Virginia Hurricane History
Prior to official weather records that began in Norfolk in 1871, early colonists recorded severe weather. In September 1667, the Chesapeake Bay was said to have risen 12 feet. An October 1749 hurricane raised the bay 15 feet, washing up an 800-acre sand spit, which became Willoughby Spit, after an 1806 hurricane deposited even more sand.
A recap of the most destructive tropical storms to hit Virginia in recent years
- Virginia Hurricane Tracks, 1851-2003 [356kb PDF]
- 2006 Hurricane Season Recap
- Tropical Depression Ernesto
- 2005 Hurricane Season Recap
- Hurricane Jeanne
- Hurricane Gaston
- Hurricane Isabel
Tropical Storm Ernesto hit the Commonwealth Aug. 29 and caused flooding and high winds that killed seven people and caused an estimated $118 million in damage. In Virginia, storm surge along the western shores of the Chesapeake Bay and into tidal sections of adjacent rivers flooded several homes, and significantly damaged some piers and boats. Strong winds downed trees and power lines in coastal areas.
To help state government and local jurisdictions recover, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided federal funds to eligible government and private nonprofit organizations in the counties of Accomack, Caroline, Charles City, Dinwiddie, Essex, Gloucester, Isle of Wight, James City, King William, Lancaster, Mathews, Middlesex, Northampton, Northumberland, Richmond, Surry, Sussex, Westmoreland and York and the independent cities of Poquoson and Richmond.
U.S. Small Business Administration provided low-interest disaster loans to Virginia residents affected by Ernesto in the independent cities of Hampton, Newport News and Richmond; the counties of Gloucester, Northumberland and the adjacent independent city of Poquoson; the adjacent counties of Chesterfield, Henrico, James City, King and Queen, Lancaster, Mathews, Middlesex, Richmond, Westmoreland and York.
Localities declared major disaster areas (Public Assistance Program only): The cities of Newport News, Poquoson, Richmond, and the counties of Accomack, Caroline, Charles City, Dinwiddie, Essex, Gloucester, Greensville, Isle of Wight, James City, King and Queen, King George, King William, Lancaster, Lunenburg, Mathews, Middlesex, Northampton, Northumberland, Richmond, Surry, Sussex, Westmoreland, York.
- Fatalities: 7
- Total damages (not including economic losses): $118 million
- Homes destroyed/damaged: 609
Public Assistance (state agencies, local government, utilities)
- Total for debris removal and protective measures: $7 million
- Total for road systems, water control, public buildings/equipment, public utility systems and parks & recreation: $28.1 million
- For state agencies: $9.6 million
- Federal Highway:
- Total for all public assistance: $44.7 million
The 2005 hurricane season broke the record for named storms, producing 26 named storms, 14 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes. Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Ophelia and Wilma, and Tropical Storm Cindy caused 12 federal major disaster area declarations in six states.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did not strike Virginia, but the Commonwealth felt their impact. The severity of the storms’ destruction prompted Gov. Mark R. Warner to declare a state of emergency to facilitate the Commonwealth’s ability to help those in the Gulf States. Virginia sent more than 1,100 state and local personnel to the region through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. Through the efforts of many local, state and nonprofit agencies, a temporary shelter and resource center to serve more than 1,000 evacuees was established at Ft. Pickett, near Blackstone, Va., although the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not transfer any to Virginia.
- Localities declared major disaster areas: Cities of Salem and Roanoke, and the counties of Alleghany, Craig, Giles, Montgomery, Floyd, Patrick and Roanoke
- Fatalities: 1
- Total damages (not including economic losses): $3.6 million
- Homes destroyed/damaged: 280
- Businesses destroyed/damaged:12
Federal Recovery Assistance
- Housing assistance (home repair, rental assistance): $1.4 million
- Other Needs assistance (personal property, medical, transportation, miscellaneous): $795,000
- Small Business Administration loans to individuals: $675,000
- Small Business Administration loans to businesses: $195,000
- Hazard Mitigation (federal, state, local funds combined with Hazard Mitigation Grant Program): $153,000
- Localities declared major disaster areas: Cities of Richmond, Hopewell, Colonial Heights and Petersburg, and the counties of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Hanover, Henrico and Prince George
- Fatalities: 9
- Total damages (not including economic losses or vehicles): $46 million
- Homes destroyed/damaged: 5,798
- Businesses destroyed/damaged: 97
- Vehicles destroyed/damaged: 2,077
- Total damage to vehicles: $41.4 million
Federal Recovery Assistance
- Housing assistance (home repair, rental assistance): $6.4 million
- Other Needs assistance (personal property, medical, transportation, miscellaneous): $2.7 million
- Small Business Administration loans to individuals: $3.4 million
- Small Business Administration loans to businesses: $4.8 million
- Hazard Mitigation (federal, state, local funds combined with Hazard Mitigation Grant Program): $2.3 million
Public Assistance (state agencies, local government, utilities
- Total for debris removal and protective measures: $2.6 million
- Total for road systems, water control, public buildings/equipment, public utility systems and parks & recreation: $17.2 million
- For state agencies: $1.3 million
- Federal Highway: $6.6 million
- Total for all public assistance: $27.9 million
- Localities declared major disaster areas: 100
- Fatalities: 32
- Total damages (not including economic losses): $1.9 billion
- Homes destroyed: 1,124
- Businesses destroyed: 77
- Homes damaged: 9,027
- Businesses damaged: 1,400
- Total amount of debris: 20 million cubic yards (equals 200,000 football fields)
- Dump trucks used to haul debris: more than 660,000
- Water delivered to localities 1.5 million gallons
- Meals served: 1.4 million
- Ice delivered to localities: 6 million pounds
- Generators provided to localities: 150
- Calls received at the Virginia Public Inquiry Center: 6,000
- People who registered with FEMA for assistance: 93,000
- Housing assistance (home repair, rental assistance): $33 million
- Other Needs assistance (personal property, medical, transportation, miscellaneous): $22 million
- Small Business Administration loans: $79 million
- Mitigation: $15 million
Public Assistance (state agencies, local government, utilities)
- Debris removal: $179 million ($50 million of that for VDOT)
- Total for road systems, water control, public buildings/equipment, public utility systems and parks & recreation: $36 million
- For state agencies: $25 million
- Federal Highway: $30 million
- Total for all public assistance: $270 million
Virginia Hurricane Chronology
17th and 18th Century Hurricanes
Aug. 24, 1635:First historical reference to a major hurricane that could have affected the VA coast.
