About one hundred tropical disturbances roam the open Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico each year. Of these disturbances, fifteen become tropical depressions, areas of low pressure with closed wind circulations. Ten of these further develop into tropical storms, and six become hurricanes. Every five years, one of these hurricanes will reach category five status, usually in the southwest Atlantic or western Caribbean. About every fifty years, one of these extremely dangerous category five hurricanes will strike the United States.
Luckily, Virginia is far enough to the north so that category five hurricanes cannot threaten the coast. The Outer Banks of North Carolina, and cool sea surface temperatures along the coast, make a direct strike by any hurricane an unusual occurrence, as these factors weaken storms that might otherwise directly strike Virginia as significant hurricanes. Only one major hurricane is known to have impacted Virginia since 1900 due to the very orientation of the Virginia coast, which faces east. Storms usually move northward as they cross the latitude of the Mid-Atlantic. However, most every tropical cyclone that has struck the southern United States has negatively impacted the weather across Virginia, sometimes leading to disastrous consequences.
The original settlers at Jamestown knew hurricanes firsthand. It is thought that the lost colony of Roanoke Island may have been doomed by such a storm. It has been debated that the ancestors of the horses of Chincoteague were from a Spanish Galleon that wrecked during a coastal storm. Those that used to live along the barrier islands all knew of the horrors of a hurricane landfall. Fortunately, most of those who used to inhabit these islands have long since evacuated to inland sanctuaries.
This work attempts to compile, in one source, information about every significant tropical cyclone that has affected the state of Virginia, past and present boundaries. Washington, D.C. was included in the study, due to its proximity to the state, and also because the area around Arlington was once part of the District. Information about these cyclones was far easier to find compared to other places in the United States since the first newspapers to be printed in this country began in Virginia in the 1730's. In some cases, pictures tell the story that mere words cannot.
Local histories and shipwreck books were found to be of invaluable assistance in narrowing down the dates of some of the more ancient tempests. This history is doomed to never be complete, as more storms are destined to impact the Tidewater in future years. Later editions will include these new storms, as well as currently unknown storms of the past.
It is very important to learn about past storms.
Affects from storm to storm may vary, though most storms have some similar
characteristics. It is only by learning from the past that one can evade
the same problems in the future.
Return to Virginia Hurricane History