Path length: 17.9 miles
Width: 300 yards
A total of 19 tornadoes occurred on September 5, 1979. All but one were in association with the remnants of Hurricane David. Per an overview from the Weather Prediction Center, David was a Cape Verde storm. It became a hurricane as it moved away from the Lesser Antilles and was a Cat 3 as it crossed Dominica. On the August 30, David because a Category 5 storm south of Puerto Rico. After hitting the Dominican Republic (one of the strongest to hit the country), it had weakened to Tropical Storm strength. The system moved across the eastern tip of Cuba, skirted the east coast of Friday as a minimal hurricane and made a land fall on the Georgia Coast on September 4. From there it moved quickly through the Appalachian through the Mid-Atlantic.
Eight tornadoes were spawned from “David” in the state of Virginia. Two were rated F3 and the rest given an F2 rating. We are looking at one of those F3s in this summary. It traveled through parts of Fairfax County. I want to look at the path a bit because there are discrepancies. The SPC and NCDC databases list a path length of 17.9 miles. Storm Data and Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes only have path length of 6 miles.
Per Storm Data, the tornado began in Groveton and had a skipping path to the north north west. They then mention that the tornado hit Fairfax City and the Woodson High School area. The summary then states that the tornado “apparently struck again in the Great Falls area.”
The official SPC coordinates show a path from Groveton straight NNW to Great Falls. That is a distance of about 18.5 miles. So, the SPC/NCDC path length could be correct. A path that direct though is WELL east of Fairfax City. I have included a Google map plotting points of where damage was reported.
It is sleuth time with two theories: 1. The tornado skipped from Groveton to Fairfax City area and then jaunted north to Great Falls. 2. We actually had 2 tornadoes. One from Groveton to Fairfax City and then one near Great Falls. The distance between Groveton and Fairfax City (specifically the high school area) is about 11 miles.
Regardless, there was a great deal of damage in Fairfax County. 90 homes were damaged, 17 of which were uninhabitable. There was an unknown total of demolished cars and trees that were downed. Total damage: $2.5 million. There was one fatality in Great Falls. A large tree fell on a house killing a man caught in the debris there.
Storm Data Entry
Tornado first touched down near Groveton, where a shopping center sustained $8500 damage. The track was then in a skipping pattern toward the north northwest, where it next touched down at Fairfax City doing $150,000 damage to Woodson High School property, extensively damaged several homes, along with a newly constructed office complex. The funnel apparently struck again in the Great Falls area where a large tree was toppled onto a house, killing a man who was caught in the debris. In all, some 90 homes were damaged of which 17 were declared unoccupiable. Total damage including many demolished automobiles and the clean-up of trees and tree blocked roads: nearly $2.5 million.
We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the September 1973 Storm Data Publication and Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes and found the following differences:
- SPC/NCDC have a 17.9 mile path length.
- Grazulis and Storm Data have a length at 6 miles.
Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 1216.
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