Tornado History

Virginia Tornadoes

A 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).

In February 2007, the National Weather Service adopted the Enhanced Fujita scale to measure tornadoes. The EF scale replaces the original Fujita scale that led to inconsistent tornado ratings due to a lack of damage indicators, no account of construction quality and variability, and no definitive correlation between damage and wind speed. For example, a weak structure combined with a slow-moving storm could lead to a tornado’s rating being higher than it should be. The EF scale accounts for these and other variables for a more accurate measurement.

From 1950 through the year 2001, 376 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 tornado outbreak.


Fujita Scale of Tornado Winds and Damage: Statistics from 1950-2007; Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale definition 2007
F Scale
# in VA
Deaths / Injuries
($ Mil)
EF Scale Class. MPH
Light damage. Tree branches snapped; antennas and signs damaged.
0 / 0
EF0 Weak 65-85
Moderate damage. Roofs off; trees snapped; trailers moved or overturned.
1 / 97
EF1 Moderate 86-110
Considerable damage. Weak structures and trailers demolished; cars blown off road.
3 / 94
EF2 Strong 111-135
Roofs and some walls torn off well constructed buildings; some rural buildings demolished; cars lifted and tumbled.
19 / 104
EF3 Severe 136-165
Houses leveled leaving piles of debris; cars thrown some distance.
4 / 248
EF4 Devastating 166-200
Well built houses lifted off foundation and disintegrated with debris carried some distance.
EF5 Incredible >200

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 reported.

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 (91% 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 deadly.

The daily and annual records for tornadoes were shattered in 2004, when 87 tornadoes struck the Commonwealth. The remnants of hurricanes Gaston, Frances and Ivan spawned nearly 80 percent of them in a three-week period between Aug. 30 and Sept. 18. The remnants of Ivan spawned 40 tornadoes on Sept. 7, setting Virginia’s record for the most tornadoes in a single day. Ivan’s one day of tornadoes also broke the record for number of tornadoes in a year; the previous record year was 31 tornadoes in 2003.


Virginia Tornadoes by Month: 1950-2007
% weak
% Strong

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: 1800 to 2007
# of tornadoes causing death / injury
# 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
  • Sept. 18, 2003: "Isabel": spawned one F0 tornado
  • Aug. 30, 2004: “Gaston” spawned 13 F0 tornadoes
  • Sept. 8 2004: “Frances” spawned 16 F0/F1 tornadoes and one strong F2 tornado
  • Sept. 17, 2004: “Ivan” spawned 29 F0/F1 tornadoes, 10 strong F2 tornadoes and one strong F3 tornado
  • Sept. 28, 2004: “Jeanne” spawned one F1 tornado
  • July 7-8, 2005: “Cindy” spawned seven F1 tornadoes

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.

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 millstone."

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.

A tornado 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 and trees.

Another 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 Mines.

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 injured.

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 Tornadoes

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 destroyed.

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 injured.

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 was destroyed.

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 radius."

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. Read more about the incident.

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 related tornado.

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 injured.

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 debris.

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.

"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 Times-Dispatch photographer.

And from the Richmond News Leader came this quote by John L. Walker:

"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 it."

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.

View a map of the path of the Richmond tornado. [2.2mb png]

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.

September 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 area.

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 a six mile stretch in Fairfax. A high school, two shopping centers, an apartment complex, and 226 homes were damaged. Only 37 people were injured. 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 the debris.

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.

September 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 Pennsylvania.

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 $700,000.

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 in 1993.

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 (Northern Virginia).

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 area.

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.

June 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 southeast.

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 recorded.

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

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 dollars.

September 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.

At 4:10 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.

The 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

April 28, 2002: A severe weather episode that culminated in the deadly F4 LaPlata, MD tornado produced 4 tornadoes in Virginia. The most significant tornadoes affected Shenandoah, Bedford and Campbell counties. In Shenandoah county, an F2 tornado injured 2 people, destroyed 4 homes, damaged 56 additional homes and 36 agricultural structures, downed numerous trees, and blew over a tractor-trailer on Interstate 81.

