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Surprise tornado with 115 mph winds struck Northumberland County on Monday

Surprise tornado with 115 mph winds struck Northumberland County on Monday

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As of March 2021, most counties saw their most recent strike during tornado outbreaks in 2018 or 2019. But some smaller cities have been spared for over a decade.

A surprise tornado tore across Northumberland County on Monday afternoon.

No injuries were reported, but nine homes between Callao and Lewisetta sustained significant damage according to Sheriff Johnny Beauchamp.

On Tuesday, a team from the National Weather Service in Wakefield surveyed the damage and estimated peak winds of 115 to 120 mph, or EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

A preliminary report puts the tornado path at 5 miles long and up to 250 yards wide. It began just after 3 p.m. southwest of Callao near U.S. Route 360 and ended 15 minutes later over the Coan River, just short of Lewisetta.

The most serious damage occurred near the intersection of Lewisetta Road and Chambers Lane, where one home was destroyed.

The storm knocked out power for at least 700 members of the Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, which restored all service by early Tuesday morning.

Crews from the Virginia Department of Transportation worked into Monday evening to clear two routes blocked by downed trees, branches and building debris.

Monday’s severe weather was isolated to that one area. There were no other reports of damage in the Northern Neck, or in surrounding parts of central and eastern Virginia.

A tornado warning was not issued for the storm. The outlook from the NWS and Storm Prediction Center included the chance of isolated severe weather. The atmospheric ingredients were marginally favorable for a strong, rotating storm.

It’s not unusual to have a lone tornado on a severe weather day, but it is uncommon that one would not be accompanied by some other instance of high wind, hail or flooding.

Wakefield’s Doppler radar detected a fairly small, 6-mile-wide thunderstorm moving northeast out of Tappahannock on Monday afternoon. It had weak but persistent signs of rotation aloft. Due to the curvature of the Earth and the angle of a radar beam, the parts of the storm below 6,000 feet, where rotation was obviously much stronger, were not in view.

But another tell-tale radar signature appeared over Lewisetta by 3:15 p.m., showing that the storm lofted debris at least 7,000 feet into the air.

Monday’s tornado was the only one in Virginia, but there were at least several others widely scattered across the nation in Texas, Illinois, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. A rotating supercell barely grazed the northern tip of the commonwealth as it moved from West Virginia to Maryland.

Northumberland was recently struck by two tornadoes last August during Tropical Storm Isaias. The first, rated EF-2, raced northward out of Kilmarnock but dissipated before reaching Heathsville. The second, rated EF-1, hit Fleeton and Buzzards Point just south and west of Reedville.

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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