Hurricanes and other storms in the Hampton Roads Area
This is the text of the speech that I gave at the June 2006 meeting of the York County Historical Society
This evening I am going to talk about hurricanes and other storms in the Hampton Roads area and when I can I am going concentrate on York County and Poquoson.
Because of our geographical location we are susceptible to hurricanes and winter storms, these being mostly in the form of nor'easters.
During this presentation I would encourage any questions or memories to be brought up at anytime. If I don't get something right or you remember something differently, please let me know. Most of what I have put together for you is from reading, the Internet and speaking with people. Many of you may actually have memories of the instances that I am talking about.
What I am going to tell you is going to be more anecdotes and history rather than a scientific lecture. I am going to tell the basics of the storm and its effect on our area and any stories that may go along with it.
I have always been interested storms and have collected stories about them for past several years. I am been researching to August 23, 1933 hurricane off and on for the past 13 years. In fact I am a real hurricane buff. I am one who stays glued to the Weather Channel during a storm anywhere in the country.
My earliest memory is of my mother, father, brother and me sleeping on a single mattress in front of our fireplace during the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962. That was a very powerful nor'easter that I will talk about in a few minutes. On the same note, my uncle Billy told me that his earliest memory was of the August 1933 hurricane. In fact I have talked to many people about the '33 storm and despite the fact that it occurred over 70 years ago, their memories of it are quite clear. I gave a lecture on that storm back in 2000 and will talk about it again tonight. A lot of that will be in comparison with Hurricane Isabel.
Due to our topography, we are very susceptible to tides and storm surges that are brought about by hurricanes and nor'easters. In the majority of the storms I am going to tell you about there is a local common theme. That is Seaford, Dare, Poquoson, Dandy, Messicka and the Yorktown waterfront.
These are almost always flooded is various degrees of severity. Living near Messick, my house has a built in storm surge meter. It is called my front window. In the fifteen years that I lived down there, my house has been surrounded by water three times. Two from nor'easters and the other from Hurricane Isabel.
First I am going to talk about two phenomena that occur in this area. They happen with more frequently that we might think. They are earthquakes and tornados.
Virginia has had over 160 earthquakes since 1977 of which 16% were felt. This equates to an average of one earthquake occurring every month with two felt each year. The earliest recorded earthquake in Virginia was in 1774. The largest earthquake to occur in Virginia is the 1897 magnitude 5.8 Giles County earthquake. This earthquake is the third largest in the eastern US in the last 200 years and was felt in twelve states. The most powerful shock from an earthquake felt in Virginia was from the 1886 Charleston South Carolina earthquake. In Norfolk several buildings were damaged. There was a panic in the Norfolk opera house. Williamsburg had several reports of plaster damage. On August 3,1995 a magnitude (mbLg) 2.9 shock occurred near York River State Park. Most people did not feel the quake or mistook it for a nearby truck. The quake was felt in Camp Peary and portions of Gloucester County.
Tornados have been more common in this area than I originally thought. Most are usually spawned by hurricanes. There have been several reports of tornadoes in York County and Poquoson throughout the years.
A local preacher name Cyrus James kept a weather diary for thirty years, from the early 1830s to the mid 1860s. He wrote that on August 24, 1850 a tornado tore down the houses of Mrs. Hudgins, Holloway and Thomas killing Mrs. Hudgins' daughter and John Holloway's wife. This particular tornado may be an example of one that was spawned by hurricane as the remnants of a Gulf Coast originated storm was over Virginia on that date. In 1951 a tornado cut a path through Colonial National Park causing $5000 worth of damage. In the 1930s a tornado damaged several houses in the Hornsbyville area. More recently a tornado touched down in August 2003 near the Running Man subdivision and torn down several trees and damaged a brick fence.