A second tornado developed 8 miles east-southeast of Bedford City in Bedford County and remained on the ground for 5 miles before crossing over into Campbell County. This tornado injured one person, destroyed seven homes, three businesses, and about two dozen farm buildings. The tornado damaged about 129 other homes, 39 businesses, and a tractor trailer. Numerous trees were toppled. The second tornado continued in Campbell County for about 5 miles before lifting about 5.5 miles west-northwest of Rustburg in Campbell County. This tornado injured 11 people, destroyed 15 homes, three businesses, and a church. The tornado damaged over 200 other homes, six businesses, two churches, 20 recreational vehicles, and several automobiles. Numerous trees were toppled, Some of the trees landed on homes, and two landed on vehicles.

May 9, 2003: A long-lived supercell thunderstorm tracked from near Staunton southeastward into eastern North Carolina. This storm produced hail larger than baseballs from Southampton county Virginia southward into portions of eastern North Carolina. In addition, 5 weak (F0/F1) tornadoes were spawned by this severe thunderstorm, the most significant of which touched down in Amelia county. Here, numerous trees were felled and several outbuilding were damaged or destroyed.

August 30, 2004 to September 17, 2004: The remnants of 4 tropical systems (Gaston, Frances, Ivan and Jean) affected Virginia during this 3 week period. These four systems were responsible for producing an unprecedented number of tornadoes in the Commonwealth. A total of 69 tornadoes were spawned by these 4 storms, with Ivan producing an unbelievable 40 tornadoes in a single day (September 17, 2004). This number exceeded by far the previous daily record in Virginia, as well as the record for a single year. Fortunately, most of the 69 tornadoes produced during these episodes were weak (F0/F1) and short-lived. However, 11 F2 tornadoes and 1 F3 tornado were produced by the remnants of Ivan, while 1 F2 tornado was spawned by the remnants of Frances. Despite the historic number of tornadoes, just 12 people were injured.

July 7-8, 2005: The remnants of Hurricane Cindy produced 7 weak (F0/F1) tornadoes across central and eastern Virginia from the afternoon hours of July 7th into the early morning hours of July 8th. No significant damage was reported by these tornadoes, and there were no injuries.

Jan. 11, 2006: F1 tornado caused intermittent minor roof damage to several residences in its path. The tornado overturned a trailer, causing damage to a vehicle next to it. Pine tree limbs measuring up to 12 inches in diameter snapped off.

Jan. 11, 2006: F1 tornado caused intermittent damage at the Jamestown Beach Campground and Foxfield subdivision, destroying one trailer and a pop-up camper at the campground and causing minor injuries to two occupants. Two town homes suffered minor roof and siding damage in the subdivision. Many trees damaged along Jamestown Road.

Jan. 14, 2006: F0 tornado demolished two sheds at a residence, and some minor roof damage occurred. Numerous trees blown down or snapped off.

Feb. 4, 2006: A fast-moving thunderstorm spawned two weak tornadoes over western Pittsylvania County during the afternoon. A tornado initially touched down two miles southeast of Callands and removed a sturdy, wood-frame carport from the side of a house and carried it 50 feet. The tornado proceeded north-northeast through a wooded area and crossed Highway 57, three miles east of Callands. Damage here was on the western side of the tornado track, with damage to a church that included vinyl siding ripped off two sides of the church, shingles torn off and the brick sign in front of the church toppled over. The east side of the damage path saw several outbuildings and storage sheds demolished, part of a roof of a home torn off, and a small brick chimney knocked over. Besides structural damage, this first tornado snapped or uprooted many trees. The damage here was consistent with an F1 tornado. One person suffered minor injuries while driving in the vicinity of the tornado.

Feb. 4, 2006: The second tornado, an F0, touched down briefly 3.5 miles northeast of Callands. This tornado blew out underpinnings on two mobile homes, and tore off a large piece of aluminum siding from a barn. This thunderstorm also brought straight line wind damage, with trees downed outside the path of the tornadoes. Other severe thunderstorms downed trees in Halifax and Pittsylvania counties.

April 25, 2006: An F0 tornado touched down on Stanley Valley Road and traveled east crossing Frisco Road. Three barns were destroyed and several trees uprooted along its 1.5 mile path.

May 11, 2006: F0 tornado tracked from Fluvanna County into Louisa County. Numerous trees down, some uprooted and others snapped off in Fluvanna; .minor damage to two homes, including broken windows and lost shingles, in Louisa. Trees down.