Sept. 6, 1667:According to the writing of Virginia colonists, The Chesapeake Bay rose 12 feet, probably widening the Lynnhaven River. Jamestown saw 10,000 houses blown down and the storm washed away the foundation of Fort George at Old Point Comfort. Twelve days of rain was said to have followed this storm. In Norfolk in By-Gone Days by Rev. W. H. T. Squires,
The hurricane blew for 24 hours with unexpected fury, first from the northeast, then due north, thence to the west, and then southeast.... It is said that planters who did not live in sight of the rivers found their farms flooded, and many were forced to seek protection on the roofs of their homes until the storm was over.
Oct. 29, 1693:From the Royal Society of London: "There happened a most violent storm in Virginia which stopped the course of ancient channels and made some where there never were any."
Oct. 19, 1749:This tremendous hurricane raised The Chesapeake Bay an amazing 15 feet and washed up 800 acres of sand that now forms Willoughby Spit. The storm destroyed Fort George at Old Point Comfort after the Virginia General Assembly had tried in 1727 to strengthen it after the damage done by the 1667 hurricane.
Sept. 4, 1775:The death toll in Virginia and North Carolina was 163 lives. A Williamsburg correspondent of the Virginia Gazette wrote,
The shocking accounts of damage done by the rains last week are numerous; most of the mill-dams are broke, the corn laid almost level with the ground, and fodder destroyed; many ships and other vessels drove ashore and damaged at Norfolk, Hampton, and York.
Sept. 8, 1769:The Virginia Gazette on Sept. 14, 1769 indicated that torrential rains struck around 1 a.m. with violent winds until 10 or 11 that morning. Damage was "inconceivable" and crops were destroyed.
There was not a dry house in town that day… Many old houses were blown down and a number of trees… All the shipping and small vessels at Norfolk are aground, many of them dismantled; some of the wharves are gone, and others damaged. A vessel from Norfolk, laden with coal for the city, was driven up to Jamestown and stove to pieces…
Sept. 22-24, 1785:From Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity by William S. Forrest,
This year was noted for the highest tide ever before known to the borough (Norfolk) completely deluging a large portion of its site on the waterside.
19th Century Hurricanes
Sept. 8, 1804:Storm track took the eye just west of Norfolk as it veered to the northeast. The hurricane's storm surge killed 500 people when it made landfall in the Charleston, S.C. area.
Aug. 23, 1806:The "Great Coastal Hurricane of 1806" helped form Willoughby Spit.
Sept. 3, 1821:One of the most violent hurricanes on record. The eye passed over Norfolk then moved northeast along the New Jersey coast onto Long Island. Forrest writes,
Many houses in Norfolk and Portsmouth were damaged - some unroofed and others entirely demolished. Chimneys, trees and fences were blown down and several lives were lost. The tide rose to a great height; the Norfolk drawbridge was swept away, and the damage to the shipping was immense.
A correspondent at Old Point Comfort wrote,
When the wind changed, the water broke in on the island and almost covered it. By its force a number of buildings were destroyed…prostrated fences, and entered every building…
From the American Beacon on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 1821, in the Norfolk area,
So general and widespread is the devastation, that it would be impossible...to give...a detail of its awful consequences...very few house-keepers have escaped injury, either in their enclosures or houses and nearly all of the most highly improved lots in the borough have been despoiled of their attractions, by the prostration of their walls or fences, the uprooting of trees…The ground stories of all warehouses on the wharves and as high up as Wide Water Street, were entirely overflowed…
Sept. 8, 1846:A slow-moving hurricane piled water into the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. When the winds shifted, the water washed back over the barrier islands from the sound, forming Hatteras and Oregon inlets.
Sept. 17, 1876:Average 5 minute wind speed at Cape Henry was 78 mph; 8.32" of rain was dropped.
Sept. 12, 1878: Hurricane spawned several tornadoes in Virginia between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., killing one and injuring seven. Tornadoes hit Dinwiddie County southeast of Petersburg, Ford's Depot, Nottoway County near Burkeville and Goochland County near Dover Mills, making a 28-mile track.