For what most consider a Southern state, Virginia gets its share of nasty winter weather. Virginiaemergency.com tells us that Virginia's biggest winter storms are the great "Nor'easters". At times, Nor'easters have become so strong that they have been labeled the "White Hurricane". In order for these storms to form, several things need to occur. High pressure builds over New England. Arctic air flows south from the high center into Virginia. The colder and drier the air is, the denser and heavier it becomes. This cold, dry air is unable to move west over the Appalachian Mountains. Instead, it remains trapped to the east side, funneling down the valleys and along the coastal plain toward North Carolina. To the east of the arctic air is the warm water of the Gulf Stream. The contrast of cold air sinking into the Carolinas and the warm air sitting over the Gulf Stream creates a breeding ground for storms. Combine this with the right meteorological conditions such as the position of the jet stream, and storm development may become "explosive" (sudden, rapid intensification; dramatic drop in the central pressure of the storm).
For a good Nor'easter to develop, the jet stream entering the West Coast of the United States splits. The northern branch crosses the northern Rockies and Canada while the southern branch dips to cross the Gulf Coast states, where it picks up a disturbance that it carries northeast across Virginia to rejoin the northern branch over Newfoundland. The northern branch of the jet supports the southward sinking cold air. When the disturbance interacts with the temperature boundary formed by the warm Gulf Stream waters and the arctic air mass inland, a low-pressure system forms that intensifies into a Nor'easter. The strong wind from the northeast gives the storm its name, Nor'easter. Wind blowing counter-clockwise around the storm center carries warm, moist air from the Gulf Stream up and over the cold inland air. The warm air rises and cools, and snow begins. The storm's speed and exact track to the north become critical in properly forecasting and warning for heavy snow across Virginia. It is quite common for the rain-snow line to fall right over Petersburg, Richmond or Fredericksburg. Many times the snow-line runs to the east bringing heavy snow, sleet and ice to the Hampton Roads area.Nor’easters also have storm surges similar to what if found in a hurricane. Again I would like to thank vaemergency.com for that definition of a nor'easter. I could not have thought is up myself.
There are other types of winter storms other than nor'easters. One example is an Alberta Clipper.This is a fast moving storm or cold front that comes this way from the Albert Canada region. They generally do not cause anymore than 1-4 inches of snow to narrow 50 to 60 mile band. Sometimes the high pressure and cold artic air that follow a clipper can help form a nor'easter.
Here are some of the memorable winter storms in Virginia history.
On January 28 1772 a snowstorm dumped 30-36 inches of snow in the central part of the state. This is still an unofficial state record. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson made mention of the storm in their diaries. On February 14, 1798 the western shore of the bay suffered a large amount of snow due to "lake effect" conditions over the Chesapeake Bay. There was no snow twenty five miles inland from the coast This is similar to the large snowfalls expericianced in Buffalo New York from winds blowing across Lake Erie.
We are going to move forward to 1846. That was the year that Edward Davis and his family moved from Mathews County to Fish Neck. Right here in Dare. In fact this church is located on used to be a tract of Mr. Davis' property. During their first few months here, thier life can be best described as miserable. The weather had a lot to do with their misery. 1846 was on the worst weather years in our region's history. In Robert E. White’s book on the Ancestry and Descendents of John French White and Martha Cowles tells the this story: On the second day of March 1846, Mrs. Davis had taken sick. Ralph, a trusted servant crossed the creek to go to Mr. Chapmans to see if he could get a nurse to look after Mrs. Davis. The tide had rose to such a depth that he could not get to his boat. Someone else had started in a gig to get a doctor, but a tree had blown across the road. The snow started falling at a very fast rate. The doctor had to come in a sleigh. Cyrus James remembers that storm as such a gust of wind and tide that the oldest person among us had never seen before. The water six feet above common tide. William S. Forrest in his book " Historical and Desriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity" describes the storm as: The snow was several inches deep, and rain began to fall during the day, which continued until noon on Monday, March 2nd, when the rain gave place to hail, which fell rapidly, the wind continued with unabated violence 'til midnight when it increased to a terrific hurricane, which tore off roofs of buildings, uprooted trees and demolished fences. The tide rose to an extraordinary height. Never since 1825 had it risen so high. Wide Water Street and the streets, lanes, and wharves below were completely inundated and very large quantities of merchandise...were destroyed."
