Hurricane Camille arrived in Virginia on the night of August 19, 1969, one of only three category five storms ever to make landfall in the United States since record-keeping began. One of the worst natural disasters in Virginia’s history, the storm produced what meteorologists at the time guessed might be the most rainfall “theoretically possible.” As it swept through Virginia overnight, it seemed to catch authorities by surprise. Communication networks were not in place or were knocked out, leaving floods and landslides to trap residents as they slept. Hurricane Camille cost Virginia 113 lives lost and $116 million in damages. It also served as a lesson that inland flooding could be as great a danger as coastal flooding during a hurricane.
By ten o’clock on the night of August 19, Camille stretched from West Virginia all the way to Fredericksburg, Virginia, and areas to the north and east of the center of the storm were experiencing very heavy rainfall. The rain landed on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, rapidly swelling creeks and exacerbating the effects of the storm. Overnight, rainfall accumulations were measured at about ten inches between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, with Nelson County receiving the brunt of the storm with at least twenty-seven inches of rainfall. So much rain fell in such a short time in Nelson County that, according to the National Weather Service at the time, it was “the probable maximum rainfall which meteorologists compute to be theoretically possible.”
Dick Whitehead, PG, is the resident project representative with Wiley|Wilson, a 100% Employee-Owned engineering firm in Lynchburg. His father, Bill Whitehead, was the Nelson County sheriff during Hurricane Camille. Dick was a teenager during Camille and helped his father look for the bodies of the missing. He will present what he witnessed during and after Camille, and will present archived photos and videos to better convey the massive devastation.
Mr. Whitehead spoke at the Wednesday January 8, 2020 meeting of the Senior Statesmen of Virginia. The meeting was held at The Center in Charlottesville. Following the presentation, questions were taken from the audience. The program was moderated by SSV Board Member Madison Cummings.