Oct. 22-23, 1878:The hurricane's eye made landfall at Cape Fear, N.C. and moved north across Richmond and Washington, D.C., losing little strength. Wind downed trees and fences and unroofed homes. Very high tides occurred on the coast. Cobb and Smith islands on the Eastern Shore were completely submerged and all livestock were swept away. Average wind at Cape Henry was 84 mph. Eighteen died when the A.S. Davis went ashore near Virginia Beach.
Aug. 18, 1879, "The Great Tempest":A gale blew from the northeast for 24 hours before the winds shifted northwest and increased to 70 mph. The eye passed about 50 miles west of Norfolk, raising the tide to nearly eight feet. Average wind speed at Cape Henry was 76 mph with estimated gusts of 100 mph. More than 46 people were lost in Virginia and North Carolina, many on ships. From The Norfolk Landmark on Aug. 19, 1879,
The tide swept up over Bank street, invaded the City Hall grounds and went surging and breaking up Cove Street beyond the Station House, so that the oldest inhabitant saw the like in the history of Norfolk.
Oct. 31, 1887:Average 5 minute wind speed at Cape Henry 78 mph. The storm caused a record number of marine disasters.
Nov. 25, 1888:This hurricane passed Virginia 100 to 200 miles off the coast, and yet caused damage in the Tidewater area. High tides flooded the lower part of Norfolk and strong winds blew down telegraph lines and blew vessels from their moorings.
Sept. 10-12, 1889: The hurricane moved north from Puerto Rico and stalled off the Virginia Capes for several days. The force of the storm was felt along the coast from North Carolina to New York with high tides and heavy swells.
Aug. 23, 1893: Average 5 minute wind speed at Cape Henry 88 mph.
Sept. 29, 1894: Five minute wind speed at Cape Henry 80 mph; gusts to 90 mph.
July 8, 1896: Hurricane spawned at least seven tornadoes in Virginia. One struck Dinwiddie and Prince George counties about 10 miles southeast of Petersburg, and another tracked 17 miles near Williamsburg. Eleven people were injured.
Sept. 29, 1896: Storm killed 16 people and did almost $4 million in damages along the East Coast. The Richmond News Leader on June 14, 1951 after a tornado had struck the city wrote,
Tornado recalls windstorm of 1896 to older residents...torrential rain and very high wind for several hours in the evening. Wind estimated at 80 mph….Caused a steeple to fall.
From Hurricanes by Ivan Ray Tannehill "...increased in intensity as it reached Florida and moved through the Atlantic state, inside the coastline. Center passed over District of Columbia..."
Oct. 25, 1897: Lasted 60 hours. Norfolk tides 8.1 feet above Mean Lower Low Water.
Oct. 31, 1899: Average 5 minute wind at Cape Henry 72 mph. Tide in Norfolk reached 8.9 feet above Mean Lower Low Water.
20th Century Hurricanes
Oct. 10, 1903: Average 5 minute wind speed at Cape Henry 74 mph, the tide in Norfolk reached 9 feet above Mean Lower Low Water.
Aug. 26, 1924: Average 1 minute wind speed 72 mph at Cape Henry.
Sept. 30, 1924:Fastest wind speed at Norfolk was 76 mph. Heavy rains in central Virginia brought moderate flooding to Fredericksburg on Oct. 1. The river crested at 22.8 feet (about 5 ft over flood stage).
Aug. 22, 1926: Fastest 1 minute wind speed in Cape Henry 74 mph.
Aug. 12-16, 1928: Two tropical storms moved across the Florida panhandle and then turned northeast and moved up the Appalachian Mountains, weakening into depressions. The depressions passed over Virginia just four days apart, bringing heavy rains, flash flooding and significant rises on the larger rivers. Major flooding occurred on the Roanoke River through Roanoke and Brookneal. The river crested on at just over eight feet above flood stage in Roanoke. The fourth highest crest to date occurred on the Roanoke River at Brookneal, at 14 feet over flood stage.
Sept. 19, 1926: Fastest 1 minute wind speed at Cape Henry 72 mph. The tide reached 7.16 feet above Mean Lower Low Water in Norfolk.
Oct. 18, 1932: Tropical storm made landfall on the Gulf Coast and moved northeast, weakening to a depression. The center passed over the Virginia-Kentucky border into West Virginia. Heavy rains to the east of the storm impacted the Appalachian Mountains, causing major flooding on the Roanoke River through Alta Vista. The Roanoke crested at 11 feet over flood stage.
Aug. 23, 1933: The hurricane was born off the Cape Verde Islands and reached Category 4 strength but weakened to a Category 2 before making landfall. The storm caused record high tides up the entire west side of the Chesapeake Bay, with damages the highest ever recorded from a storm surge, causing 18 deaths and $79 million in damages in Virginia. Virtually the entire Tidewater area including Virginia Beach was paralyzed by the storm through loss of communication, electricity, water service and roads. More than 79,000 telephones were put out of commission and nearly 600 trees, many of them a century old, were uprooted in the city. The highest wind speed was 88 mph at the naval air station in Norfolk. As the storm moved north, damages in the Commonwealth were largely to crops: $2 million in corn, $2 million in tobacco, $750,000 in apples and $500,000 in other crops.