The Great Blizzard and Freeze, Jan. 18-19, 1857: More than a foot of snow fell with temperatures below 20°F across the state. Strong winds caused structural damage on land, wrecked ships at sea and great drifts that blocked transportation through the state. The cold was so extreme that all Virginia rivers were frozen over. The Chesapeake Bay was solid ice a 1 ½ miles out from its coast. At Cape Henry, one could walk out 100 yards from the lighthouse on the frozen ocean. Mr. James said that this storm came in cold and freezing. A snowstorm came in on the night of the 17th and continued to the night of the 19th. It covered the earth with snow about a foot deep and blew up in banks about 5-6 feet deep. Sunday was thought to be the coldest day ever in this climate. The creeks and rivers were blocked with ice. Wood was able to be hauled across Chisman's Creek by a tumbler. He also that people could walk from Hampton to Norfolk on the ice.
The winter of 1935-36 was another terrible year. The Chesapeake Bay was frozen up so bad that food had to be air dropped to Tangier Island.
April 11, 1956: A severe Nor'easter gave gale winds (40 mph +) and unusually high tides to the Tidewater Virginia area. At Norfolk, the strongest gust was 70 mph. The strong northeast winds blew for almost 30 hours and pushed up the tide, which reached 4.6 feet above normal in Hampton Roads. Thousands of homes were flooded by the wind-driven high water and damages were large. Two ships were driven aground. Waterfront fires were fanned by the high winds. The flooded streets made access to firefighters very difficult, which added to the losses. Many parts of Poquoson were cut off by flood waters and had to be evacuated by military vehicles. Poquoson Police Chief Cochrane described the situation as "severe". Ft. Eustis contributed vehicles. The Naval Weapons Station gave cots and electric generators and Langley AFB sent life rafts to help with evacuating stranded people in the Messick area. Heavy surf battered the Yorktown waterfront and some parts of Dandy were cut off the eighteen inches of water. While this storm was bad enough, an even worse nor'easter hit us in March of 1962.
March 5-9, 1962, The "Ash Wednesday Storm": The storm hit Virginia during "Spring Tide" (sun and moon phase to produce a higher than normal tide). The storm moved north off the coast past Virginia Beach and then reversed its course moving again to the south and bringing with it higher tides and higher waves which battered the coast for several days. The storm's center was 500 miles off the Virginia Capes when water reached nine feet at Norfolk and 7 feet on the coast. Huge waves toppled houses into the ocean and broke through Virginia Beach's concrete boardwalk and sea wall. Houses on the Bay side also saw extensive tidal flooding and wave damage. The beaches and shorefront had severe erosion. Locals felt the damage from this storm was worst in Virginia Beach than that of the 1933 Hurricane. The islands of Chincoteague and Assateague were completely underwater. Again the Messick area of Poquoson had to be evacuated by military vehicles. A shelter was set up in Poquoson High School and housed over 200 people. Many people had 2-3 foot of water in their ho uses. In Yorktown, mail had to transported back and forth from the post office by rowboat. Many waterfront businesses were flooded. The Buckroe area of Hampton was particularly devastated. Several shops, restaurants and cottages were destroyed.
I have one more winter storm to tell you all about before I get to hurricanes and tropical storms. That was the Blizzard of March 1980. I was in Naples Italy at the time and my mother had wrote me and told about this storm. It was hard to believe that we had had a snowstorm of that magnitude.
On January 4 and 5, a heavy wet snow fell over eastern Virginia with as much as 18 inches reported at Williamsburg. A second storm hit on February 6 that dumped 6 inches in Williamsburg and as much as 20 inches at Virginia Beach. Over a foot of snow fell in Norfolk. This was topped on March 1. Once again, arctic air had settled over Virginia and temperatures were in the teens. More than a foot (13.7 inches) of snow fell in Norfolk. The heavy snow combined with strong winds created blizzard conditions. Norfolk's total for the season came to a record 41.9 inches making this the snowiest winter ever for eastern Virginia. Governor Darden was forced to declare a state on emergency. The City of Norfolk had ordered everyone off the streets. This came at a bad time for the nearly 2300 people attending the circus in the Scope. The snow was coming down so quickly and with such force that the second half of the 3:00 pm performance had be cancelled. People arriving early for the 7:00 pm show were stranded. Over 2000 people were forced to spend the night in the Scope. The City of Norfolk provided blankets and paid for concession food for the people.