May 11, 2006: Tornado touched down near Mastins Corner and continued northeast, lifting near Round Hill 10 minutes later. Damage classified as F0 on the Fujita scale caused a damage path about five miles long and 75 yards wide. Some structural damage was mainly due to falling trees and limbs. A cold front, combined with a strong upper-level disturbance, caused widespread severe thunderstorms to occur during the afternoon and evening of May 11 across the Mid Atlantic. Most of the active weather occurred east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and included several weak tornadoes in Northern Virginia.

May 11, 2006: A small F0 tornado hit the Fredericksburg Spotsylvania Military Park. All damage observed was to trees only. A cold front, combined with a strong upper-level disturbance, caused widespread severe thunderstorms to occur during the afternoon and evening of May 11 across the Mid Atlantic. Most of the active weather occurred east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and included several weak tornadoes in Northern Virginia.

May 11, 2006: The same thunderstorm that produced two tornadoes in Spotsylvania County produced another tornado near Falmouth in Stafford County. Like the other two tornadoes, this was a weak F0 tornado that mainly caused tree damage. The damage was on both sides of Interstate 95, near the Route 17 interchange. A cold front, combined with a strong upper-level disturbance, caused widespread severe thunderstorms to occur during the afternoon and evening of May 11 across the Mid Atlantic. Most of the active weather occurred east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and included several weak tornadoes in Northern Virginia.

May 11, 2006: F1 tornado uprooted large trees, and many trees snapped off in spiral pattern. Roof blown off of boat house and carried about 100 feet, outhouse destroyed.

May 26, 2006: Isolated thunderstorms during the afternoon brought a brief tornado, straight line winds, and up to golf-ball sized hail to portions of southwest Virginia. In Pittsylvania County, an F0 tornado briefly touched down four miles southwest of Climax, uprooting numerous shallow-rooted trees. Also in Pittsylvania County, straight line winds downed numerous large trees, damaged 25 homes and a church and destroyed a wood stable. The damage path extended from four miles southwest of Climax, near Burnt Chimney, to one mile southwest of Climax, near Green Pond. This storm also produced golf-ball sized hail. Trees downed in Climax and five miles west of Chatham in Pittsylvania County.

Aug. 11, 2006: A waterspout near the mouth of the James River came on shore near Churchland High School. No damage or injuries reported.

Aug. 11, 2006: A waterspout near the mouth of the James River came on shore just south of Beach Road in the Grandview section of the city. No damage or injuries reported.

Sept. 28, 2006: This F1 tornado tracked from Nottoway County into Amelia County. It tore off numerous tree tops and twisted large branches near South Genito Road and Lakeside Road in Nottoway. It knocked down a cement silo, peeled off a barn’s sheet-metal roof and carried a farm trailer 100 yards.

Sept. 28, 2006: F1 tornado came through an area of trees west of Route 14 as it hit a farm. The tornado uprooted large trees, demolished two concrete buildings and severely damaged two others, taking off the roofs and damaging the foundations. Trees snapped and bark stripped.

April 27, 2007: Severe thunderstorms developed in an unstable airmass and produced scattered reports of large hail and wind damage. Damage began near Starvation Road and ended near Willis Road near Petsworth Elementary School. Multiple trees sheared off or blown over. Structural damage included one large tree on a house and roofs blown off horse stables.

Sept. 14, 2007: A waterspout came onshore at Silver Beach near Whittington Road and Downings Beach. The F0 tornado produced structural damage and downed
numerous trees in about a five mile path from Silver Beach northeast to Wardtown. Damage to an SUV from a downed tree and roof damage to the
recreation center at Camp YMCA was reported at Downing Beach Drive. Damage to a barn where the roof was completely removed, occurred in the
Peaceful Way development. In the Jamesville area, a tree pierced a roof entering into the kitchen, a mobile home was displaced from its foundation, a trailer
was completely destroyed by a falling tree, and some damage to the Bethel Methodist Church. In Wardtown, some damage was reported to a vehicle due to
flying debris, and large trees were down in the convenience center, taking out the security fence.

In Summary

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
  • Virginia Tornado Statistics. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, NSSFC, 1993.
  • Virginia Tornado Statistics. Dept. Of Commerce, NOAA, NCDC, 1999.
  • 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, 1999-2007 - on-line data search
  • 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.

Written By: Barbara McNaught Watson, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Sterling, Virginia

Last updated 01.07.08 by Bill Sammler