Sept. 16, 1933: The hurricane developed east of the Bahamas and strengthened to a Category 3 storm, making landfall near Cape Lookout, N.C. The tide surpasses eight feet at Sewells Point, causing floods in the Tidewater area less than one month after the Aug. 23 storm. But due to preparations made by citizens, the damage was estimated at less than $500,000 compared to the millions of dollars of damage the Aug. 23 storm caused. More than 2,000 telephones lost service. The storm tide flooded City Hall Avenue and Granby Street and tied up traffic in the downtown area all day. The fastest wind speed at the naval air station in Norfolk was 88 mph with 75 mph at the NWS Office in Norfolk and 87 mph at Cape Henry. Two people were killed in Virginia. High winds and waves in Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds left hundreds without food and shelter and contributed to the 21 lives lost in North Carolina.
Sept. 5, 1935 "The Great Labor Day Hurricane":While this storm is known for its destruction of the Florida Keys, it eventually moved north over the central portions of the Carolinas and then back out to sea near the Virginia Capes. While passing, it spawned several tornadoes in Virginia and caused flooding. A killer tornado (probably an F3) in Prince Edward tracked 10 miles, killing two and injuring 12. A third tornado struck Southampton County near Courtland killing one person. Another tornado tracked from Portsmouth across Craney Island to the western portions of the city of Norfolk and Willoughby Spit, becoming a waterspout. One tornado struck Pittsylvania County injuring three people and another tornado struck Gloucester. It was on the ground for eight miles and injured six people. Heavy rains fell over central Virginia from the storm and a major flood resulted on the James River in Richmond. Water level at the Richmond locks reached 23.7 feet, 15 feet above flood stage.
Sept. 18, 1936: This storm developed near the windward Islands and intensified to a Category 3 off the Carolina coast, passing within 25 miles of Virginia Beach, with the fastest wind speed of 84 mph at Cape Henry. In the lower section of Norfolk, high winds demolished windows, roofs and buildings with damages of about $500,000. Shipping was suspended, train service canceled and traffic was stalled. Yachts were driven ashore and sustained damage. The road from Currituck to Norfolk was washed out. The tide reached more than nine feet at Sewells Point, the second highest tide of record. Due largely to extensive preparations made because of warnings from the Weather Bureau, damage was less than the August 1933.From Hurricanes by Tannehill,
It moved northward gaining in intensity. By the morning of the 15th this hurricane was of wide extent and marked intensity. On the 16th, the area of winds of force 6 and higher (Beaufort scale) was about one thousand miles in diameter. By that criterion, it was one of the largest tropical cyclones of record. ...At Norfolk, it was considered the worst storm that ever visited that section...
Sept. 14, 1944, the "Great Hurricane":Heavy rain and high winds lashed the Virginia Beach area, with the fastest wind speed 134 mph gusting to 150 mph at Cape Henry, the highest wind speed of record in this area. Extensive property damage occurred along the coast with 41,000 buildings damaged from the Carolinas to New England. 390 lives were lost; 344 were World War II servicemen who died when a destroyer, two Coast Guard cutters and a minesweeper sunk.
Aug. 31, 1952, Hurricane Able:The first hurricane of 1952 made landfall between Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga., then moved north across Virginia and Washington, D.C. in a very weakened form. Rainfall totaled two to three inches and winds peaked at 60 mph. Its greatest impact on Virginia was a small F2 tornado that struck Franconia in Fairfax County, where it traveled two miles. Total damage from the hurricane and tornado was $500,000.
Aug. 14, 1953, Hurricane Barbara:The fastest 1 minute wind speed was 72 mph at Cape Henry, 63 mph with gusts to 76 mph at Norfolk Airport.
Oct. 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel:Hazel maintained hurricane force winds up the East Coast and produced a number of record wind gusts. In Hampton, winds gusted to 130 mph; Norfolk, 100 mph. Blackstone, Va., 92 mph; Richmond, 79 mph; and Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., 98 mph. Damages in Norfolk alone reached $3.5 million with 1,800 homes and businesses damaged. Hundreds of thousands of trees were destroyed, taking with them half of the phone and electric lines in the state, causing $2 million in damage. A 150-foot microwave telephone tower was toppled near Warsaw, Va.; 200 plate glass storefronts in Richmond broke; in the Shenandoah Valley, turkey growers lost between 150,000 and 250,000 turkeys when poultry sheds were wrecked.
Small crafts were driven ashore or sank. Four people died when a tug capsized on the James River about 25 miles from Richmond. Piers were demolished and private docks swept away in the Tidewater rivers. Lynchburg, Roanoke and Danville recorded five to six inches of rain, which caused flooding in small streams. Virginia lost 13 people and damages were conservatively estimated in from Connie and Diane brought record total rainfall for the month of August. Severe flooding followed on the Rappahannock River with some flooding also on the James, Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Norfolk winds gusted to 53 mph from the east, Cape Henry had 43 mph winds with gusts to 49 mph. Roanoke saw winds gusts to 62 mph and Lynchburg 56 mph out of the north. While only minor tides occurred, Atlantic Beach, Oceana, again had another $200,000 in damages that included sewer and water lines. Statewide damages equaled $1.5 million.
Aug. 12-13, 1955, Hurricane Connie: Connie made landfall near Cape Lookout, N.C. on Aug. 12, then moved north up the Chesapeake Bay where 16 people died when a small boat capsized. Richmond recorded 8.85 inches of rain; Washington, D.C., 6.59 inches; and Norfolk 4.62 inches. Minor flooding was reported at Virginia Beach and Willoughby Spit areas. Total damages were $1 million.
