Early Storms

1609  The”Sea Venture” Storm – One of the hurricanes that had the most profound effect on Virginia and the Eastern Shore never came near here. In 1609 a fleet of nine vessels, six from London and three from Plymouth, set out for Virginia in July. The fleet ran into a hurricane near Bermuda which raged for two days and nights. One ship was lost; the Seaventure was wrecked on Bermuda. 150 men, women and children were rescued and lived. They stayed on Bermuda, built two small ships and arrived in Virginia in 1610. Seven of the survivors would be a key to the survival of the colony and three would have a long term influence on the Eastern Shore.

The seven included John Rolfe, who established the tobacco trade and eventually married Pocahontas.  Rolfe created a line of distinguished Virginians that included the Randolphs, Carters, Harrisons, Lees,  Blairs, Lady Astor and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.

Of interest to the Eastern Shore were Henry Bagwell, William Waters and George Yeardley.  Bagwell was the only one of the three to actually live here. He became the first clerk of court and is a forbear of numerous Eastern Shore families including the family of Governor Ralph Northam.

Waters lived in Newport News and never came here but when he died in 1630 his widow Grace married Obedience Robins and brought her son the second William Waters to live here with her.  Through both husbands she became an ancestor of many of Eastern Shore natives.

The most influential of the three on the course of Eastern Shore history was George Yeardley, who became Governor Sir George Yeardley.   Yeardley presided over the first General Assembly in 1619 and became a friend of Thomas Savage. Keen on developing trade with Eastern Shore Indians, Yeardley fostered the first settlement on the Shore in 1620, headed by Savage. Both are considered the “fathers of the Eastern Shore.”  The Savage family line continues to this day. Although Yeardley never lived here, several of his descendants did. Many Eastern Shore residents count him as an ancestor.*

 

1693 “The Accomack Storm” – According to a letter written by Col. Edmund Scarburgh: “There happened a most violent storme in Virginia,  which stopped the course of ancient channels and made some where never were any: So that betwixt the bounds of Virginia in Newcastle in Pennsylvania, on the seaboard side, are many navigable rivers for sloops and small vessels.”*

 

1749 – One of the earliest recorded storms to affect the Eastern Shore hit on October 19,  1749. It was called a “tremendous hurricane”. According to historical records this is the storm that created Willougby Spit in Norfolk.  The bay at Norfolk was said to have risen 15 ft above normal.

 

1806  – A storm hit that was called the Great Coastal Hurricane of 1806.  This was credited as finishing the job of creating Willoughby Spit in Norfolk.

 

1878 –  Cobb and Smith Islands on the Eastern Shore were completely submerged.  The average 5 minute wind speed at Cape Henry was 84 mph.

 

1891 – A coastal hurricane grounded and destroyed the presidential yacht Despatch,  reportedly the “largest and handsomest float”. The Despatch left New York bound for Washington to take President Benjamin Harrison on a naval tour. A combination of two tropical storms and a hurricane caused rough seas and strong currents. Just after midnight, the Despatch was grounded in shallow water off the Virginia portion of Assateague Beach. Surfmen from the Assateague Life Saving Station rescued 79 crewmen, two dogs and a cat.*

 

August 23-24 1933  –  The Hurricane of 1933 was a transformational storm on the Eastern Shore.  The storm dumped estimates of 20 to 30 inches of rain ahead of  landfall. The 33 storm ended the Golden Age of Virginia’s Barrier Islands.   Prior to the storm, there were houses on Assateague, Hog, Cobb and other barrier islands.   The storm hit on August 23, 1933 and continued for two days. By the time it moved off, the town of Broadwater on Hog Island was practically destroyed, as were houses on Assateague. The resort on Cobb Island was totally destroyed. Wachapreague, Chincoteague and Cape Charles had tides ranging ftom 5 ft. at Chincoteague to 7 ft. at Cape Charles and 10 ft at Wachapreague.  Two deaths were reported, one of which was a baby that was ripped from its mother’s arms by the surging water.

After the storm, houses that were destroyed on Assateague were not rebuilt. At Broadwater on Hog Island owners of surviving homes moved them and the bodies of loved ones buried in the cemetery to Willis Wharf.  Today the community is known as “Little Hog Island” in Willis Wharf.

The Hurricane of 1933 also changed the course of Ocean City.  At the time of the storm Ocean City extended over three blocks south of the inlet.  There was no inlet, but the heavy rains raised the level of Assateague Bay and the water forced what is now Ocean City Inlet to form. Ocean City residents had been long asking for the state to dig an inlet so that boats could have access to the town. Mother Nature did that job at no cost to tax payers.

The highest one minute wind speed at Cape Henry was 82 mph.

 

September 14, 1944  – This storm was a category 3 when it brushed Cape Henry.  The fasted sustained wind speed at Cape Henry was 134 mph with gusts to 150 mph. Had the storm moved 50 miles to the west the effects on the Eastern Shore and the rest of the East Coast would have been devastating.

 

Named Storms

October 15,  1954  –  Hurricane Hazel is another storm that left its mark on the Eastern Shore.   The hurricane moved up the western shore and the resulting strong winds resulted in salt spray which defoliated trees as far as 5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.   The only serious tide report from Hazel was 4 ft. at Saxis. William Barnes of Accomack County died when he tried to secure the roof of his chicken house.  Hazel caused extensive damage throughout the state of Virginia with torrential rains causing flash flooding from the mountains to the coast.  Hazel moved inland and north and caused severe damage to Pennsylvania, New York and into Ontario, Canada.

