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Beyond The Forecast: Remembering the Appomattox County tornado, five years later

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It’s the start of another week in our corner of the Commonwealth! The topic of today’s newsletter may be tough to swallow for some, but we here at Your Local Weather Authority believe it’s an important event to remember. This week marks five years since an EF-3 tornado ripped through parts of Appomattox County.

The storm tragically took one life, while injuring seven others. More than 100 homes were damaged, mainly in the Evergreen area.

The twister’s path was 17 miles long and 400 yards wide. The winds reached a maximum of 140 to 145 miles per hour.

The community of Ararat in Carroll County also was struck by a tornado on that day, but it was a much weaker EF-1.

As we look back at that fateful day, what is so interesting about this event from a weather perspective is just how rare it was! Up until that day, there had never been a recorded EF-3 or stronger tornado in Virginia during the month of February.

In fact, strong tornadoes like this don’t happen all that much in the Commonwealth any time of year. According to the NOAA database, there have only been 41 recorded EF-3 tornadoes in Virginia and two EF-4s. The most recent strong twister also happened in our area: Franklin County in April 2019.

With the spring season rapidly approaching, now is as good a time as any to remind you about tornado alerts and safety.

There are three different alerts that can be issued on days when tornadoes are possible.

The first is a tornado WATCH, which means weather conditions favor tornado development. You should PREPARE for severe weather, but you don’t have to ACT just yet.

A tornado WARNING means a tornado is either already happening or is expected to begin soon. You should ACT on your preparations when you are placed under this alert.

The final, and most rare, alert is a tornado EMERGENCY. This is issued when the National Weather Service confirms a violent tornado is on the ground and is heading your way. This alert was created in 1999 and has never been used on a storm in Virginia.

We have some safety tips that you should remember when severe weather threatens Southwest and Central Virginia.

Being close to windows when tornadoes are in the forecast is a big no-no. You want to get inside an interior room or a basement in your home.

Sturdy protection and pillows and blankets are always good things to have handy in your tornado plan.

If you can help it, don’t travel in a severe thunderstorm. If for some reason you are on the roads and get put under a tornado warning, pull off the road and get inside a sturdy structure. Kneeling in ditches, culverts and ravines should only be used as a last resort.

10 News will be going to Appomattox County this week to check in with neighbors who are recovering from this tragic storm. Look for that story on-air, online and on social media Wednesday.

In March, Virginia will hold its first severe weather awareness week, which will include a statewide tornado drill on Tuesday, March 16. Look for more details in the coming weeks.

Switching gears to this week’s forecast, it’s been a gross day so far with rain and snow moving through the area. We’re tracking the return of sunshine and spring-like warmth in our daily forecast article.

You can always get specific forecast details for your zone, whether it’s the Roanoke Valley, Lynchburg area, the New River Valley or elsewhere around Southwest and Central Virginia, anytime at Know your zone!

In case you missed it, we’re posting great weather and science content on Here are a few links from the past week to check out:

If you prefer your weather information delivered by social media, you can follow Your Local Weather Authority on Facebook and Twitter.

-- Justin McKee

About the Author:

Justin McKee presents the weather forecast on 10 News Saturday and Sunday mornings from 6 to 8 a.m. He also fills in for other meteorologists during the week.