Aug. 17, 1955, Hurricane Diane:Just five days after Connie, Diane made landfall near Wilmington, N.C. as a Category 1 hurricane on Aug. 17 and moved north across central Virginia. As she did so, rain spread north up to 250 miles ahead of the storm's eye. On the evening of the 17th, the Blue Ridge Mountains saw rainfall amounts of five to 10 inches along the southern and eastern slopes. The Skyline Drive area was hardest hit. The combination of rain from Connie and Diane brought a record amount of rainfall for the month of August. Severe flooding followed on the Rappahannock River, with some flooding on the James, Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Norfolk winds gusted to 53 mph. Statewide damages totaled $1.5 million.
July 10, 1959, Hurricane Cindy: Spawned 8 tornadoes in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Sept. 30, 1959, Hurricane Gracie: The storm moved just west of Charlotte, N.C. into extreme southwest Virginia. Two to four inches of rain fell, with local amounts of eight to 10 inches. Norfolk recorded 6.79 inches in 24 hours. An intense squall line developed over southwest Virginia in the afternoon that progressed east. Gracie spawned tornadoes in North and South Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania. In Virginia, three strong F3 tornadoes struck Albemarle, Greene and Fluvanna counties, killing 11 people.
Sept. 12, 1960, Hurricane Donna:Donna produced nearly three inches of rainfall over Richmond and Washington, D.C. Fastest wind speed was 89 mph at Norfolk. Donna produced five tornadoes in North and South Carolina and Virginia. The F2 tornado hit Virginia in Buckingham County at 6 p.m., and stayed on the ground for half a mile. Rainfall was four to eight inches and some streams and rivers on the Delmarva coast reached record or near record overflow. There were three deaths.
Sept. 1, 1964, Hurricane Cleo:Record rains fell over much of the Hampton Roads area on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. The Back Bay Wildlife Refuge recorded more than 14 inches of rainfall. Winds in the Norfolk to Virginia Beach area were 28mph to 31 mph with gusts 40 mph to 42 mph. Cleo spawned 17 tornadoes across Florida, South and North Carolina and Virginia.
Aug. 20, 1969, Hurricane Camille:Camille made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane, smashing into the Mississippi coast with 200 mph winds on Aug. 17. She was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the United States this century. She maintained hurricane force winds for 10 hours as she moved 150 miles inland. Camille entered Virginia on Aug. 19 as a tropical depression, and though not a hurricane or tropical storm, she had picked up enough moisture from the warm Gulf Stream that when she slowed over the Commonwealth, her thunderstorms "trained" (one followed the other) for 12 hours. Nearly 31 inches of rain fell with devastating results. The ensuing flash flood and mudslide killed 153 people, mostly in Nelson County where 113 bridges washed out. The major flooding that occurred downstream cut off all communications between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. Waynesboro on the South River saw eight feet of water downtown and Buena Vista had more than five feet. Damage was estimated at $113 million.
Aug. 27, 1971, Tropical Storm Doria:Fastest wind speed was 71 mph at the naval air station in Norfolk. Doria made landfall in North Carolina near Atlanta Beach and moved up the Delmarva coast. Three inches of rain, flooding and a tornado caused $375,000 in damage. One person drowned in Virginia.
June 21, 1972, Tropical Storm Agnes:Agnes was only a weak hurricane when it developed over the Gulf of Mexico and struck the Florida panhandle, entering Virginia as a depression. Agnes produced devastating floods in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Sixteen inches of rain was recorded in Chantilly in Fairfax County, and both the Potomac and James rivers experienced major flooding. Richmond was hard hit. The water supply, sewage treatment, electric and gas plants were inundated. Only one of the five bridges crossing the James survived; the downtown section was closed for several days. More than 60 counties and 23 cities in the Commonwealth qualified for federal disaster relief. Sixteen people died in Virginia and damage was estimated at $222 million.
Sept. 5, 1979, Hurricane David:Spawned eight tornadoes across Virginia. Two cities and five counties were hit, from Norfolk in the southeast to Leesburg in the north. There was one death and 19 injuries; damages reached $5 million.
July 25, 1985, Hurricane Bob: Brought large bands of thunderstorms over central Virginia and produced strong winds and three tornadoes. Near Manakin in Goochland County, an F0 tornado briefly touched down falling a large oak tree. A second, short-lived F0 tornado was reported in Hanover County near Holly Hills. A funnel cloud appeared in Albemarle County, becoming a strong F3 tornado that struck the West Lee Subdivision in Greene County uprooting trees, completely destroying two houses by blowing off the roofs and caving in the sides.
Sept. 27, 1985, Hurricane Gloria:Fastest wind was 94 mph with gusts to 104 mph at the South Island Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Rainfall totaled five to six inches across the Eastern Shore. A fishing pier at Virginia Beach was heavily damaged. Numerous branches and trees blew down with some damage to roofs, signs and trim on buildings. Total damage in Virginia was $5.5 million.
Aug. 17, 1986, Hurricane Charley:The center passed over southeast Virginia Beach. Fastest wind blew from the northeast at 94 mph with gusts to 104 mph on the southern island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Many trees were blown down, including 250 in Hampton Roads. Over 110,000 homes were without power in the Tidewater area. Six-foot waves destroyed 70 feet of the fishing pier in Norfolk. Total damages were less than $1 million.
