THE HURRICANE HISTORY OF COASTAL
Continuous weather records for the Hampton Roads Area of Virginia began on January 1, 1871 when the National Weather Service was established in downtown
. The recorded history of significant tropical storms that affected the area goes back much further. Prior to 1871, very early storms have been located in ship logs, newspaper accounts, history books, and countless other writings. The residents of coastal Norfolk during Colonial times were very much aware of the weather. They were a people that lived near the water and largely derived their livelihood from the sea. To them, a tropical storm was indeed a noteworthy event. The excellent records left by some of Virginia ’s early settlers and from official records of the National Weather Service are summarized below. Learning from the past will help us prepare for the future. Virginia
SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
1635 August 24 First historical reference to a major hurricane that could have affected the
. Virginia Coast
1667 Sept. 6 It appears likely this hurricane caused the widening of the
. The Bay rose 12 feet above normal and many people had to flee. Lynnhaven River
1693 Oct. 29 From the Royal Society of
. There happened a most violent storm in London which stopped the course of ancient channels and made some where there never were any. Virginia
1749 Oct. 19 Tremendous hurricane. A sand spit of 300 acres was washed up and with the help of a hurricane in 1806 it became Willoughby Spit. The Bay rose 15 feet above normal.
Historical records list the following tropical storms as causing significant damage in
: September Virginia
1761; October 1761; September 1769; September 1775; October 1783; September 1785; July 1788.
1806 August 23 Called the Great Coastal Hurricane of 1806.
1821 Sept. 3 One of the most violent hurricanes on record.
1846 Sept. 8 Hatteras and
inlets were formed. Oregon
1876 Sept. 17 Average 5 minute wind speed at
Cape Henry was 73 mph; 3.32” of rain.
1878 Oct. 23 Cobb and Smith Islands, on the
Eastern Shore, were completely submerged. Average 5 minute wind at Cape Henry was 84 mph. Eighteen died when the A. S. Davis went ashore near . Virginia Beach
1879 August 18 Tide in
7.77 feet above Mean Lower Low Water. Average 5 minute wind speed at Norfolk Cape Henry 76 mph with 100 mph estimated gusts.
1887 Oct. 31 Average 5 minute wind speed at
Cape Henry 78 mph. The storm caused a record number of marine disasters.
1893 August 23 Average 5 minute wind speed at
Cape Henry 88 mph.
1894 Sept. 29 Five minute wind speed at
Cape Henry 80 mph; gusts to 90 mph.
1897 Oct. 25 Lasted 60 hours.
tides 8.1 feet above Mean Lower Low Water. Norfolk
1899 Oct. 31 Average 5 minute wind at
Cape Henry 72 mph. Tide in reached 8.9 feet above Mean Lower Low Water. Norfolk
1903 Oct. 10 Average 5 minute wind speed at Cape Henry 74 mph, the tide in
reached 9 feet above Mean Lower Low Water. Norfolk
1924 August 26 Average 1 minute wind speed 72 mph at
1924 Sept. 30 Fastest 1 minute wind speed in
76 mph. Norfolk
1926 August 22 Fastest 1 minute wind speed in
Cape Henry 76 mph.
1928 Sept. 19 Fastest 1 minute wind speed at
Cape Henry 72 mph. The tide reached 7.16 feet above Mean Lower Low Water in . Norfolk
1933 August 23 This hurricane established record high tide of 9.8 feet above Mean Lower Low Water. 18 people died. Highest 1 minute wind speed in
Norfolk was 70 mph, 82 mph at Cape Henry, and 88 mph at NAS, . Norfolk
1933 Sept. 16 Fastest 1 minute wind speed was 88 mph at NAS,
Norfolk, 75 mph at the NWS City Office, and 87 at Cape Henry. The tide reached 8.3 feet above Mean Lower Low Water.
1936 Sept. 18 The fastest 1 minute wind speed was 84 mph at Cape Henry and 68 mph at the NWS City Office. The tide reached 9.3 feet above Lower Low Water and is the second highest tide of record.
1944 Sept. 14 Fastest 1 minute wind speed was 134 mph at
Cape Henry which is the highest speed of record in this area. Gusts were estimated to 150 mph. The NWS City Office recorded 72 mph with gusts to 90 mph.
