The Old Dominion can handle its fair share of severe weather. In 2004, Virginia experienced high winds, flooding, and tornadoes resulting from six hurricanes – Hurricane Alex, Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Gaston, Hurricane Frances, Hurricane Ivan, and Hurricane Jeanne – that struck over a two-month period.
Hurricane Gaston hit Richmond, causing a major flash flood and killing eight people. After that, 13 tornadoes were produced, ripping through the state and resulting in about $130 million in damage.
HomeownersInsurance.com researchers decided to take a look at occurrences of flood, wind, lightning, and hail to determine the cities in Virginia that are the safest from severe weather. Here are our findings:
1. Manassas Park
Manassas Park tops the list due to a lightning score of zero, the lowest flood score, and the second lowest hail and wind scores. This safe city is situated in the northern portion of the state and has a population of 16, 149. Manassas Park spans just 2.6 square miles and is 30 miles away from Washington, D.C.
It is mostly residential, allowing those working in the city a suburban retreat that’s more conducive to raising a family. Incorporated in 1975, Manassas Park was the most recent in the Commonwealth of Virginia to become a city.
Poquoson landed the No. 2 slot due to having a hail score of zero and the lowest wind score. Poquoson is located on the Virginia Peninsula, occupies 15 square miles, and is home to more than 12,000 residents.
The city is known for the annual Poquoson Seafood Festival, which features boat races, carnival rides, musicians, vendors, crafts, and plenty of seafood to celebrate the city’s roots as a rural town in the World War II and Cold War eras that had an abundance of seafood packing houses, oyster buy-boats, boat yards that repaired and built log canoes, and Chesapeake Bay work boats.
Radford ranks third for having the lowest flood score on our list, as well as low wind, hail, and lightning scores. The city spans about 10 square miles of central Virginia and has more than 17,000 residents. The city centers on the New River – which drew travelers and settlers to the area centuries earlier.
Radford has four parks to accommodate recreation lovers, along with the Glencoe Museum, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and houses artifacts that tell the story of the beginnings of Radford.
Williamsburg joins the list of safest Virginia cities due to low combined scores across the board, particularly for having some of the lowest flood and lightning scores. The city is located in the Virginia Peninsula and provides a home for more than 15,000 residents.
Williamsburg is home to the College of William and Mary, which is the second-oldest institution for higher learning in the country. The city is also home to Virginia’s first capitol building; Bruton Parish Church, which is the oldest operating church in the nation; the living history museum that is Colonial Williamsburg; and the Governor’s Palace.
Waynesboro clinched the No. 5 spot due to having a lightning score of zero and one of the lowest hail scores overall. The city is located in the north central portion of the state and is home to more than 21,000 people.
Waynesboro is most widely known as being the home of Patricia Buckley Moss – an American artist who was recognized for her depictions of Shenandoah Valley landscapes – and the P. Buckley Moss Museum, which draws 45,000 visitors to the city each year.
Harrisonburg is the largest city on our list as it has a population of more than 51,000. This safe city earned a spot in the top 10 for having one of the lowest hail scores and a lightning score of zero. Harrisonburg is the home of James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University and is a hub for historic buildings.
The Rockingham County Courthouse, Whitesel Brothers warehouse, Anthony Hockman House, Lucy F. Simms School, and Joshua Wilton House are in Harrisonburg and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors and residents alike also enjoy touring the Thomas Harrison House, the Old Town Historic District, and the Harrisonburg Downtown District.
Staunton ranks seventh due to receiving low scores in all categories of severe weather. This safe city is 20 square miles in size and is home to 24,350 residents. Staunton is the city where 28th president Woodrow Wilson was born. The first syllable rhymes with ran – not slaw.
A replica of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Theatre and the Museum of American Frontier Culture can be found in the city, as well as the Heifetz International Music Institute, which helps to grow and develop some of the most skilled classical musicians in the world. Staunton is bursting at the seams in terms of arts and culture, and was even the set of several scenes of the 2007 movie, Evan Almighty.
8. Colonial Heights
Low scores in reference to hail, wind, lightning, and floods earned Colonial Heights the No. 8 position on the list of Virginia’s safest cities. The city has a population of 17,634 and a square mileage of 7.8. Colonial Heights is home to the Violet Bank Museum – a home built on a plot among 144 acres of land bought by Thomas Shore in 1777 which became the site of two Revolutionary War actions and eventually, an example of early American Interior Decorative Arts – and Swift Creek Mill – the site of the Civil War Battle of Swift Creek and widely believed to be the oldest grist mill in the country. Both sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bristol joins the ranks of Virginia’s safest cities thanks to its lightning score of zero. The city also has low instances of wind, floods, and hail. Bristol is home to more than 17,000 and occupies 13.3 square miles of southwest Virginia.
