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80 years since the historic “Savannah hurricane” stalled over Virginia

The storm dumped record rainfall and set historic levels along area rivers
The Cat. 2 hurricane struck near Savannah, Georgia then moved inland, stalling over Virginia.
The Cat. 2 hurricane struck near Savannah, Georgia then moved inland, stalling over Virginia.(WDBJ)
Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 12:51 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 at 12:58 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - It has been 80 years since the 1940 tropical system that will forever be known as the “Savannah hurricane.” Not because it was a name on a list, but because that’s where it struck, killing more than 50 people along the coast, then moving inland and stalling over the mountains over Virginia and Tennessee.

The National Weather Service in Blacksburg sent out a series of tweets Friday looking back at the historic occasion. The storm struck Savannah, Georgia as a Category 2 hurricane during the night of August 11th into August 12th, then moved inland and slowed down days after landfall. The end result was a stalled tropical system over mountainous terrain.

Significant flooding and landslides struck Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

In Floyd county, 16″+ inches of rain was measured. Parts of Patrick county measured 12″+ during the multi-day event. Keep in mind there were very few trained weather observers, little to no public weather gauges and no doppler radar at the time, so rainfall totals were sparse.

The heavy rainfall resulted in flooding that set records along parts of the New River, Yadkin River, and parts of the lower Roanoke River basins.

More than 12-16" of rain fell across the mountains causing historic flooding along some area rivers.
More than 12-16" of rain fell across the mountains causing historic flooding along some area rivers.(National Weather Service (NOAA))

WHY DIDN’T IT GET A NAME?

Until the early 1950s, tropical storms and hurricanes were tracked by year and the order in which they occurred during that year. Over time, forecasters learned easily remembered names reduced confusion, and the naming system was born. Hurricane didn’t start getting names until the early 1950s.

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