July 12-13, 1996, Hurricane Bertha:Made landfall near Cape Fear and moved north, passing over Suffolk and Newport News then northeast toward Atlantic City, N.J. The fastest wind speed was 35 mph with gusts to 48 mph at the Norfolk International Airport. The storm knocked out power to 115,000 customers in the eastern part of the state. Bertha spawned four tornadoes in east central Virginia. The strongest was an F1 that moved over Northumberland County, injuring nine people and causing several million dollars in damages. Other tornadoes moved over Smithfield, Gloucester and Hampton.
Sept. 5-6, 1996, Hurricane Fran:Fran made landfall at Cape Fear, N.C and moved north, entering Virginia near Danville and dropping eight inches of rain over the mountains and the Shenandoah Valley. In just one hour, some areas saw 3.5 inches of rain. Rainfall for the week totaled 20 inches at Big Meadows in Page County. Six people died and damages totaled near $350 million. Agricultural damage included a destroyed bunker crop and were estimated in excess of $50 million. All rivers in the central part of the state experienced major flooding. Record-level flooding occurred on the Dan River at South Boston and on the Shenandoah River, requiring the rescue of 100 people. A record number of people (560,000) in Virginia lost power.
County and State agencies helped get food and water into these areas. Hundreds of people were stranded and 75 homes reported major damage in Page County. Rockingham County reported 40 homes destroyed and 105 homes with major damage. In Warren County, 250 homes were flooded with 50 sustaining major damage. Waynesboro saw major damage to its downtown area. The Old Town section of the City of Alexandria also saw extensive tidal flooding from the Potomac River. Water was five feet deep in the lower portion of the city and many shops were flooded.
July 24, 1997, Hurricane Danny: Langley Air Force Base in Hampton recorded a wind gust of 61 mph as the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel Bridge. Tropical moisture from Danny interacted with a stationary front across the central Shenandoah Valley and central Piedmont. More than six inches of rain fell in some locations, causing flash flooding of creeks and streams. Orange County received the most rain and 10 roads were closed from high water. Danny spawned three small tornadoes in the Norfolk-Chesapeake area; each was on the ground for about a mile. One moved through southern Norfolk, damaging a business, destroying a car wash, causing major damage to a dozen structures.
Aug. 27, 1998, Hurricane Bonnie: Bonnie made landfall near Wilmington, N.C. and then moved back out to sea over the northern Outer Banks as a tropical storm and then strengthened again over the open waters. Fastest wind speed was northeast at 46 mph with gusts to 64 mph at Norfolk International Airport. Langley Air Base recorded a sustained wind of 53 mph with gusts to 67 mph. Cape Henry recorded a sustained wind of 81 mph and a gust of 104 mph. Power was knocked out to 320,000 customers in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area. Numerous trees were down, and some structural damage to buildings occurred. Windows were blown out of high-rise hotels and there was some roof damage. The heavy rain and a two to four foot storm surge combined to produce street flooding in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Portsmouth. Total storm damages in Virginia reached $24 million.
Sept. 4-5, 1999, Hurricane Dennis:Hurricane Dennis loomed off Cape Hatteras for several days and weakened to a tropical storm. It then moved west making landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and spreading rains and wind across Virginia. Tropical cyclone conditions were felt over eastern Virginia from Aug. 30th through Sept. 5th. The peak of the storm came on the 4th and 5th. A sustained wind of 52 mph was recorded at Langley Air Force Base with a peak gust of 76 mph. A F2 tornado (winds 113 to 157) touched down in the city of Hampton, causing significant damage to a three-block area and injuring six people. Six apartment complexes, an assisted living complex and a nursing home were damaged, causing 460 people to be evacuated. Much of Virginia had been experiencing drought conditions prior to Dennis. Total damages from Dennis were $8 million, mostly from the Hampton tornado.
Sept. 15-16, 1999, Hurricane Floyd:Hurricane Floyd, at one time a large Category 4 storm, had weakened to a minimal hurricane as it reached Virginia. However, rain associated with Floyd began well in advance of the storm and intensified as the storm neared and crossed Virginia Beach on the 16th. Rainfall amounts averaged 10 to 20 inches in a 50 to 75 mile path over southeast Virginia. More than 300 roads were closed in the peak of the storm from flooding and downed trees. Flooding caused $30 million to $40 million. The hardest hit counties were Southampton, Sussex, Isle of Wight and Surry. The city of Franklin experienced a record flood with 206 businesses impacted and numerous homes. Two people died in flooding in the state. The highest sustained wind recorded over land was only 46 mph at Langley Air Force Base with a gust to 63 mph. The James River Bridge recorded a wind gust of 100 mph. The saturated ground from Dennis and Floyd combined with the wind and led to trees uprooting and widespread power outages. Two people were killed by falling trees. Total storm damage in Virginia reached $255 million with 64 jurisdictions affected.
21st Century Hurricanes
Sept. 18, 2003, Hurricane Isabel: Made landfall near Ocracoke North Carolina. The center passed west of Emporia and west of Richmond. Fastest 1 minute wind speed NE 54 mph with gusts to 75 mph at Norfolk NAS; NE 61 mph with gusts to 74 mph at the South Island Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Highest tide at Sewells Point was 7.9 feet above MLLW, which was a 5 foot surge. Significant beach erosion was reported. Numerous trees and power lines down over a wide area, with over 2 million households without power in Virginia. Virginia damage was over $625 million, and there were 36 deaths in Virginia directly or indirectly related to the storm.