In 1998, Congress recognized Bristol as the ‘Birthplace of Country Music’ as the city is believed to have heavily contributed to country music’s influence and early recordings. Bristol has become a destination for country music lovers to travel to and learn about the history of the city and its influence on the creation of the genre.
Charlottesville rounds out the top 10 due in large part to its lightning score of zero. This safe city has a population of more than 44,000. The home of presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, the city also is the location of the University of Virginia and Monticello – the mountain-top plantation of Thomas Jefferson, which attracts roughly 500,000 tourists annually.
Charlottesville has also been a pillar for the music scene as it’s the home and take-off point of the Dave Matthews Band and other indie music groups.
Petersburg joins the likes of Virginia’s safest cities due to low severe weather scores across the board, particularly low occurrences of hail. The city is home to 32,538 residents and is located on the Appomattox River just 23 miles away from Richmond.
Petersburg is known for being a transportation hub because of its proximity to the river and access to railroads and highways. In the Civil War era, Petersburg was crucial to the Union to access and capture the Confederate capital at Richmond.
The city is also known for Pocahontas Island, which was one of the oldest free black settlements in the state and a significant part of African-American history. Pocahontas Island and the Petersburg Old Town Historic District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Manassas is the final city on the list that received a lightning score of zero, helping it to join the ranks of Virginia’s safest cities. The city spans just shy of 10 square miles of northern Virginia and has a population of 41,705.
Manassas is a significant part of American history as the first land battle of the Civil War – the First Battle of Manassas or the First Battle of Bull Run – was fought nearby. The city has an array of other historical places, including Cannon Branch Fort, the Manassas Historic District, the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth, and Liberia.
Winchester was awarded low scores in terms of instances of flooding, hail, lightning, and wind. The 27,216 person-city occupies 9.3 square miles of northern Virginia and the home of Shenandoah University, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, and the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, as well as a slew of historical sites.
Winchester and the surrounding areas were the sites of seven Civil War Battles from 1862 to 1864. The Confederate Army used the city in an attempt to protect and maintain control of the Shenandoah Valley during the war.
Salem was given low severe weather scores in all categories, affording the city the No. 14 slot. The city is home to more than 25,000. Salem is a great location for sports lovers as it is the home of the annual NCAA Division III Football Championship game, the NCAA Men’s Division III Basketball Championship game, and the NCAA Division III Volleyball Championship game. The city is also home to the Salem Red Sox, a minor-league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
15. Falls Church
Falls Church clinched the final spot on the list of Virginia’s safest cities due to having one of the lowest hail scores, as well as low scores of wind, floods, and lightning. The city is 13,508 in size and spans just two square miles of the northern portion of the state.
Falls Church is the home of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, which was created to preserve African-American culture and history and was the site where the first rural branch of the NAACP was established after the city tried to pass a segregation ordinance that would have divided the city into segregated districts.
Falls Church also is home to other cultural institutions, including the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society, the State Theatre, and the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.
Homeowners insurance in Virginia, as in other states, typically covers storm damage from hail, lightning and wind. However, flooding is not covered by home insurance – you’ll need a separate policy for that. Following is a listing of Virginia cities ranked from safest to most dangerous:
Flood, Wind, Lightning and Hail scores are out of a possible 20 points where 0 is the best and 20 is the worst score. For the flood, wind, lightning and hail scores, HomeownersInsurance.com Analysts reviewed all individual storm events identified by the NOAA Storm Events Database from 1965 to October 2014 and weighted scores as follows:
- Number of storm event occurrences (30%)
- Number of direct storm event related deaths (30%)
- Number of direct storm event related injuries (25%)
- Number of direct storm related incidents of property damage (15%)
The flood score includes incidents of coastal flooding and flash floods. The wind score includes incidents of high wind, strong wind, thunderstorm wind and tornados. For data sources only available on a county level, cites were assigned points based on the information for the county in which the city is predominantly located.
Analysts studied cities with populations of 10,000 or above. Census-designated places (CDPs) were also included. Tiebreakers were given to cities or CDPs with a larger population.