Hampton Roads, Va. – February tornadoes are very rare. In fact, the tornadoes that struck Virginia Wednesday were the Commonwealth’s first deadly February tornadoes on record.
According to Meteorologist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory, just 15 tornadoes were recorded in Virginia during the month of February prior to this year. And most of those tornadoes were rated either EF-0 or EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the two weakest levels.
Nationally, an average of 29 tornadoes occur in the United States in February each year according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The NCEI also says, “February is climatologically the slowest tornado month, but tornado activity during the month can vary greatly from year to year” – something we’ve clearly seen from Wednesday’s deadly storms.
If you were curious of other February tornadoes that have struck the state, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management has a list of the most significant events on record:
February 10, 1776: A tornado struck the lower Rappahannock river area between 1 and 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning. It appeared to have been spawn by a thunderstorm in advance of a strong cold front, which moved through around 6 am. At one tobacco farm, it damaged several buildings and killed 4 sheep and 3 lambs. Near Bramham’s mill pond, all the houses were lost and trees blown down.
February 1820: A tornado struck Richmond around midnight causing extensive structural damage.
February 21, 1912: A tornado moved north-northeast for 4 miles from Buckingham into Fluvanna Counties, crossing the James River 2 miles west of Breno Bluff. At least one home was destroyed and 5 people were injured.
Feb. 4, 2006: A fast-moving thunderstorm spawned two weak tornadoes over western Pittsylvania County during the afternoon. A tornado initially touched down two miles southeast of Callands and removed a sturdy, wood-frame carport from the side of a house and carried it 50 feet. The tornado proceeded north-northeast through a wooded area and crossed Highway 57, three miles east of Callands. Damage here was on the western side of the tornado track, with damage to a church that included vinyl siding ripped off two sides of the church, shingles torn off and the brick sign in front of the church toppled over. The east side of the damage path saw several outbuildings and storage sheds demolished, part of a roof of a home torn off, and a small brick chimney knocked over. Besides structural damage, this first tornado snapped or uprooted many trees. The damage here was consistent with an F1 tornado. One person suffered minor injuries while driving in the vicinity of the tornado.
Feb. 4, 2006: The second tornado, an F0, touched down briefly 3.5 miles northeast of Callands. This tornado blew out underpinnings on two mobile homes, and tore off a large piece of aluminum siding from a barn. This thunderstorm also brought straight line wind damage, with trees downed outside the path of the tornadoes. Other severe thunderstorms downed trees in Halifax and Pittsylvania counties.
Sources: Virginia Department of Emergency Management, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory