Tornado Information

This tornado was from Shenandoah County in 2002
This tornado was from Shenandoah County in 2002(WHSV)
Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 11:13 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 8, 2022 at 3:09 PM EST
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Tornadoes are narrow columns of air that rotate violently and extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. Tornadoes typically form a funnel that contains water droplets, dust, and debris. Tornadoes can be absolutely devastating, fatal, and can be the home of the strongest winds of any kind of weather. Tornadoes typically form from supercells which are thunderstorms that rotate with well-defined radar circulation known as a mesocyclone.


Tornadoes are classified by estimated wind speed. The wind speed is estimated based on the level of damage the tornado caused. Usually, tornadoes are not confirmed until the next day or two after the event. That’s when the National Weather Service comes out and surveys the damage.

The Fujita Scale was the original scale that rated tornadoes. Since February 2007, we have used the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Here’s how tornadoes are classified:

This is how the National Weather Service rates tornadoes.
This is how the National Weather Service rates tornadoes.(NOAA)


A tornado warning will be issued by the National Weather Service if a storm is producing a tornado or rotating to where it’s capable of producing a tornado.

  • The first thing you should do is take shelter IMMEDIATELY. It’s human nature to look outside to try to see the storm or look for confirming information. You may be wasting precious seconds. You also would not likely even see the tornado with heavy rain, trees and other things that may be hiding the tornado if one is on the ground.
  • Over the last 40 years, the average lead time on tornadoes has risen from 3 minutes to 14 minutes. You may not have that long though. Seconds matter with storms and the faster you take shelter the better. Some storms may be moving as fast as 40-60 mph!
Best and worst places to go when there is a tornado warning
Best and worst places to go when there is a tornado warning(WHSV)


  • Basement or interior room without windows and on the lowest level of your home
  • This can often be a closet, hallway, or a bathroom without windows
  • Put as many walls between you and the outside as you can
  • When at your shelter, cover yourself with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress if possible
  • If you are outside in a vehicle, that is not safe. A vehicle can not just be thrown, but debris can pierce into a vehicle

But how will you know how close you are to danger? Geography is key.


Linda Melton now lives in Shenandoah County but several years ago in 2002, she witnessed the beginning stages of what would become a highly destructive tornado. This happened near Dale City, a suburb of Washington DC where Melton was living. The storm had already dropped an EF-1 tornado in Shenandoah County.

“We didn’t have the actual images of where it was located but I had pulled out a map and I found the one place they said Canova and then, of course, they said Dale City but we were on the outside edge of Dale City and so we are like oh no, draw a line, it’s coming right through here,” said Melton.

She was correct. The tornado had not formed yet but clouds were beginning to rotate. That tornado would become the devastating La Plata, Maryland tornado in 2002.

“My advice to anybody is to at least have a map or a weather app or something to show where you are relative to the storm and where that storm is going,” Melton also said.


The state of VIrginia average over 11 tornadoes a year. The most active month is April with 151 tornadoes since 1950. This is followed by September (118) and July (106).

Here’s a look at tornado count by month in the state since 1950:

Tornado count by month
Tornado count by month(WHSV)


Number of tornadoes each county has seen since 1950
Number of tornadoes each county has seen since 1950(WHSV)


Tornadoes are not common in our area but they do happen. Recently, we had a tornado in 2020 and one in 2019.

August 6, 2020 is when we saw our most recent tornado. This was an EF-0 with winds estimated at 80 mph that touched down near Harriston in Augusta County. The tornado touched down on Hatchery Road and then moved over US 340 to the Jollett Springs Mobile Park. There were numerous large trees that came down along with power line and power poles.

This is a picture of the wall cloud that was lowering before the tornado touched down:

Rotating supercell with lowering wall cloud
Rotating supercell with lowering wall cloud(Ben Markel)

October 31, 2019 is when we saw our second most recent tornado. This was also an EF-0 with winds estimated at 75 mph. It touched down near Timberville and lifted near Southern States on US 211. This storm mainly had straight-line winds but there was enough of a spin for a brief tornado to form. The photo below is from the tornado. Thankfully, no one was inside the vehicle during this tornado. Those are two 2x6 wood beams that were driven into the windshield.

This is what happened to a car with this tornado. This is exactly why a car or vehicle is one of the worst places to be during a torando.

This is why a vehicle is not safe during a tornado
This is why a vehicle is not safe during a tornado(Aubrey Urbanowicz)

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