Edward R. Murrow once said "In the eye of a hurricane, you learn things other than that of a scientific nature. You feel the puniness of man and his works. If the true definition of humility is ever written it may well be written in the eye of a hurricane"
Hurricanes are no stranger to this area. Since 1851, over thirty hurricanes have come within 25 nautical miles of the peninsula.
Events of the last few years have proven just how vulnerable this area is to a hurricane or tropical storm. Past history has shown that in the past hurricanes have been a regular visitor to this area at appears we are entering this cycle again.
There are three ways that a hurricane can hurt you and cause damage. They are: High Winds, Heavy Rain and Storm Surge. All hurricanes have these three things occur. But no two storms are alike. Some storms have heavy rains are predominate. An example of this would be Hurricane Floyd and Tropical Storm Gaston. In some storms extreme winds are the main feature. An example of this would be Hurricane Hazel. An finally some storms the storm surge is worst part. In fact the storm surge is the most dangerous part of a hurricane or tropical storm. Two prime examples of this kind of storm are the August 23, 1933 hurricane and Hurricane Isabel.
Hurricanes are divided into five categories depending on wind speed and barometric pressure. There have been only three category five hurricanes to have struck to United States. They were the Labor Day storm in the Florida Keys in 1935, Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. I think that the San Felipe-Okeechobee of 1928 may one day be listed as a category 5. A storm does not have to be a five to be devastating. The Galveston Storm of 1900 was a category 3. Hurricane Hugo was a category 3. Katrina was between a category 3 and 4 by the time it made landfall. Landfall is when the eye of the hurricane reaches the shore. Hurricanes are dangerous long before it actually makes landfall.
Generally we won't get a category 5 storm in this area because the water isn't warm enough to sustain a storm of that enormous strength. There may be exceptions and one of them may the first storm I am going to tell you about. That is the storm of September 6th 1667. This storm is considered on of the most severe to strike Virginia. This hurricane was thought to have a track similar to the August 1933 storm. Approximately 10,000 houses were blown over. Area corn and tobacco crops were blown to the ground. Many cattle drowned in area rivers and bays by a 12 foot tidal surge. This caused many people to flee. The graveyard of the first Lynnhaven Church tumbled into the bay and the storm caused the widening of the Lynhaven Bay.
October 19, 1749: A tremendous hurricane tracked offshore Virginia, northeast to Cape Cod. At 1:00 a.m. at Norfolk, winds became violent from the northeast. The fury of the storm peaked between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.. In Williamsburg, one family drowned as flood waters carried their house away. At Hampton, water rose to four feet deep in the streets; many trees were uprooted or snapped in two. Torrents of rain flooded northern Virginia and Maryland. The Bay rose to fifteen feet above normal...destroying waterfront buildings. Commandore James Barron leaves us this account of the storm: The wind increased which soon brought the rain. As the hours wore on the wind and rain increased in fury. Sometimes the downpour slackened. One could hear the sand picked up by the wind from the beach outside and blasted against every object that still withstood the gale. All the while the rising tide was rapidly being piled up to a height never seen before in that area. The waves were pounding on the shore, finally to the very foot of the outside wall at Fort George. A large tree crashed over on its side with its roots in the air and was driven against the land side of the Fort. With the impact the wall yawned and broke. Shortly afterwards the seawall lurched and sank at the point where it was exposed to the wave fury of the storm. Finally the outside wall of the fort gave way, and the filling of sand poured out, leaving the inner wall exposed to the blast without support. When this too fell apart and collapsed, the barracks took the full force of the wind. About sundown, the storm slackened and in another hour the rain and wind had diminished to such a degree that it was clearly spent. This was the storm that helped create Willoughby Spit.
On September 2-3 1821 another powerful storm hit this area. The Norfolk Herald gives this description: From half past 11:00 until half past 12:00, so great the fury of the elements, that they seemed to threaten a general demolition of everything within their reach. During that period the scene was awful. There was the deafening roar of the storm, with the mingled crashing of windows and falling of chimneys, while the rapid rise of the tide threatened to inundate the town. The continuous cataracts of rain swept impetuously along darkening the expanse of vision and apparently confounding the heaven, earth and seas in a general chaos; together with now and then a glimpse caught through the gloom, of shipping forced from their moorings and driven with rapidity, as the mind might well conjecture in such a circumstance to inevitable destruction.