Aug. 3, 2004, Hurricane Alex: Made its closest approach to land on August 3, 2004 with its center located about 9 nm southeast of Cape Hatteras/Outer Banks, NC as a Category 1. Alex produced locally heavy rainfall across portions of southeast Virginia, but little in the way of damage or flooding.
Aug. 14, 2004, Hurricane Charley: Made a second landfall near Cape Romain, SC as a weakening Category 1, after devastating portions of central and southwest Florida. Charley brought locally heavy rainfall and strong winds to much of southeast Virginia, especially near the coast. A wind gust to 72 mph was recorded at the Chesapeake Light buoy. In the U.S., 10 deaths and $14 billion in damage resulted from Charley.
Aug. 29, 2004, Hurricane Gaston: Made landfall near Awendaw, SC, on August 29, 2004 as a Category 1. Gaston weakened as it lifted northward through North Carolina, then northeastward across southeast Virginia on August 30th. Gaston produced a swath of 5 to 14 inch rains extending from Lunenburg and Mecklenburg counties northeast into Caroline and Essex counties. The heaviest rainfall, centered on the Richmond metro area, produced a major flash flood which killed 8 people. Five of these deaths resulted from people driving into flooded roadways. A total of 13 tornadoes were observed in central and eastern Virginia, all producing F0 damage. Total damage is estimated at $130 million.
Sept. 8, 2004, Hurricane Frances: Made landfall over east central Florida as a Category 2 hurricane. It then moved northeast into the northern Gulf of Mexico, eventually turning north, making a second landfall in the panhandle of Florida, and then weakening into a tropical depression. It tracked through western Virginia, then northeast and offshore the mid-Atlantic coast. A total of six tornadoes were observed in central and eastern Virginia, the strongest producing F1 damage.
Sept. 17, 2004, Hurricane Ivan: Made landfall near the Florida/Alabama border as a Category 3 hurricane. It weakened to a tropical depression and moved northeast, tracking along the Appalachian Mountains through western Virginia, then northeast and offshore the mid-Atlantic coast. A total of 40 tornadoes were produced in Virginia, most in central and northern Virginia. This was a record single day outbreak for Virginia, and exceeded the previous annual tornado record of 31. Most of these tornadoes were F0 or F1 in intensity, although 10 F2 tornadoes and one F3 tornado touched down in south central, west central and northern Virginia.
Sept. 28, 2004, Hurricane Jeanne: The remnants of Hurricane Jeanne, in the form of a tropical depression, moved through the vicinities of Greenville, S.c., Roanoke, Va. and Washington, D.C. and finally to the New Jersey coast on Tuesday, Sept. 28. Maximum sustained wind speeds ranged from 25 mph to 30 mph near the storm's center. The primary impact on the Commonwealth was flooding, although one F1 tornado touched down in Pittsylvania County. The heaviest rainfall occurred from the New River Valley to the Southern Shenandoah Valley. Rainfall in this region ranged from 3 inches to 7 inches, with the highest amounts falling in Patrick, eastern Floyd, eastern Montgomery, Giles, Roanoke, Botetourt and Rockbridge counties.
September 1, 2006, Tropical Storm Ernesto:The remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto interacted with an unusually strong high pressure are over New England to generate strong winds, heavy rainfall, and storm surge related tidal flooding and damage. Five to eight inch rainfall amounts were common across central and eastern Virginia. This rainfall caused flooding in many areas, although no substantial river flooding resulted from the heavy rain. Wind gusts of 60 to 70 mph occurred on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, as well as areas adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay from Yorktown northward. Tides were particularly high from communities adjacent to the York River, northward through the Rappahannock River to tidal portions of the Potomac River. Tides of 4 to 5 feet above normal, combined with 6 to 8 foot waves, caused significant damage to homes, piers, bulkheads, boats, and marinas across portions of the Virginia Peninsula and Middle Peninsula near the Chesapeake Bay and adjacent tributaries. Similar damage also occurred in Chincoteague and Wachapreague on the Virginia Eastern Shore. At some locations on the Middle Peninsula, Northern Neck and Eastern Shore, the tidal flooding and damage rivaled that from Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Power outages were widespread across Virginia's Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.
Historic Hurricane Data
- Hurricane Survey: Norfolk, Virginia: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer District Norfolk, October 1959. This document included documentation on and quotes from 17th to early 20th century storms as used as follows:
- Virginia Magazine of History and Biography: Vol. 19-1911, p. 250.
- Norfolk in By-Gone Days, by Rev. W. H. T. Squires, D.D. (Vol. I, Norfolk Public Library).
- Virginia Gazette, Sept. 14, 1769, Sept. 9, 1775.
- American Beacon, September 1821.
- The Norfolk Landmark, August 19, 1879.
- Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, by William S. Forrest, 1853.
- Hurricanes, by Ivan Ray Tannehill.
- Official Report of Tropical Storm of August 22-23, 1933: by John J. Murphy, Weather Bureau Office, Norfolk, Virginia.
- Official Report of Tropical Storm of Sept. 15-16, 1933: by John J. Murphy, Weather Bureau Office, Norfolk, Virginia.
