Severe thunderstorms hit much of the Chesapeake Bay region Thursday night, causing widespread power outages and wicked lightning. Near the White House in Washington, D.C., four people were in critical condition after being struck by lightning.
One of the hardest-hit areas in the storms was Smith Island. At its vulnerable, low-lying waterfront, a waterspout came ashore as a suspected tornado just before 7:30 p.m.
Amy Somers and her children were on Smith Island for the annual summer camp meeting, a week of worship running since 1887. Somers says the tornado developed extremely quickly, and happened to be outside when it started to develop. Her husband, Daniel Somers, tells Bay Bulletin, “It took the third story off an Airbnb and destroyed the house next to it. Also several shanties were destroyed as well as a boat flipped over.” Watch Amy Somers’ video below to see the moments the waterspout came ashore:
The funnel cloud came ashore in Rhodes Point and traveled north to Ewell. Chesapeake Bay Foundation educators were holding a professional development program for teachers. Skipjack captain and educator Shawn Ridgley was in Tylerton with his colleagues. Ridgley tells us at least two homes and multiple boats were damaged.
There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or fatalities, but Ewell Fire Department President Robert Jones shared with the community, “We had multiple tornadoes and waterspouts knocking out houses and powerlines along the way. Some minor injuries but overall nobody is badly hurt. I would have never imagined this to happen here.”
Jones told us there was no tornado warning issued. “It just happened really quick,” he says.
The National Weather Service Wakefield, Va. did issue a Special Marine Warning for the Chesapeake Bay in the area surrounding Smith Island, noting a strong thunderstorm over Tangier Island at 7:04 p.m. carrying wind gusts over 34 knots. It warned of possible danger to small craft from high winds and waves, advising people to move to safe harbor.
The National Weather Service investigates suspected tornadoes, and as they do we’ll be on the lookout for more details on this funnel cloud’s path and power.
Bay photographer Jay Fleming, a frequent contributor to Chesapeake Bay Magazine, started a GoFundMe to benefit those who suffered property damage. Fleming hosts photography workshops on the island, staying at the ‘Island Time’ house for the last three years. The entire third level was sheared off by the storm. Fleming notes, “Doris Lee Bradshaw lived adjacent to ‘Island Time’ and her home was completely destroyed.”
As of Friday morning, the GoFundMe page already had over $15,00 in donations.
-Meg Walburn Viviano