Now we are going to Fish Neck in September of 1846. Edward Davis had promised his family that he would move back to Mathews County. Before he could do so, he passed away. Mrs. Davis had hired a boat to take Mr. Davis' body back to Mathews in be buried in the family plot. However hurricane struck and Mrs. Davis was force to inter Mr. Davis on the Fish Neck farm. Mrs. Davis decided to remain in Fish Neck and had many descendants who are here to this day and are in this room.
As for the hurricane, it came on September 8, 1846 and created Oregon and Hatteras Inlets.
Cyrus James stated that there were five gusts that year. Hurricanes and nor'easters were commonly known as gusts back in those days.
October 23, 1878 (Gale of '78): One of the most severe hurricanes to affect eastern Virginia in the latter half of the 19th century struck on October 23, 1878. This hurricane moved rapidly northward from the Bahamas on October 22nd and struck the North Carolina coast late that same day moving at a forward speed of 40 to 50 mph. The storm continued northward passing through east central Virginia... Maryland and eastern Pennsylvania. Damage from this hurricane was widespread along the East Coast. Many of Virginia's life saving stations were damaged, with one lifted from its foundation and moved half a mile. The Norfolk Landmark provided an account of the storm’s effects in the Norfolk area. “.... Only strong willed people could sleep while dwellings so violently oscillated with the ravings of the tempest Tuesday night (22nd). At an early hour a severe gale sprung up from the northeast and by 9 o'clock old Boreas was knocking things around town in a lively style. The rain came down in torrents and the streets at times were a driving sheet of water. Yesterday morning (23rd), after the abatement of the storm it was found that considerable damage and loss was involved in the destruction of various sorts of property around the city and vicinity. The maddening fury of the elements will long be remembered as making one of the most severe storms in the annals of our city's experience...."
During a hurricane that occurred on September 15-17 1903 resulted in a very unusual event. As the storm passed northeast of Old Point Comfort, a shower of dead with most of their feathers plucked off by the wind fell from the sky. Hundreds of birds about the size of wren were downed around Point Comfort.
In 1928 the remnants of the infamous San Felipe- Okeechobee Hurricane reached this area bringing rain and high winds. This hurricane killed nearly 2000 people in Florida.
On August 23, 1933 the worst hurricane in over 100 years hit this area. The National Weather Service calls it the Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane; most locals just call it the August Storm. I have gathered information on this storm the past 13 or so years and gave lecture on it in 2000 for this society. A ship first noted the storm at sea on August 17, 1933. It eventually grew to a category 3 storm. It made landfall near Nags Head and then turned north. Among its first victims was the G.A. Kohler. The Kohler was one the last of the four-masted schooners. The captain had picked that voyage to bring his wife and son along. The storm drove the ship ashore on the Outer Banks of North Carolina near the village of Avon. Once grounded the ship was in danger of being beaten to bits by the hurricane tossed waves. The Coast Guard responded and lifted the crew off by a breeches bouy. This is but one of the many stories I have collected about this storm. For the sake of brevity I am going to just give the highlights.
The storm caused record flooding the entire Chesapeake Bay area. Eighteen people died in Virginia from the storm, with three being killed on the Peninsula. Two in Hampton and one in James City County. One of the sources that I used for this presentation lists a fourth casualty in York County. This source is the Peninsula Multi jurisdictional Natural Disaster Plan. Of all the sources that I have read over the years to include newspapers and government documents, I have only been able to find the two in Hampton (Chester Laird and Mrs. Matlin) and one in James City ( Mr.Canady).
They may have been thinking of John Kemp Charles who is buried in this churchyard. He had a massive heart attack while walking a cow through the floodwaters on August 23 1933. This leaves us with a skeleton that was unearthed in Yorktown while excavating the old Nick’s parking lot. It was said to be from the 1930s. In my opinion this person was not from York County during the August Storm.
