Remembering the most deadly tornado to hit the state of Virginia

Published: May. 1, 2020 at 3:34 PM EDT
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On May 1st and 2nd, 1929 a deadly tornado outbreak extended from Oklahoma to Maryland.

The outbreak in total killed 42 people and injured over 300. Virginia and Maryland were hit the hardest in this outbreak, and is known as one of the most intense outbreaks to ever hit Appalachia.

There were only 17 confirmed tornadoes but it is critical to realize tornadoes were much harder to keep track of nearly a century ago. Tornado outbreaks in the early 20th century were more likely to be deadly.

There was no radar, there were no weather forecasts. There was no warning. In fact most people thought that tornadoes don't happen in the mountains. (Unfortunately that's still a common thought but it's completely incorrect)

In total, 5 tornadoes touched down in Virginia and 1 in West Virginia.

Rye Cove, a town in Scott County in the southwestern part of the state suffered devastating effects from a F2 tornado. (113-157 mph winds). This is Virginia's deadliest tornado.

The tornado struck Rye Cove High School at 12:55 pm while class was in session. The tornado ended up killing 12 students and 1 teacher as it tore through the building.

The Danville Bee described that "students were just returning into the building from recess." According to the newspaper, "the two-story schoolhouse was ripped from its foundations, torn apart, and strewn over 300 to 400 yards." Some students traveled 100 yards with the wreckage and some were buried under the damage.

Other areas that saw tornadoes in Virginia include a F3 that struck Culpeper and Fauquier counties and killed 6+ people.

In Rappahannock County, 3 people died from a F3 tornado that struck another school. 1 student died in the school and another 15 were injured. Some were flung 200 yds from the powerful tornado.

Allegheny, Bath, and Loudoun counties also saw tornadoes that day.

The tornado that moved across Allegheny County and into Bath County was at F2 strength. Small communities that were impacted included Coronation, Sitlington, and Nimord Hall. 13 or more farms and homes were damaged or destroyed near Cowpasture River.

The tornado that touched down in West Virginia was near Morgantown.