- Climatological Data, Virginia Section, US Dept. Of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, Vol. XLVI, No. 9, September 1936.
- Atlantic Hurricanes, by Gordon Dunn and Banner I. Miller, Louisiana State University Press, 1960.
- The Middle Atlantic Coast Hurricane of 22-24 October 1878, by Robert A Hoover, U.S. Weather
Bureau, Washington, DC, published in Weatherwise, August 1957.
- Characteristics of the Hurricane Storm Surge: Technical Paper No. 48, US DOC, Weather
Bureau, Washington, DC, 1963.
- The Deadliest Atlantic Cyclones 1492-1994: by Edward Rappaport and Jose Fernandez-Partagas,
NOAA Technical Memorandum, NWS, NHC-47.
- Flood Plain Information: Coastal Flooding: Virginia Beach, Virginia: by Corps of Engineers,
U.S. Army, Norfolk, Virginia, District, July 1969.
- Hurricane Camille, August 14-22, 1969: Preliminary Report: US DOC, ESSA, Weather Bureau,
- Tropical Storm Doria, August 20-29, 1971: A preliminary Report: US DOC, NOAA, NWS,
- Preliminary Climatic Data Report: Hurricane Agnes June 14-23, 1972: NOAA Technical Memorandum EDS NCC-1, by Richard M. DeAngeles and William T. Hodge, National Climatic Center, Ashville, August 1972.
- A Historical Account of Tropical Cyclones that have impacted North Carolina since 1581, by
James D. Stevenson, NOAA Technical Memorandum, NWS ER-83, July 1990.
- North Atlantic Hurricanes and Tropical Disturbances, Climatological Data, National Summary,
Vol. 3, No. 13, US DOC, Weather Bureau, 1952.
- North Atlantic Hurricanes and Tropical Disturbances, Climatological Data, National Summary,
Vol. 5, No. 13, US DOC, Weather Bureau, 1954.
- North Atlantic Hurricanes and Tropical Disturbances, Climatological Data, National Summary,
Vol. 6, No. 13, US DOC, Weather Bureau, 1955.
- North Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, Climatological Data, National Summary, Vol. 10, No. 13,
US DOC, Weather Bureau, 1959.
- North Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, Climatological Data, National Summary, Vol. 11, No. 13,
US DOC, Weather Bureau, 1960.
- North Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, Climatological Data, National Summary, Vol. 15, No. 13,
US DOC, Weather Bureau, 1964.
- Service Assessment: Hurricane Bertha, July 5-14, 1996: US DOC/NOAA/NWS, April 1997.
- Hurricane Fran: September 5-7, 1996, local NWS office documentation of storm surveys and storm impact.
- Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, July 1985.
- Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, September 1985.
- Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, August 1986.
- Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, July 1997.
- Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, August 1998.
- Storm Data. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, September 1999.
- Virginia Dept. of Emergency Services Press Releases for Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd, September 1999.
- The Hurricanes 1950-1954 in Virginia and North Carolina, US DOC, NOAA, NWS Wakefield, located at www.nws.noaa.gov/er/akq/Hur5054.htm, Feb. 1999.
- The Hurricanes of the 1930s in Virginia and North Carolina, US DOC, NOAA, NWS Wakefield, located at www.nws.noaa.gov/er/akq/Hur30s.htm, Feb 1999.
- Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: by Thomas P. Grazulis, The Tornado Project of Environmental Films, St.
Johnson, VT, July 1993.
- News Journal. Wilmington, DE., September 18, 1994.
- Delaware Coast Press, Rehoboth Beach, DE, September 14, 1994.
- Richmond Times-Dispatch. Richmond, VA., August 14, 1994.
- Richmond News Leader, June 14, 1951.
Tornado Activity Associated with Hurricanes
Hurricanes often spawn deadly tornadoes across the mid-Atlantic region. This century, 15 hurricanes, tropical storms or their remnants have spawned tornadoes in Virginia.
- Sept. 4, 1915: 1 tornado
- Oct. 29, 1917: 2 tornadoes
- Sept. 5, 1935: 5-7 tornadoes; 3 dead, 21 injured
- Aug. 31, 1952 "Able": 1 tornado
- July 10, 1959 "Cindy": 3 tornadoes
- Sept. 29, 1959 "Gracie": 3 tornadoes; 12 dead, 13 injured
- Sept. 10, 1960 "Donna": 1 tornado
- Sept. 5, 1979 "David": 8 tornadoes; 1 dead and 19 injured
- July 25, 1985 "Bob": 3 tornadoes
- Aug. 17, 1994 "Beryl": 1 tornado injuring 10 people
- Oct. 5, 1995 "Opal": 3 tornadoes
- July 12, 1996 "Bertha": 5 tornadoes injuring 9 people
- Sept. 6, 1996 "Fran": 2 tornadoes
- July 24, 1997 "Danny": 3 tornadoes
- Sept. 4, 1999 "Dennis": 1 tornado injuring 6 people
- Sept. 18, 2003 "Isabel": 1 tornado
- Aug. 30, 2004 "Gaston": 13 tornadoes
- Sept. 8, 2004 "Frances": 15 tornadoes
- Sept. 17, 2004 "Ivan": 40 tornadoes injuring 12 people
- Sept. 18, 2004 "Jean": 1 tornado
- July 8, 2005 "Cindy": 7 tornadoes