I will give you some a few stories and facts about the storms affect on York County and Poquoson. The Yorktown waterfront was practically destroyed. Many buildings were beaten down by the storm surge or just simply floated away. The storm surge came in so fast that Mr. Wyatt, who delivered newspapers for the Daily Press was forced from his automobile on Water Street and had to swim to the drugstore. His car floated away and was never seen again. The wave action from the storm surge battered a hole in the side of Bristow’s Drugstore. Two doctors from Richmond named Blackwell and Hodges had a couple of cottages at Ship Point. As the storm intensified Dr. Hodges make the decision to leave. As he began to get his family together and get a few belongs, the water was knee high. In the short time it took to accomplish this, the water had gotten shoulder high. It was at this point he left and made his way to John Wornom’s house, which was about a mile away. Angelo Jennings lived a short distance Dr. Hodges. As the waters began to rise, he and his family decided to evacuate. They went through chest deep water to higher land. One man in Dandy had to take his family to the roof of his house. The house began to be lifted from its foundation by the flood water and floated a mile and half down Back Creek to the Seaford side. One of the more amazing stories was that of Nancy Insley. She was well over a hundred years old and lived in a small house in Messick near the present day Ridge Road. The storm surge soon began to flood her home. The water got higher and higher and she began to fear for her life. A pound pole came crashing through her door and she grabbed a hold of that and with one hand and held her pet cat in air with her other hand. Her grandson, who rowed to her house with a bateau, rescued her. She lived for another seven years. Nineteen people took refuge in one the few two stories houses in the Messick area. The tides came so high, that the people were forced to the second story. An old photo shows the waterline just below the second story of the house. One final anecdote from this storm takes place in Virginia Beach. Back in the 20s and 30s flagpole sitting was one of the fads. Prior to the storm a woman was atop a flagpole in Virginia Beach. As it became apparent that a large storm was coming, town officials tried to get her to come down but she kept refusing. Finally the fire department was forced to go up and bring her down. This got so much attention, that the incident was re-enacted several times after the storm.
Here area a couple of more items about the August 23,1933 hurricane. The Yorktown waterfront was essentially placed under martial law. A pass had to be obtained from Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Crockett in order to enter the waterfront. Marines from the Naval Mine Depot were “deputized” and patrolled the area. Sheriff Lawson was turned away from the waterfront as he did have a pass. A committee of county officials and park service officials was set up to address the problem. The Board of Supervisors had an emergency session. They voted to allocate money to help with the removal of the many workboats that had floated a nearly a mile inland. Working the water was one of York County’s main industries and the boats were these people’s livelihoods. The Red Cross was in charge of emergency relief. They sit up in the courthouse in Yorktown, in Seaford and in Poquoson. Congressman Otis Bland made arrangement for federal help.
Being as the memories of Hurricane Isabel is still fresh in our minds, I am not going to talk much about it tonight. What I am going to do is try to answer the question of which was the worst storm, Isabel or the August storm. Tonight I am going to briefly make the case that the August 23, 1933 storm was the worst storm. First of all the statistics are in favor of the ’33 storm. The barometric pressure for Isabel was 29.24 inches while the ’33 storm was 28.68 inches. Sustained winds in Isabel was in the mid 50’s while they were about 70 for the ’33 storm. The tidal surge was 7.8 feet in Isabel while they were 9.8 feet in the ’33 storm.
Many people remember the tide as being higher in Isabel than in the ’33 storm. One reason is that it was undoubtedly higher in some places. Another reason is that in 2003 the water level in the Chesapeake Bay was a foot higher than is 1933. I get this information from a lecture on hurricanes that Delma and I attended at VIMS a couple of years ago. Another reason is we had a hurricane in 1933 that was very similar to Isabel, but in 1933 we had no satellites, no Doppler radar, hurricane hunter aircraft and no Weather Channel watching the storm from its birth. Any evacuation was done during the height of the storm.
