Tornado in Free Union, Charlottesville Area

A tornado is currently making its way through Free Union at 25 mph, moving towards Charlottesville. I just spoke with my mother, who lives in Free Union, and she reports a low thunder-like rumble that is, unlike thunder, constant. It’s grown louder in the past few minutes, and the National Weather Service reports that the tornado is now directly in Free Union. The last tornado that we had in the area was May 13, 2002, when one ran through town from Farmington to Albemarle High School, along Route 29. Those of you that are in the tornado’s path should seek shelter immediately. Get into your basement and cover yourself with a blanket, beneath a structural support like a door frame. Can anybody offer updates as to what’s going on out there?

6:50pm: Hail the size of golf balls is raining down on Free Union right now.

7:01pm: The storm is now 5 miles northwest of Charlottesville, moving southeast at 20mph. It’s currently forecast to hit the southwestern portion of town (JPA, 5th St., UVa, Fontaine, etc.), according to the Weather Channel. I keep flipping over to WVIR, but they don’t appear to have anything but national news and, now, Wheel of Fortune.

7:10pm: Pea-to-marble-sized hail is falling in downtown, and the rain is coming down like you wouldn’t believe. Lots of thunder and lightning, but nothing tornadic-looking. (To be fair, I can’t see to the south at all.)

7:20pm: The storm has been downgraded to a severe thunderstorm. Presumably, it didn’t hit Charlottesville as a tornado.

7:35pm: A second cell is 6 miles west of Charlottesville, this one a severe thunderstorm and not a tornado. The NWS warns of softball — yes, softball — sized hail. It is moving southeast, and is forecast to impact central and southern Albemarle in the next 25 minutes. From there, south to Fluvanna.

7:40pm: Yay, it’s Robert Van Winkle on WVIR. Where you been, Robert?

11:20pm: Eric Pritchett said, on WVIR this evening, that it’s not yet known if a tornado ever touched down. Despite the NWS’ terminology (“a tornado is currently over Free Union,” etc.), apparently there’s no direct evidence of a tornado. By way of reminder, that’s the same thing that was said after the May 2000 until somebody noticed that all of the severe damage was in a 100-yard-wide swath running through town.

25 thoughts on “Tornado in Free Union, Charlottesville Area”

  1. No tornado here, but the worst hailstorm I’ve ever been in. Largest stones were about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, just under raquetball size. All told it lasted nearly 15 minutes. Amazingly, no serious damage here except a fracture crack on the truck windshield. It looked like the velocity of most of the stones kept things from being as damaging as they might have been.

    I turned on WINA too. They had the NWS tornado alert, but otherwise just network stuff. Drivers out there sure could have used a warning about the conditions.

  2. This is a good use of this site, probably not one people would expect – checking for up to date information in the case of emergency, etc. By the way Robert Van Winkle came on the television frequently from 6:00 p.m. until almost 8:00 and WVIR also posted banner updates every ten minutes. No way I would have left Wheel of Fortune on otherwise, so I would say that they were very on top of this.

    Is this type of reporting the stated mission of I am kind’ve curious about the purpose of this bulletin board.

    Additionally, this is the type of thing that the library (an information providing organization) ought to have going on; some kind of a place people know to check for emergency information, etc. The Arlington public library really rose to the occasion on 9/11 by providing information initially and continuing to help people seeking assistance after the fact with telephone numbers for hospitals, government organizations, etc.

    To me this site seems more politically oriented, particularly in the choices of topics, so this is taking a step in a completely different direction.

  3. That is some really huge hail. Thanks for doing that, David.

    Now what I want to see is some of that softball-sized hail. :)

  4. Is this type of reporting the stated mission of I am kind’ve curious about the purpose of this bulletin board.

    It’s really up to the users, frankly. I mean, it’s fundamentally up to me, but I like for the site to go where users want it to go. I found it really encouraging that, after last September’s earthquake, there was a big spike in traffic for half an hour afterwards. People actually thought “hey, an earthquake…lemme go to and see what’s up.” I thought that was really great.

    Anyhow, there’s been a lot of political stuff going on, what with the Council races and all, for the past five months. Now that those are over, the “ask” addition has been interesting (added at the demand of site users) and, as stuff like this happens, I’d like to hope that can be useful for people to exchange information.

    I hope that answers your question.

  5. By the way Robert Van Winkle came on the television frequently from 6:00 p.m. until almost 8:00 and WVIR also posted banner updates every ten minutes. No way I would have left Wheel of Fortune on otherwise, so I would say that they were very on top of this.

    I’m glad to have been mistaken. My timing of flipping back and forth must have just been bad. It’s good to know that WVIR had things covered.

  6. I live on Market Street and hustled outside to watch the sky in the hope of seeing Dorothy and Toto whirl by. No such luck. Spattering hail, buckets of rain, and then a blinding deafening crackle-flash of lightning struck the dentist’s ofice next door to me. So there is divine justice after all.

  7. Yeah, but I live between the city and Free Union, and I kept watch expecting to see the Storm Team 29 Mobile Unit flying down the road with their to report from the scene. Now if the NWS would have said that within the storm there was a .000000001% chance of snow, Storm Team 29 would have been deployed in force. As it is, I’ll bet they didn’t even break out the Storm Team 29 uniforms.

  8. Excellent pictures!

    We received much smaller hail. I’d say the largest was dime sized, most being about half that size. Where I am in town (about a mile from the downtown mall) we received only a glancing blow.

