The only tornado on record in Highland County

History, since 1950
History, since 1950(whsv)
Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 10:41 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 28, 2023 at 5:27 PM EDT
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MONTEREY, Va. (WHSV) - Highland county is known for the scenic views and maple syrup, but did you know that a tornado struck that county in 1959?

We really only have details from newspaper reports. While researching this piece several leads were followed and we could not find additional information. If you are aware of any photos or other details, please reach out to Aubrey at aubrey.urbanowicz@whsv.com or the Highland Historical Society.

On April 28, 1959 a “Swirling, roaring cloud shaped like a funnel” swept through part of the county, late in the afternoon.

LITTLE EGYPT ROAD

Damage was reported at Mrs. Glenna Curreys place. This included a cinderblock building which was “blown from its foundation and the roof blown about fifty feet away.” That description of something being picked up and carried at a distance is indicative of a tornado.

There is another report of damage, an “old home” that was destroyed during this tornado and that was on Valley Center Road nearby.

Damage is confirmed with a tornado in the Dixon Hills and Mustoe area. However there is no...
Damage is confirmed with a tornado in the Dixon Hills and Mustoe area. However there is no official path in the NWS records. It's very possible there were two touch downs with this tornado.(whsv)

DIXON HILLS AND MUSTOE

Damage was fairly confined but it did impact Mary Hiners Farm where numerous trees were blown down or uprooted. Two of those trees actually fell onto the Hiner home and there was some damage to the rood.

It’s also reported that a wooden bridge going over the river to Sally’s Place was “blown out.” Trees also fell down around Corbett’s Store in Mustoe.

A chicken house was destroyed in Dixon Hills on the farm of Melvin Doyle, and the only “known fatality” is a single chicken from that farm.

Mr. Ambrose Rexrode lost a number of trees which was likely most of his orchard according to newspaper reports.

At the farm owned by C.P Gillespie, a barn was “turned on its foundation. There’s a very dark photo in the Highland Recorder which if you look close, shows Mr. Gillespie standing near the roots of a tree that was uprooted out of the ground.

April 28, 1959. Damage photos from the Highland Recorder
April 28, 1959. Damage photos from the Highland Recorder(Highland Recorder)

There were even several hail reports. Hail was even reported to be as large as teacup size! That’s about 3″ in diameter. Photo below is a rough estimation on size.

THE LIKELY PATH

While no official path is given by the National Weather Service, Chief Meteorologist Aubrey Urbanowicz believes there were likely two touch downs and the mountains heavily influenced this tornado. If we plot the damage, there are two seperate damage locations that are not that close and a mountain in between.

With the description of the damage at Mrs. Currey’s place, we know that was tornado damage. So it’s most likely that the tornado first touched down along Little Egypt Road. The tornado then lifted as it moved over Back Creek mountain briefly, and then touched down a second time between Dixon Hills and Mustoe creating the second area of damage. Then the tornado lifted moving up and over Jack mountain.

The path length is not officially outlined by the National Weather Service, it’s likely the path could have been roughly about 3-3.5 miles. The width is unknown and the strength is unknown, but it’s likely this was a ‘weaker’ tornado with winds likely 65-85 mph which would equate to an EF-0 in today’s rating. Again this is not an official path length or strength, it’s speculation given the reports.

TWO OTHER HIGHLAND COUNTY TORNADOES POSSIBLE

In reviewing storm damage articles sent over by the Highland recorder, it’s possible that there may have been two other tornadoes in the county. These are not official but here are the reports and the likelihood of the damage being from a tornado. There’s really no way to tell for sure not without additional photos or information. At best we could say two of these storms would have been suspicious.

DATELOCATIONSUSPICIOUS DESCRIPTIONTORNADO?
April 1, 2007Allegheny Mtn/HightownPhoto of trees facing into each other- convergence of windVery Possible
April 4, 1974BolarAn outbuilding lifted up, blocks broken and the building set back downInconclusive
August 16, 1952Hightown to Blue GrassChurch tin roof with rafters attached, carried 400 yards away and tossed over a fenceVery Possible

April 2007

It wasn’t the description of the damage in the article that makes me think that this damage was most likely from a tornado, but the damage photo of the trees. Look at the trees how they are criss crossed into each other. Straight-line wind damage is trees all facing in one direction, yet this photo shows the trees coming together. It’s hard to make a determination without additional photos.

Report from the Highland Recorder, 2007
Report from the Highland Recorder, 2007(Highland Recorder)

April 4, 1974

While this powerful storm did produce damage in Batch county there was only a small description of damage in Highland County in Bolar. The description of the ‘tornado’ in Batch County describes it having lasted about 10 minutes. Tornadoes in one given location usually last seconds. Most likely this was a powerful supercell, severe thunderstorm. There was nothing in the damage description that stood out as a likely tornado. However this is the same line of storms that led to a tornado in Augusta County with extensive damage.

August 16, 1952

The damage described in the Highland Recorder is highly suspicious of a tornado. If only we have photographs! The damage is described from Hightown to Blue Grass and ‘sideswiping” Monterey. What’s interesting is the damage at the Methodist Church in Hightown. “All that was left in tact was the steeple on the front end with a narrow strip on the east side and a small part on the west side. The suspicious damage was when the newspaper described the tin roof with the rafters still attached, and that was reportedly carried 400 yards away. That’s a great distance and straight line wind damage doesn’t carry things away, it basically smashed them into place or pushes damage slightly in a forward direction.

Additional damage happened at Will Snyders place, and Russell Rexrodes barn was “torn to pieces.” In Monterey the home of Heyward Whitelaw was blown down, apparently all that was left was the chimney.

I would like to express my thanks to a few citizens of Highland County, the Highland Recorder and the Highland Historical Society for help with information regarding this tornado.

So if two of these storms most likely would have produced tornadoes, why aren’t they in the NWS records? It’s likely the National Weather Service didn’t know about the damage. This is why it’s important to report severe storm or suspected tornado damage. Official National Weather Service Weather records date back to 1950.

If you want to check out past tornadoes for a certain location, check out the Tornado Tracks Tool

Tornado Tracks Tool

Official tornadoes 1950-2022

Track of the EF-3 tornado on November 27, 1994