On September 16, 1933 another hurricane came through our area. This must have added more stress to an area that was still trying get over the storm three weeks earlier. While not nearly strong as the previous storm, it was rather nasty in its own right. When word of another storm reached here some people simply left. This time precautions were taken. The Red Cross had already set up. The Messick area had flooded again about 35 families took shelter in Trinity Church. Seaford and Dandy had minor flooding. The Yorktown waterfront was flooded from the ice factory to White’s Restaurant. Overall the flooding was 3-4 feet higher that the August storm.
With the help of the CCC workers, many people had moved there belongings to higher ground.
On September 18,1936 another hurricane visited our area. This time we were prepared. When it became evident that a storm was coming, trucks from the Ice House and Hornsby Oil trucks were parked on higher land. A sudden change in the course of the storm saved Yorktown from heavy damage. A car was crushed by a falling limb on Church Street and Hogge’s restaurant was flooded with two foot of water.
One of the memorable hurricanes to come here was Hurricane Hazel on October 15,1954. Hazel made landfall in South Carolina as a possible Category 4. It maintained its hurricane strength as it followed the coast northward. While it had rain and storm surge, Hazel is primarily remembered for its high winds. An anometer in Hampton recorded a gust of 130 miles per hour before being destroyed. During the storm George Amory was attempting to put his horse in the barn, but it refused to go. The horse was still outside the barn when it blew down. It blew the roof off my family’s barn and it came to rest on an apple tree several yards away.
Our area did have some fatalities. One boy was killed in Mathews County when his house collapsed over him. The four man crew of a tug boat died when their boat sank in the James River. There was one fatality on the Peninsula. That happened on Weston Road about a mile from here. A limb fell from a tree and hit him and he died a few days later.
The 1950s were a busy time for hurricanes in this are with Diane and Connie coming through within a week of each other. We also had Ione, and Donna.
In we felt the affects of Hurricane Camille. Camille did horrendous damage to Nelson County, when moisture that it had sucked from the Gulf of Mexico ran into a cold front and dumped record amounts of rain in a very short time. The land was already soaked from previous rains. The floods washed out many roads and bridges and killed 159 people in that county alone. This included 22 members of one family. After it passed through Virginia to the Atlantic Ocean, it attempted to reform before it finally died out over cooler water.
The 1970s was a slow time for hurricanes in this area. In 1972 Agnes gave us a lot of rain and in 1979 Tropical Storm David spawned a large tornado in Newport News.
In October of 1985 Hurricane Gloria threatened this area. It was a Category 3 storm as it sat off of Virginia Beach. Fortunately the storm veered out to sea. I worked during that storm. My brother was riding with me and we on patrol. We had stopped on Ft. Eustis Blvd. Some Virginia Power linemen had called for us to come over to talk with them. As we approached there truck a tree fell down right where we were standing.
As the 1990s approached the incidence of tropical storms and hurricanes in this area became more frequent. Many storms such as Bonnie and Fran came ashore in the Outer Banks and did a lot of damage there before coming here in a weakened state.
In the late summer of 1999 Hurricane Dennis came through here and dumped large amounts of rain saturating the ground. In September Hurricane Floyd hit us bringing a deluge of rain. While there was not a large amount wind or storm, the rain caused flooding to many low lying areas. Many homes were flooded in the newer subdivisions that were built what was low swampy areas that had been filled in such as Running Man, Lakes of Dare, Kiln Creek and Edgehill. Floyd caused heavy damage to North Carolina and flooded the entire City of Franklin.
In September 2003, we began to take notice of a storm in the Atlantic that was rapidly strengthening and seemed to be headed this way. The storm actually got to category 5 status before weakening as it began to head for the east coast. I e-mailed Hugh Cobb with the National Hurricane Center and asked his opinion of this storm. His reply was if we have not yet taken precautions we need to do so immediately and that this storm was serious and appeared to be taking a tract similar to the ’33 storm. The storm came ashore in the lower Outer Banks of North Carolina and turned north. It left heavy devastation in its path. Thousands of trees were uprooted. The entire area was left without power. The storm surge damaged homes and businesses in Poquoson, Dare, Seaford, Dandy and Yorktown. Many homes were damaged so bad, they were deemed uninhabitable. I could probably give a whole program just in this storm. Hurricane Isabel has now been ranked as the worst natural disaster in the modern history of Virginia and with that I will close this presentation.