1953 August 14 BARBARA. The fastest 1 minute wind speed was 72 mph at Cape Henry, 63 mph with gusts to 76 mph at
. Norfolk Airport
1954 Oct. 15 HAZEL. Fastest 1 minute wind speed was 78 mph at
Norfolk Airport with gusts to 100 mph which is the highest wind speed of record for the location. A reliable instrument in Norfolk Airport recorded 130 mph. Hampton
1959 Sept. 30 GRACIE. Passed through western
. 6.79 inches of rain at Virginia in 24 hours. Storm spawned a tornado eight miles west of Norfolk Airport , killing 11 people. Charlottesville
1960 Sept. 12 DONNA. Fastest 1 minute wind speed was 73 mph at
Norfolk Airport, 80 mph at Cape Henry and estimated 138 mph at Chesapeake Light Ship. Lowest pressure of 28.65 inches holds the area record for a tropical storm. 3 deaths.
1964 Sept. 1 CLEO. A storm noted for it’s rain. 11.40 inches of rain in 24 hours is the heaviest in the coastal area since records began in 1871.
1969 August 19 CAMILLE. Made landfall in
on August 17. The storm tracked northward and dumped a record 27 inches of rain in the Mississippi Virginia mountains, primarily in . Flash flooding took the lives of 153 people. Nelson County
1971 August 27 DORIA. The fastest 1 minute wind speed 52 mph at
Norfolk Airport and 71 mph at NAS, . Norfolk
1972 June 21 AGNES. Made landfall on the Gulf Coast of Florida. As the storm crossed
Virginia, it dumped 13.6 inches of rain on the east slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The James River crested at a record high in . Richmond sustained $222 million in damage, and 13 people died from flash flooding. Virginia
1979 Sept. 5 DAVID. Passed through central
. Spawned 2 severe tornadoes – one in Newport News with over $2 million in damage and one in Hampton with a half million dollars in damage. Virginia
1985 Sept. 27 GLORIA. Passed 45 miles east of
Cape Henry. Fastest 1 minute wind speed WNW 46 mph, peak gust 67 mph at the Airport, NE 94 mph gust to 104 mph at the South Island CBBT. Highest tide 5.3 feet above Mean Lower Low Water, storm rainfall 5.65 inches and total damage $5.5 million. Virginia
1986 August 17 CHARLEY. The weak center passed over southeast
. Fastest 1 minute wind speed NNE 40 mph gust E 63 mph at Virginia Beach Norfolk International Airport; NE 94 gust to 104 mph at South Island CBBT; and NE 54 mph gust to 82 mph at Cape Henry. Highest tide 5.5 feet above Mean Lower Low Water. Less that $1 million in damage in . Virginia
1996 July 12-13 BERTHA. Passed over portions of
Suffolk and . Fastest 1 minute wind speed SE 35 mph gust to 48 mph at Newport News . Bertha spawned 4 tornadoes across east-central Norfolk International Airport . The strongest, an F1 tornado moved over Virginia injuring 9 persons and causing damages of several million dollars. Other tornadoes moved over Northumberland County Smithfield, Gloucester and . Hampton
1996 Sept. 5 FRAN. Passed well west of the area over
. Fastest 1 minute wind speed SE 41 gust to 47 mph at Danville . Rainfall amounted to only 0.20 of an inch in Norfolk International Airport . Norfolk
1998 August 27 BONNIE. Tracked over the northern Outer Banks. Fastest 1 minute wind speed NW 46 mph with gust to 64 mph at
90 mph with gust to 104 mph at CBBT. 4-7 inches of rain combined with near hurricane force winds knocked out power to 320,000 customers. Highest tide 6.0 feet over MLLW. Most significant storm since 1960. Norfolk Airport, NE
1999 August 30 DENNIS. Produced one of the most prolonged period of tropical storm conditions in
Sept. 4 eastern
. Fastest 1 minute wind speed NE 43 mph with gust to 53 mph at Virginia . Storm total rainfall 3.30 inches. Significant beach erosion reported. Norfolk Int’l Airport
1999 Sept. 16 FLOYD. Passed directly over
on a track similar to Hurricane Donna in 1960. Lowest pressure of 28.85” (977 MB) at Virginia Beach 4th lowest for a hurricane this century. Fastest 1 minute wind NE 31 mph with gust to 46 mph. Rainfall 6.80” with amounts of 12-18: in interior portions eastern Norfolk Int’l Airport . Virginia reported 500 year flood of record. Largest peacetime evacuation in U.S. History. Franklin, VA
TWENTY FIRST CENTURY
2003 Sept. 18 Isabel: Made landfall near Ocracoke North
. The center passed west of Carolina Emporia and west of . 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 Richmond . Virginia Virginia damage was over $625 million, and there were 36 deaths in directly or indirectly related to the storm. Virginia
