CHARLESTON (AP) — West Virginia gets few tornadoes on average every year, yet two of them occurred on one recent day.
While the sheer number of annual tornadoes pales in comparison to other states, they do occur in West Virginia, with its vast network of hills and mountains. Two of them formed 55 miles apart on Sunday night.
“Even though we typically don’t get the gigantic ones that you see out on the Plains, we do get tornadoes,” Faith Borden, the National Weather Service’s warning coordination meteorologist in Charleston, said Wednesday.
The weather service confirmed Tuesday night that a tornado touched down in the southeastern Harrison County community of Johnstown, a little more than an hour after one hit the ground along the borders of Pleasants and Ritchie counties near Maxwell.
Both were EF1 tornadoes with winds of up to 100 mph. Both came down in sparsely populated areas with no injuries reported.
This year has been especially busy for meteorologists in West Virginia, which averages around two per year but has seen at least six so far his year. The others were in Berkeley, Cabell, Marion and Taylor counties.
Borden, who returned from a two-day fact-finding trip, said the latest tornadoes weren’t from the same individual storm cell but were part of the same system that moved through the state.
She called damage to sheared-off trees on hilltops in Harrison County impressive.
“You could tell that something had chewed up through there,” she said.
A 130-year-old church still in use along a ridge had structural damage.
“Luckily no houses were in the way of this tornado, just a church,” said Harrison County Magistrate Keith Marple, who lives in Johnstown.
The deadliest tornado ever recorded in West Virginia touched down about 20 miles away in 1944 in the Harrison County community of Shinnston. The tornado passed through four counties, killing 103 people and seriously injured 430 others.
“Pretty much you figure the odds are against it happening, but it happens,” Marple said. “As a kid growing up, you hear about other tornadoes. I had relatives in Shinnston.”
Resident Nicka Jarrett said her family heard strong winds but didn’t realize a tornado had touched down and had no noticeable damage around her home. She said a friend later posted some photos of the damage to Facebook with the explanation: “I guess tornadoes do hit West Virginia.”
According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data, West Virginia averaged far fewer tornadoes than any surrounding state from 1991 to 2010. The highest annual averages were in Texas (155), Kansas (96) and Florida (66).
The most tornadoes recorded by the weather service in one year in West Virginia were 15 in 1998. There have been tornadoes reported in every month of the year, including one on Christmas Day in 1964 in Preston County.
“Having mountains doesn’t keep us safe,” Borden said.