Heed the dangers of storms

Published 11:06 pm Thursday, February 25, 2016

Suffolk should be one part of Virginia where folks need no reminder of the dangers associated with tornadoes. Considering the path of destruction and chaos left by an EF-3 twister that tore through the Hillpoint and Driver areas of Suffolk in 2008, it would seem unlikely that folks could consider a tornado warning with anything but absolute seriousness.

But human nature being what it is, it’s almost surely the case that there were those in Suffolk who took Wednesday’s warnings about tornadoes in Southeastern Virginia with a grain of salt. Surely there were those — perhaps they weren’t around when hundreds of people were injured in the 2008 storms — who went about their business as if nothing more was happening than a little rain, some wind and maybe a bit of hail.

We can’t imagine those folks taking another tornado warning lightly after seeing the images of destruction from around the state on Wednesday. Our friends in nearby Sussex County got an especially grim look at the damage these storms can wreak, and they’re mourning the deaths of three people who were thrown 300 yards from the trailer where they had attempted to ride out the storm. In Appomattox County, a 78-year-old man died when he was thrown from his own mobile home.


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Communities across the central and eastern part of the commonwealth were scarred by four different confirmed tornados, according to the U.S. Weather Service. The one that hit Waverly cut a nine-mile path through Sussex County, destroying mobile homes, wrecking businesses, shredding trees and scattering debris along Routes 40 and 460. That twister was measured as an EF-1, near the low end of the power scale for tornadoes. The one that tracked an amazing 28 miles across the Peninsula and the Northern Neck, wrecking homes and businesses along the way, was rated an EF-1 or EF-2 for most of its path, but it intensified to EF-3 (on a scale that goes to EF-5) at one point as it crossed Essex County.

Many folks in Suffolk will remember clearly the terror they felt as the 2008 tornado tore through their neighborhoods, wrecked their parking lots and threatened a hospital, a couple of major daycare centers, the YMCA, schools, the former Joint Forces Command and other facilities with large groups of people inside.

Miraculously, nobody in Suffolk was killed during that storm, but the city’s fortunate turn could simply be a function of the fact that the tornado did not cross an area where folks lived in mobile homes. All of those killed in Wednesday’s storm lived in trailers, which officials have warned for years offer no protection from tornadoes.

As the many communities affected by Wednesday’s storm continue to pick up the pieces this week — and as families and friends of those who lost their lives begin to adjust to the grief — we are all reminded of the unpredictable power of tornadoes, and we’re all reminded of how important it is to heed the warnings of meteorologists during weather events like Wednesday’s.

Our hearts are heavy as we lift up the victims and their families in prayer.