Friday, June 26, 2015

Episode 272 (6-29-15): Remembering the 1995 Day that Madison County, Virginia, was the Center of Too Much Atmospheric Attention

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:44)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, post-recording additions/corrections, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 6-25-15.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of June 29, 2015.

MUSIC – ~9 sec - Those Blue Ridge Mountains they're my home; those Blue Ridge Mountains they're my home.

This week, that short excerpt of “Second Lullaby,” by the Nelson County- and Charlottesville-based band Chamomile and Whiskey, sets the stage for a 20-year look-back at a weather disaster concentrated along Virginia’s Blue Ridge—the Madison County flash flood of June 27, 1995.  Have a listen for about 30 seconds to three kinds of sounds relevant to that disaster.

SOUNDS  - ~32 sec – Conway River, June 9, 2015; Weather Radio hazardous weather alert, June 26, 2015; Coast Guard rescue helicopter

The sounds you heard were, first, the Conway River between the Virginia counties of Madison and Greene, flowing calmly on June 9, 2015, in sharp contrast to extremely high flows 20 years ago; second, NOAA weather radio statements for western Virginia on June 26, 2015, forecasting weather reminiscent of what occurred in late June 1995; and third, a Coast Guard rescue helicopter, in a 2007 recording of the same model of aircraft used to rescue 15 people in Madison and Greene counties on June 27 and 28, 1995.  During that last week of June 1995, several days of rain over the mid-Atlantic region reached a climax on the 27th, when a stalled frontal system dropped historically heavy rainfall along Virginia’s Blue Ridge counties.  The day’s heaviest rains fell on Madison County, including the Conway River and other parts of the Rapidan River basin, where amounts exceeded 10 inches in many locations and reached 30 inches in one part of Madison County.  The rainfall led to widespread flash flooding, landslides, and debris flows.  Three people died in Virginia, one each in Madison, Rappahannock, and Warren counties.  Economic damage was estimated at about $200 million statewide and $93 million in Madison County.  But tragedy and loss were not the only long-term consequences of this unusually intense rain storm.  Twenty years later, the event still helps meteorologists, other scientists, local officials, emergency responders, and citizens be better informed about weather systems in mountainous areas, flash flood and mudslide hazards, and the importance of on-the-ground storm information, such as that provided by citizen spotters.  All valuable lessons, for which Madison County paid dearly.  The 20-year anniversary of that county’s unfortunate encounter with meteorological fame offers a good reminder that small waterways can change rapidly and dramatically when the weather’s intensity does.

SOUNDS – ~ 5 sec – Rain and thunder clap

Thanks to Chamomile and Whiskey for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with a few more seconds of “Second Lullaby.”

MUSIC – ~12 sec – “...those Blue Ridge Mountains they're my home.”

For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


“Second Lullaby,” from the 2013 album “Wandering Boots,” is copyright by Chamomile and Whiskey and by County Wide Records, used with permission of Chamomile and Whiskey.  More information about Chamomile and Whiskey is available online at, and information about Charlottesville-based County Wide Records is available online at

The sound of the Conway River was recorded from the property of Carlyle Hystad in Greene County, Va.  Thanks to Mr. Hystad for providing access to the river, information about the area, and information about his personal experiences of the 1995 flood.

The helicopter sound was excerpted from “HH-60J Helicopter Crew B-Roll,” 1 min/16 sec. video filmed near Elizabeth City, N.C., May 20, 2007, courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard District 5, made available for public use at  The HH-60J is the model of helicopter used in the rescue of 15 people from flooding in Greene and Madison counties, Va., on June 27-28, 1995, according to a Coast Guard news release on June 28, 1995.  Other military audio, video, and images are available from the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS), online at


According to New York Times on June 29, 1995, six people died in Virginia as a result of the flooding in late June.  In addition to the three mentioned in this episode, three people died near Rocky Mount, Va., on June 29.  Also, according to the Times article, over 250 people had been evacuated by helicopter by June 29.  The number of 15 used in this article is from a U.S. Coast Guard news release on June 28, 1995.  See New York Times, “6 are Killed and 250 are Evacuated in Flooding in Rural Virginia,” June 30, 1995, online at; and U.S. Coast Guard, “Coast Guard Rescues 15 from Mountain Floods,” June 28, 1995, news release, online at


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) map of rainfall totals for June 21-28, 1995, in the area service by the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Baltimore/Washington Forecast Office in Sterling, Va.  Note the highest amounts (darkest purple) concentrated along the Blue Ridge in Virginia from Rappahannock County to Augusta and Nelson County, with the most concentrated area in Madison County.  Map by Barbara A. Watson, accessed online at the NWS Sterling office’s “Madison County Flash Floods June 27, 1995” Facebook page, at

