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Tornado paths through Southeastern Virginia

On the afternoon of August 6, 1993, a staggering total of eighteen tornadoes touched down across southern Virginia. While this event is uncommon in Virginia, it was not rare by global standards. 90% of the world’s recorded tornadoes happen in America, while the remaining 10% happen almost exclusively in western Eurasia and Australia’s semi-arid and moderate climates.

Prior to 1993, Virginia only had an average of 6 tornadoes per year, with a total of 263 tornadoes since 1950. The most active day for tornadoes before this event was October 13, 1983, which produced ten tornadoes. With this in mind, it is easy to see how destructive the August event was over 30 years ago.

August 6, 1993 started out quietly for Southeastern Virginia, with highs in the mid 70s and partly cloudy skies. However, as a warm front moved north across Richmond and Henrico County and an approaching low pressure center moved in, these clouds disappeared leading to intense warming throughout the day. Unfortunately, the mild temperatures and high humidity levels in place that day were two of the key ingredients that allowed a warm August afternoon to turn into an historical and deadly evening.

As pressures fell due to a low center developing along the front over Southwest Virginia, an upper level short-wave (disturbance) approached. Surface winds and winds aloft struggled against each other producing the ideal vertical wind shear needed for tornadic development that afternoon.

The first touch down of the day occurred near the town of Kenbridge in Lunenburg County at 12:43 pm. With hardly any precursor thunderstorms or rain, this tornado seemed to come out of nowhere. This tornado began as an F0 but as it crossed into Dinwiddie County it strengthened to a F2 damaging a well-constructed house on route 622, a barn, a house, and some outbuildings on Route 46, as well as the roofs of a briquet plant and a furniture company in Nottoway County. This tornado ran through 4 counties with a path length of 38 miles and a total damage cost of $720,500. The total life of this tornado was 40 minutes.

The most devastating tornado of the day first touched down in the independent city of Petersburg at approximately 1:30 pm, not long after the first tornado lifted. This tornado rapidly grew in size and strength as it moved northeast into the historic district of Petersburg. The F4 tornado leveled several well-built, multi-story brick buildings, along with a train station, and a decorative caboose that was ripped from its anchors and thrown 20 feet. The tornado then moved through the Pocahontas Island neighborhood at F3 intensity, heavily damaging or destroying over 80% of the homes. Forty people were injured and over 100 buildings damaged or destroyed in the Petersburg and Pocahontas Island area.

From there, the tornado crossed the river into Colonial Heights where it severely damaged a strip mall, a K-Mart, and a waterbed store. By this point the tornado had decreased in size slightly, but remained at an F3 rating which is why the Walmart in this location was almost completely destroyed. The tornado was as wide as the Walmart was long. 198 people were injured due to the intense splattering and damage by debris and three women, 40, 48, and 56 years of age, were killed.

When the tornado crossed into Prince George County, it was at F2 intensity and struck a sand and gravel company. The second floor of the company building collapsed, killing a 28 year old employee who had sought shelter there with some coworkers. Several cars and trucks were overturned and conveyor belts were twisted and bent. One employee spotted the tornado and radioed a warning to others which likely saved some lives. Three employees evacuated a small building shortly before it was destroyed.

As the tornado moved northeast, it blew roofs off an apartment complex and caused minor damage to an additional 49 homes in Hopewell at an F1 intensity. The tornado exited Hopewell, weakened to an F0, and dissipated in Charles City County. This deadly tornado ran through 3 independent cities and one county with a path length of 12 miles and a total damage cost of $47.5 million. The total ground time for this tornado was 15-20 minutes.

The other sixteen tornadoes were all either F1 or F0 and damage to trees, travel trailers, trailer homes, barns, and other smaller buildings was significant. Many homes had trees blown into them, several bridges sustained heavy winds and damage, and several vehicles were overturned or heavily damaged. In total, there were eighteen tornadoes, 256 injuries, four deaths, and total damage cost for this day was $52.5 million.

This outbreak was not only uncommon for Virginia, it was very rare that this type of outbreak, sometimes classified as a "family of tornadoes", occurred in mid-summer. The residents of Southeastern Virginia will long remember August 6th, 1993. Rarely has such an outbreak of tornadoes been seen in these areas and never so many at one time. Let this day serve as a reminder that devastating tornadoes can occur in any month of the year at any time of the day and at any location in the country.


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