Lynchburg, VA - Twenty years ago Tuesday, the Lynchburg area was slammed with a storm that everyone was sure had to be a tornado, but it was straight line winds, much like last year's derecho.
Beginning at about 4 p.m., the National Weather Service started issuing warnings. The storm track was racing from west to east with several different thunderstorms getting into the act, forming a solid squall line.
Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., the storm hit our area hard. By 6 p.m., the natural phenomenon had left its mark, knocking out power over 95% of the City of Lynchburg.
WSET lost power, delaying our broadcast of the 6:00 evening news. More than 50,000 customers in Lynchburg and surrounding counties were left without electricity at storm's end. In the Roanoke service area, 47,000 lost power. Some 15,000 lost power on the Southside.
As people slowly emerged from the safety of their cars and homes, what they saw next was shocking. Huge trees had been lifted from the earth and dropped at random. Trees had crashed in houses, power lines, and cars.
The hurricane force winds had ripped open Lynchburg's academy theater like a bag of potato chips. The steeple at First Baptist Church crumbled through the historic landmark into a pile of kindling. The structure at Lynchburg's City Stadium had been twisted like a licorice whip.
In Halifax County, people found hail the size of baseballs.
Though residents were no longer able to use their digital clocks, the next step was food and water. Restaurants with power were a luxury, and on the following Saturday, people were willing to wait hours in line for a bag of ice. Ice companies could not bring supply in fast enough. One company delivered 7000 bags of ice that were snatched up in just ten minutes.
Once they got their power back, retail business picked up almost as quickly as the storm did. Shelves were emptied of batteries, propane, flashlights, and candles. Chainsaws also went fast as storm victims readied for the next step: the cleanup.