiction showing arc of heavy rain with 25+ inches in Nelson County Va