Virginia Tornado

Last modified: August 1, 2011

On April 1, 1998, a tornado killed a woman and her infant son in Hanover County, Virginia. Sheila Giles and her baby Jeremiah were inside their frame and brick house when it was completely leveled by the twister. Her husband had just walked to his father-in-law's house to warn him of the approaching storm. Both survived without injury. The storm damaged several other homes and a church in the Coatesville area of Hanover, County Virginia then continued East damaging several other homes and uprooting trees. It damaged another church south of Noel, then continued into Caroline County where more homes and businesses were damaged. A store and construction yard where damaged and a truck was blown off Route 1. On the other side of I-95, a mobile home was completely destroyed and several other homes were damaged.

The Coatesville tornado formed from an unusally (for Virginia) long-lived supercell. There was a low near the eastern Great Lakes and an approaching cold front from the west. Winds ahead of the front were southerly and warm. The upper-level winds were favorable for super-cell formation; however, development was initially inhibited by clouds which reduce surface heating. After the initial storms which produced a tornado in Lunenberg county, the skies cleared allowing for surface heating. CAPES rose to the 1500-2000 J/Kg range which is enough energy to support severe storm development.

By late afternoon, I noticed towers developing around Charlottesville. They were crisp and slightly sheared which is an indication of a favorable environment for severe storms. Eventually, a line of storms just north and east of Charlottesville appeared on the radar. The flanking storms died leaving a central storm with no competition for energy. This was the storm that became a supercell and produced the Coatesville tornado.

Radar Loop of the storms from Intellicast.

Virignia Supercell

This is a photo taken of the storm that produced the Coatesville, Tornado. It was taken in Albemarle, County looking East at approximately 6:35 PM. The storm is about 35 miles away. Good views of supercells are rare in Virginia because of haze and the rarity of supercells. Note the overshooting top or dome which indicates severity. I observed the dome to "collapse", a feature sometimes associated with tornadic development. Photo: copyright 1998 William T. Hark.

Damage Path of the Coatesville Tornado

I did an unofficial damage survey of the tornado and plotted it on the above map. The numbers on the map correspond to the descriptions and links to photos that I took on site. I assesed the maximum strength of F3 on the Fujita Scale . This was confirmed by the NWS.
Click on the number below to see the photo. Photos taken by William T. Hark on evening of April 2 except #8-10 on evening of April 3.

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