2004 August 3 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.
2004 August 14 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
, especially near the coast. A wind gust to 72 mph was recorded at the Chesapeake Light buoy. In the Virginia , 10 deaths and $14 billion in damage resulted from Charley. U.S.
2004 August 29 Hurricane Gaston: Made landfall near
, on August 29, 2004 as a Category 1. Gaston weakened as it lifted northward through Awendaw, SC North Carolina, then northeastward across southeast on August 30th. Gaston produced a swath of 5 to 14 inch rains extending from Lunenburg and Virginia Mecklenburg counties northeast into Caroline and Essex counties. The heaviest rainfall, centered on the 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 Richmond , all producing F0 damage. Total damage is estimated at $130 million. Virginia
2004 Sept 8 Hurricane
Frances: Made landfall over east central 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 Florida , 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. Virginia
2004 Sept 17 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
, then northeast and offshore the mid- Atlantic coast. A total of 40 tornadoes were produced in Virginia Virginia, most in central and northern . 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 . Virginia
2004 Sept 28 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
. The heaviest rainfall occurred from the Pittsylvania County 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, , Botetourt and Rockbridge counties. Roanoke
2005 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
, 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 Virginia . Gulf States 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 Virginia Ft. Pickett, near Blackstone, Va., although the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not transfer any to . Virginia
2006 Sept 1 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
. 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 Virginia 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
Hurricanes come close enough to produce hurricane force winds approximately three times every 20 years.
Two or three times a century winds and tides produce considerable damage and significantly threaten life.
Three known storms have been powerful enough to alter coastal features.
Rainfall. The most common effect of a tropical cyclone passing by Virginia is its associated rainfall. The heaviest rain in a truly tropical cyclone, outside of terrain effects, occurs to the east of the track. However, many systems that pass this far to the north exhibit some non-tropical characteristics, such as cold/dry air wrapping around the west and south sides of the circulation. When this happens, the rainfall distribution changes markedly. The maximum rainfall can then be expected to be just west of the track, and well to the east, outside the reach of the dry air. Severe weather, such as microbursts, tornadoes, and hail tend to be more common with this dry air intrusion, mainly to the east of the track. To the lower right is a chart of the ten highest rainfall amounts, in the Old Dominion, to be measured in association with a tropical cyclone.
Virginia has some special considerations that can affect rainfall. Mountains to the west act as a perfect mechanism for upward motion when a sustained east wind is present, and can lead to flash flooding and landslides in that region. Also, as a tropical system approaches from the south, a baroclinic boundary sets up between the moist Atlantic Ocean and the relatively drier landmass to the west. This boundary can set up two or three days in advance of a tropical storm, and can lead up to prolonged heavy rains across coastal sections. As the cyclone advances north, the boundary will slowly shift west, but rarely makes it west of a Richmond/Washington, D.C. line.
Heaviest Rains in Virginia from
Tropical Cyclones and their Remnants
Amount Dates Location
27.00" 8/19-20/1969 Nelson County
19.77" 11/02-07/1985 2 NE Montebello
18.13" 9/14-16/1999 Yorktown
16.57" 9/14-16/1999 Newport News
16.00" 6/17-24/1972 Chantilly
14.30" 9/14-16/1999 James City
14.30" 9/05-09/1996 Tom's Branch
14.18" 6/17-24/1972 Centreville
14.17" 9/05-09/1996 Luray 5 SE
13.60" 6/17-24/1972 Big Meadows