by Kerry Dougherty

Virginia Beach isn’t tornado country. We know the drill with hurricanes. We had a rash of those in the ‘80s and ‘90s. From August to November most of us keep well-stocked hurricane boxes handy. And we have days — sometimes more than a week — to prepare or evacuate when a storm is heading our way.

But when an ear-piercing tornado siren shrieked from our cellphones early Sunday evening — giving us what turned out to be a one-minute warning before the twister touched down in Great Neck — it required split-second action.

This arrived on my phone at 5:47 p.m.

The tornado touched down at 5:48, according to the National Weather Service.

By 5:53 it was gone. Yet the aftermath looked like Armageddon.

Looks like the residents in the Great Neck section of the city quickly found safety inside their homes. This powerful twister, that reached EF-3 status with peak winds of 145 mph, caused no deaths, no injuries.

The devastation to homes, however, was stunning. In five minutes that tornado ripped a 4.5-mile swath from the Lynnhaven River to Ft. Story, damaging an estimated 115 homes along the way. Some were pulled off their foundations and had the roofs sucked off. Cars were flipped, boats were airborne, old-growth trees became missiles.

Remember, this was Sunday evening. People were HOME. Yet no one was injured.

Thank God.

By the time the sun was up Monday morning dazed residents were cleaning up the debris and surveying the destruction. Families lost more than walls and roofs, of course. They lost irreplaceable memorabilia. Some lost their homes.

But no lives were lost. No one was injured. Looking at the photos that’s hard to believe.

A horror and a miracle. In five minutes.

Republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed and Unedited.

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10 responses to “Tornado”

  1. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    I remember how shocked I was when Colonial Heights got whacked more than 30 years ago, a shopping area my father had just left. Living in Roanoke years before it never occurred to us to worry about that, the terrain supposedly provided protection. But plenty of places in the lower 48 are at risk, and I think they’ve happened in all 12 months of the year.

    1. Paul Sweet Avatar
      Paul Sweet

      There was a meeting going on at the Petersburg Art Center when that tornado hit. I was told by somebody who was in the meeting that they could hear a lot of crashing noises, and when they went outside after it quieted down they found that the top story had been destroyed. Luckily the building had been built with heavy timbers as a warehouse and the floor over the meeting room held up under the walls and roof falling on it.

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    It’s such a rare occurrence in Virginia that even building for the possibility, i.e., Texas Tornado Rooms (concrete under the stairs closets) aren’t worth the expense. Lottery-like odds.

    But, should you ever see one, you’ll never think lightly of them again.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      One passed between our condo building and the school across the parking lot in Northside Richmond, maybe six years ago? Smaller sucker, but plenty of tree damage, shingles everywhere. I had to drag my wife from the sliding glass doors into the windowless hallway. She wanted to see it….

    2. WayneS Avatar

      Correct on both counts.

      The only tornadoes I have ever witnessed were two small ones in Virginia Beach. One was spawned by Hurricane Camille in 1969. It tore the roof off the then five-year-old Bayside High School, about 1 mile from our house. The other was also spawned by a hurricane, the remnants of Agnes in 1972. That one knocked over a half-finished Murphy’s Mart about 1/2 mile from our house. It tore up enough stuff that you could easily follow its path the next day.

      While they were both quite small and caused no loss of life, they were an impressive sight from a short distance away. I was very young for both of them, but I will never forget the sickly-greenish-color of the sky, or the vivid dark, dark, gray of the twisters themselves.

      On both occasions we had the best weather you could possibly imagine the following day.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    I’ve been a few earthquakes and one serious hurricane but no tornados. Given those photos, I’d like to keep it that way.

  4. Lefty665 Avatar

    It was 40+ years ago, but I will never forget the sound of a freight train lumbering by close overhead or the whole house vibrating like it was about to come apart. Scary. Looking out the window and seeing the back yard undulating during the earthquake a decade ago was unnerving too, but not terrifying like the tornado passing overhead.

  5. VaNavVet Avatar

    The “times” and the weather they are a changing!

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Nope. Not one damn bit. Big lie easily and oft refuted. No changes in tornado, hurricane, rain data. Severe weather nothing new.

      1. VaNavVet Avatar

        As a science major and chemistry teacher, I would respectfully have to disagree. The difference is that changes that historically took thousands of years are now happening in a mere hundred years or less. Hence, we are seeing thousand year events every few years these days. The chemistry of the atmosphere reflects a delicate balance.

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