Graph of daily mean stream flow, or discharge, in cubic feet per second (cfs) from June 24—June 30, 1995, at the U.S. Geological Survey gaging station on the Rapidan River at U.S. Rt. 29, along the Madison-Greene county line north of Ruckersville, Va. (Green County).  Note the levels of as much as 30,000 cfs on June 27.  As of June 25, 2015, the historical mean discharge for June 27 at that location for is 515 cfs (based on records since 1942).  Graph accessed at U.S. Geological Survey, National Water Information System, “USGS 01665500 RAPIDAN RIVER NEAR RUCKERSVILLE, VA,” online at  For a table of daily mean flow values at the Rapidan River gage near Ruckersville, see USGS Surface Water Daily Statistics for Virginia, online at
Debris flow in Madison County on the morning of June 27, 1995.  Photograph from B.A. Morgan, G.F. Wieczorek, R.H. Campbell, and P.L. Gori, Debris-flow Hazards in Areas Affected by the June 27, 1995 Storm in Madison County, Virginia,” U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 97-438, 1997.
Scenes from the Rapidan River watershed in normal-flow times.  Upper photo—the Rapidan River, looking downstream from the U.S. 29 bridge north of Ruckersville, Va., July 22, 2013.   Lower photo: the Conway River, which becomes the Rapidan River, along the Greene-Madison county border northwest (upstream) of Virginia State Route 230, June 9, 2015 (the location and date of the stream sound heard in this episode).


Used in Audio and Show Notes
B.A. Morgan, G.F. Wieczorek, R.H. Campbell, and P.L. Gori, Debris-flow Hazards in Areas Affected by the June 27, 1995 Storm in Madison County, Virginia,” U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 97-438, 1997, online at

Michael D. Pontrelli, George Bryan, and J.M. Fritsch, “The Madison County, Virginia, Flash Flood of 27 June 1995,” Weather and Forecasting, June 1999 (Vol. 14, No. 3), pp. 384-404.  The journal’s Web site is

National Weather Service Forecast Office for Baltimore/Washington (Sterling. Va.), “The Greatest Storms of the Century in the Washington-Baltimore Region,” December 2005, online at

National Weather Service Forecast Office for Baltimore/Washington (Sterling, Va.), “Madison County Flash Floods-June 27, 1995,” Facebook photo album posted June 27, 2013, online at

Jason Elliott, National Weather Service Forecast Office for Baltimore/Washington (Sterling, Va.), “Flood Class May 28, 2015,” presentation for SkyWarn spotter program, online at

New York Times, “6 Are Killed and 250 Are Evacuated in Flooding in Rural Virginia,” June 30, 1995, online at

Oklahoma Climatological Survey, “Case Studies: The Virginia Storms of June 27, 1995,” online at

U.S. Coast Guard, “Coast Guard Rescues 15 from Mountain Floods,” June 28, 1995, news release, online at

U.S. Geological Survey/National Water Information System, “Surface Water Daily Statistics for Virginia,” online at  Data for the gaging station on the Rapidan River near Ruckersville in Madison County, Va., (USGS 01665500) is online at

U.S. Geological Survey, “WaterAlert,” online at

Virginia Department of Emergency Management, “Integrated Flood Observing and Warning Systems (IFLOWS),” online at

For More Information about Flash Floods, Other Floods, and Other Severe Weather Events
American Red Cross, “Flood Safety,” online at; or contact your local chapter (listed in your local phone directory).

Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Floods,” online at

National Weather Service, “Weather Safety,” online at

U.S. Geological Survey, Virginia Water Science Center, offices located in Richmond and Marion (Smyth County); Web site:; phone (804) 261-2643.

Virginia Department of Emergency Management, “Floods,” online at; or contact VDEM at (804) 897-6500 or

Virginia Water Central News Grouper posts on news, events, and information resources relevant to severe weather, online at

For another episode on historic flooding in Virginia, please see Episode 192 (12/16/13), on the Rockfish River in Nelson County.  For other episodes related to weather, please see the “Weather/Natural Disasters” category at the Index link,

This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.11 - relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 - freshwater resources, including groundwater, and influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2008 Social Studies SOLs:
Civics and Economics Course
CE.7 – government at the state level.
CE.8 – government at the local level.
CE.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface.
WG.3 - how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.

Government Course
GOVT.8 – state and local government organization and powers.
GOVT.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.
GOVT.16 – role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at