 

Mallards at the Wharf, formerly Hopkins Brothers in Onancock.

September 12, 1960  –  Hurricane Donna was another transformational hurricaneTides flooded many bayside communities.   Saxis, Sanford, Deep Creek, Hunting Creek, Chesconessex,  East Point, Harborton, Bayford and Cape Charles all reported flooded homes and businesses.   Houses built in low lying communities after Hurricane Donna were built higher and most of those homes have survived subsequent storms without flooding.

Sustained winds at Norfolk International Airport were 73 mph. Cape Henry reported gusts of 91 mph.

 

March 6-8, 1962 – ‘Ash Wednesday Storm’ – Classified as a level 5 storm on the Dolan-Davis scale for classification of Atlantic Nor’easters, this storm was considered by the US Geological Survey to be one of the most destructive storms to ever hit the mid-Atlantic.

The nor’easter dealt the construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel a serious blow by sinking the ‘Big D’, a special built machine for driving in the bridge’s pilings. Also wreaking havoc on the wild ponies of Chincoteague, the infamous Misty, immortalized in Marguerite Henry’s novel ‘Misty of Chincoteague, only survived after the Beebee family brought her into their kitchen to ride out the storm. Pregnant at the time, when she finally gave birth to her foal, he was dubbed ‘Stormy. The storm was responsible for over $1 million of damage to the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island.

 

September 1, 1964  –  Hurricane Cleo  was noted for its rain.   11.40 inches of rain in 24 hours was the heaviest in the coastal area since records began in 1871.

 

June 21, 1972  –  Tropical Storm Agnes was one of the earliest storms to affect the Eastern Shore coming in June.   Agnes, while only a tropical storm, didn’t really cause much damage on the Eastern Shore.  But Agnes affected the Shore for a generation. Agnes dumped 13.6 inches of rain on the east slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains and also in Maryland in Pennsylvania, forcing tens of millions of gallons of fresh water into the James, Rappahannock , Potomac and Susquehanna rivers. The effect on the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay was dramatic. The influx of fresh water and silt precipitated the decline of the oyster fishery in the Bay. In addition, tons of debris washed from the rivers into the Bay. For nearly a year, each marine forecast contained warnings for mariners to be careful to avoid floating and submerged debris when boating in the bay. Virginia sustained $222 million in damage and 17 people died mostly from flash flooding.

 

September 27, 1985 – Hurricane Gloria passed 45 miles east of Cape Henry.  The fastest one minute wind speed was 46 mph  with a gust of 104 mph at the South Island of the CBBT.  Chincoteague reported winds of 100 mph. The considerable storm surge flooded many sections of the island.

 

Bayford Crabhouse

September 6, 1999 –  Hurricane Floyd passed directly over Virginia Beach on a track similar to Hurricane Donna. The effects on the Eastern Shore were similar.   Floyd had the lowest barometric pressure of 28.85 was the fourth lowest for a hurricane this century. Floyd flooded the bayside towns on the Eastern Shore with many homes built before 1960  flooding again. However, the Eastern Shore got off easy with Floyd. The storm flooded the town of Franklin with what was called a “500 year flood”. The business district was destroyed and the waters did not recede for several days.

 

 

September 18, 2003  –  Hurricane Isabel also caused flooding on the bayside towns.  Trees and power lines were downed. The highest tide at Sewells Point during Isabel was 7.9 feet above mean low water.  Isabel was called by Governor Mark Warner as “probably the worst storm in a generation”. Winds gusted to 87 mph at the CBBT.  Throughout Virginia, 36 fatalities were reported as a result of Isabel.

 

September 1, 2006 – The remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto interacted with an unusually strong high pressure over New England to generate strong winds and driving rain on the Eastern Shore.  Surging tides destroyed bulkheads and docks on the western shore but also on the Eastern Shore, particularly at Chincoteague and Wachapreague.  

 

August 27, 2011 – Hurricane Irene affected the Mid Atlantic Region brought strong winds, storm surge flooding and up to 12 inches of rain. Winds estimated to be between 70 and 80 mph downed trees and blocked roads. Some areas on the bayside were flooded.  While predicted to be a severe storm for the Shore, we were spared the worst of Irene. However,  the western Shore, as far inland as Richmond, bore her brunt.

 

Saxis Pier

October 28-30 2012 – Hurricane Sandy was the storm Irene was forecast to be, a 100 year storm and while it’s main effects were in New Jersey and New York,  Sandy left its mark on the Eastern Shore as well. Sandy transitioned from a tropical storm to a non- tropical storm north of here,  But on the Eastern Shore, low lying areas on the bayside took a big hit. Flooding was caused by wind blown water on the back side of the storm.  Crisfield, Saxis, Sanford, Deep Creek , Hunting Creek, Chesconessex, East Point and Harborton all were flooded causing millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses.  Sandy took out crab shacks up and down the bayside of the Eastern Shore.

 

Sources:

1. Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States by  Rick Schwartz.

2. Seaventure information from The Pendant’s Corner by W.E. Wilkins as printed in the  Eastern Shore News, date unknown.

3. The Hurricane History of Eastern and Coastal Virginia  by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.