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UPDATED: Tropical Storm Isaias hit eastern Virginia hardest during brief but destructive journey

UPDATED: Tropical Storm Isaias hit eastern Virginia hardest during brief but destructive journey

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Tarik Simmons gets help getting his stalled car towed out of the water covering Kingsland Road in Chesterfield County, Virginia. Reedy Creek flooded Tuesday, August 4, 2020, after Tropical Storm Isaias brought heavy rain through Virginia. Video by Alexa Welch Edlund/Times-Dispatch

Tropical Storm Isaias hit the eastern third of Virginia hardest on Tuesday morning during its brief but destructive journey up the Eastern Seaboard.

Several hours of torrential rain flooded dozens of roads, while winds gusting past 45 mph downed trees and put hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the dark.

The storm left scattered road closures and power outages in metro Richmond and more widespread disruption across the Tidewater region, where winds approached 70 mph. No serious damage was reported in the western half of the state.

Tornadoes spawned by Isaias injured two people in Lancaster County, and other touchdowns across the region caused the worst scenes of structural damage. At least five tornadoes struck eastern Virginia as part of an outbreak that followed the storm's path from North Carolina to New Jersey; their exact numbers and strength will not be known until the National Weather Service completes damage surveys this week.

Dominion Energy — which reported that 500,000 customers lost power across its service region in Virginia and northeastern North Carolina — ranked Isaias as the company's 10th-largest storm outage. Although 40% of outages had been restored by Tuesday afternoon, Dominion cautioned that it could take "multiple days to restore service for affected customers, particularly in North Carolina, Hampton Roads, Northern Neck and the Middle Peninsula."

Metro Richmond and the Tri-Cities region reached 28,000 power outages by 9 a.m. after wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph. By late afternoon, that total was reduced to about 3,500, according to Dominion's online outage summary.

By Tuesday afternoon, VDOT reported 34 roads across the Richmond region that were closed or marked with caution because of high water, fallen trees or downed power lines. Where traffic signals are out, VDOT encouraged drivers to treat the intersection as a four-way stop. Crews were set to evaluate for road damage as the water receded.

The tropical storm

After making landfall near Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., on Monday evening as an 85 mph hurricane, Isaias accelerated northward and crossed the state as a strong tropical storm. At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the low was positioned near Tappahannock. By 5 p.m., the storm was centered near Albany, N.Y.

From Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning, 3 to 5 inches of rain fell across the metro Richmond area, while totals exceeded 6 inches near Williamsburg.

Areas to the west saw less of a soaking, so the James River is not expected to approach flood stage in Richmond. The rain led to a modest 1-foot rise at Richmond's Westham gauge, with a peak stage of 5.6 feet forecast for Wednesday morning.

The weather will return to a typical summertime pattern in the coming days, with upper 80s and scattered, slow-moving afternoon storms. Localized downpours hitting the saturated ground could lead to additional flash flooding on Wednesday and Thursday.

The tornadoes

The National Weather Service in Wakefield compiled a preliminary list of tornado strikes in eastern Virginia, including Courtland in Southampton County, downtown Suffolk, western James City County, southern Gloucester County, eastern Lancaster County and two parts of Northumberland County.

More damage paths could be discovered in the coming days as National Weather Service crews survey the paths. The Wakefield office issued 29 tornado warnings across eastern Virginia in the few hours leading up to daybreak, and all were east of Interstate 95.

The first tornado struck Courtland in Southampton at 2:56 a.m., leaving behind major damage to structures along U.S. Route 58 Business.

At 3:15 a.m., a tornado damaged roofs and brought down trees and power lines in downtown Suffolk.

Damaging storms struck the Williamsburg area by 4:14 a.m.; James City's fire chief, Ryan Ashe, said the National Weather Service had yet to confirm whether the activity was a tornado. Damage was limited largely to fallen trees in the Governor's Land neighborhood. Trees fell on two structures, causing a non-life-threatening injury to someone inside.

A suspected tornado in Gloucester at 4:55 a.m. caused "significant damage" to houses in the area, said Brett Major, emergency management coordinator for Gloucester. No injuries were reported in the immediate aftermath.

Doppler radar detected signs of debris lofted over Kilmarnock, which instantly confirmed a pre-dawn tornado in eastern Lancaster. The tornado left a path of significant structural damage and injured two people about 5:42 a.m.

Emergency management also reported tornado damage in the Browns Store, Fleeton and Buzzard Point areas of Northumberland.

Check for John Boyer's forecast updates. Contact him at


John Boyer is the first staff meteorologist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the RTD newsroom in November 2016. Boyer earned his degree in meteorology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

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