    The most remarkable thing to me was the constant rumble that Waldo mentioned. It was definitely a tornado noise… but it was either not on the ground, or not near enough to me for me to hear the noise it would make by being on the ground. My wife commented that it sounded like a jet flying overhead.

    I grew up in Tornado Alley (northern Texas) and the sound of a tornado on the ground is forever imprinted in my memory, from several different close encounters. If you hear a sound like Rice Krispies in milk, or maybe distant toothpicks snapping, it’s time to head for the basement. Those aren’t toothpicks, they’re trees and/or 2×4’s.

    Anyhow, I made sure that the family knew where we’d go for cover in the event that a tornado approached, and then promptly went outside to better watch the storm. I weathered the storm on my covered porch. It was impressive.

  9. People actually thought “hey, an earthquake…lemme go to and see what’s up.”

    For events like that, that is one of my first thoughts. I figure that there ought to be at least one or two cvillenewsers near enough to such an event to at least provide more information.

    I wonder what the cvillenewser distribution around the city/county is. Perhaps we should try to plot it on a map of the city. I live on Locust Avenue, about a mile from the downtown mall, and work near the airport.

    For this particular event, though, I was glued to my real-time radar feed instead. Sorry Waldo. :)

    Though I did look forward to seeing what people had to say about the event this morning.

  10. Those White Hall hail photos are great. That’s what this site needed: pictures. Not always do-able or necessary, but definitely cool, in this case.

    I was in Free Union, and that constant thunder noise was unnerving. It didn’t sound like it was getting closer or anything, just weirdly constant.

    The clatter of hail was other-worldly, too. It felt like the world was off-kilter and we had mistakenly gotten, say, Oklahoma’s weather instead of our own.

    At the height of my tornado freak-out, my daughter shepherded me away from the sliding-glass door and into our basement bathroom and made me play chess with her.

    It worked, and by the time I had lost three chess-pieces to her, I had stopped humming tunes from “The Wizard of Oz.”

    Whenever some vapid weatherman talks about “tornadic activity” I envision people like me leaping about, flapping their arms and shouting, “It’s a twister! It’s a twister!”

    (And, in the same vein, “shower activity” is soaping up and rinsing, and singing badly.)

    Janis Jaquith

  11. I am certain that the “real time” radar feed you are referring to ISN’T Channel 29. What a sucky, sucky new source.

  12. Jock Yellott submitted the below, which I’m posting here at his request.


    A letter to WVIR Channel 29 with a copy to

    Dear Sirs–

    Robert Van Winkle handled last night’s tornado warning with aplomb, and moderate measured calm good sense. Which was good.

    But what was very bad–inexcusable–was your station choosing not provide continuous coverage. Not even a continuous banner. Instead you flicked a notice briefly across the screen once every five or ten minutes. Blink and you miss it.

    With a tornado bearing down on us? In an urgent situation affecting our entire community when continuous televised reports could save lives? Who was responsible for this decision?

    I was forced to watch Wheel of Fortune waiting and waiting for the next update. All the while I was thinking: my last sights and sounds may be Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Talk about horror.

    Where were your news trucks? Parked? And your vaunted mountaincam? Disconnected? Where were your reporters? Your news director? Where was your common sense?

    I am going to suggest that Waldo expand his site to include a webcam. Channel 29 badly needs the competition. All he need do is point a webcam at the sky to give better coverage than you did. You let us down.

    And I might note: he didn’t. He gathered all available information and posted updates as fast as he could.

    Sincerely yours,

    Jock Yellott

  13. They look to be installing a web cam on their site. Great for seeing who eating at bizou or driving cross the mall.

  14. I agree — I was listening to WVTF, the Roanoke NPR station, and they reported the tornado warning IMMEDIATELY, interrupting their regular programming several times to provide updates. My husband was downstairs listening to WINA, and didn’t hear anything until quite a bit later. I found myself wondering why a station so far from our area did such a better job than our “community” station.

  15. David, Channel 6 out of Richmond used your photos on their 11pm broadcast, crediting them only to their intern for finding them. Crazy.

  16. In my experience, yes.

    The NIDS data is updated as things come off the radar. So, if a site is scanning a certain volume, or has their radar turned off, or is working in a different mode, you won’t see an update from that site until normal radar operation resumes. As you shouldn’t. On the other hand, if a radar is doing quick scans and churning out images every three minutes, you’ll get updates every three minutes.

    In addition to that, they include Storm Relative Velocity images whenever they’re available, and allow the frame-by-frame animation of all available radar images.

    On weatherunderground (and a number of other sites) these things are pay services. And they either update less frequently, or in some cases even turn out “updated” images which only update the timestamp, giving the impression that you’re looking at a more recent image, when you’re not.

    The most comparable free service on the web is at, and indeed, I typically jump back and forth between them. But my favorite by far is the UCAR site.

    But then, I’m less concerned about how pretty the graphics are, and am quite satisfied to put up with more “raw” data than the over-processed images you find some places. So the NIDS data may not be for everyone.

  17. Just a piece of storm-damage trivia:

    A couple of blocks up Locust Avenue from where I live lightning struck, and toppled, a huge (birch?) tree. The tree was massive, and the people in the homes on each side of it are very lucky that it didn’t decide to bisect their homes.

  18. Also, you should point out that, as a photographer, the licensing fees for your pictures are $200 / each for television broadcast purposes.

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