Five years later: Looking back at the rare Appomattox County tornado

The first and only EF-3 tornado in February for our area
Hundreds of trees broken and downed by powerful tornadic winds in Appomattox County.
Hundreds of trees broken and downed by powerful tornadic winds in Appomattox County.(WDBJ7 Weather)
Published: Feb. 24, 2021 at 5:13 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2021 at 6:16 PM EST
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APPOMATTOX, Va. (WDBJ) - In mid-February 2016, a winter storm dropped over a half foot of snow to many areas across Southwest and Central Virginia.

Only a little more than a week later, February 24, a very strong low pressure system moved quickly to the north into the Ohio Valley. Warm, unstable air pushed into our region from the south ahead of a cold front. At the same time, much of our area was entrenched in the wedge (cold air damming) that morning. The more stable, cool air would quickly be eroded by the fast-moving southerly winds into the afternoon.

This combination is what would set the table for the rare severe weather outbreak across the Mid-Atlantic in February.

Virginia experienced seven tornadoes that day—most in the eastern part of the state.

One of those seven tornadoes was in Patrick County. The EF-1 was only on the ground for less than 2 miles and produced primarily roof damage and downed trees.

A few hours later, a rare and destructive EF-3 tornado would touch down in Central Virginia. The tornado would go on to be the only EF-3 tornado to be recorded in the month of February.

A car is crushed by a fallen tree with a damaged home nearby in Appomattox County.
A car is crushed by a fallen tree with a damaged home nearby in Appomattox County.(WDBJ7 Weather)

The tornado touched down in Campbell County around 3:30 p.m., just southeast of Evergreen in Appomattox County. With help from very strong wind shear along the frontal boundary, the tornado remained on the ground for about 17 miles and lasted 17 minutes.

Considerable damage was found to over 100 homes, including structurally-sound brick homes. This sort of damage led to the EF-3 (136-165 mph) categorization by NWS Blacksburg.

Brick homes were no match for the tornado's 100+ mph winds.
Brick homes were no match for the tornado's 100+ mph winds.(WDBJ7 Weather)

For Appomattox County, this was only the third tornado recorded since 1950. Seven were injured (in the Evergreen area), with one death recorded as well. Just as impressive, only 6 tornadoes had been previously recorded in February in the 40-county area covered by NWS Blacksburg at the time.

This tornado served as a reminder that destructive tornadoes can occur at any time of the year here in Virginia. As we move toward March and the severe weather season, it’s important to remind yourself of severe weather safety practices.

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