Introduction

Your home is your castle. It protects you and your family, as well as your possessions, from the elements. For many, the home is a major financial investment. Yet natural hazards such as coastal storms, floods, high winds, and tornadoes can threaten the inhabitants and contents of your home. When a natural disaster occurs, the results can be devastating. This handbook was created to help you prepare for natural hazards so that risks to family and property may be reduced. While it is never possible to eliminate all damage from a natural disaster, you as a homeowner can take action and implement many small and cost-effective steps that could significantly lower your risk. Mother Nature can be intense. Your family and home deserve the protection that only you can provide.

This handbook is divided into several sections. This Introduction section presents the purpose and layout of the handbook and includes a discussion of common myths that may have prevented you from taking action in the past. There is also a summary of the content of this handbook in the form of several things you can do to prepare.

The Overview of the Natural Hazards section provides basic information on coastal storms, flooding, and other hazards that will allow you to make an educated decision about the steps to take to protect your family and property.

Protecting Yourself and Your Family discusses in detail how to protect yourself and your family. It includes recommendations for essential emergency supplies, evacuation kits, and evacuation planning and evacuation procedures and important information that emergency management agencies want you to know even before a warning is issued.

Protecting Your Property covers how you can protect your property from wind and water hazards.

The Insurance section presents general insurance information and resources to aid in recovery if storm damage occurs.

Coastal Construction and Beach Management address homeowners on the coast who are preparing to build or renovate their home on the beach.

Climate Change provides an overview of climate change in and around Virginia and how climate change may exacerbate the impacts of natural hazards in the future.

This handbook will be updated on an as-needed basis as new information becomes available and feedback from the public is obtained. For general emergency information, you can contact your state or county emergency management agencies at the addresses and phone numbers provided (see Get Connected).

This NOAA satellite image shows the extent that bands of winds, rain, and storm surge reached across Virginia

On September 18, 2003, Hurricane Isabel entered Virginia, beginning what would become the costliest disaster in the history of the Commonwealth [1]. Though Isabel was weakened from a category 5 hurricane at sea to a category 1 by the time it entered Virginia, strong winds affected 99 counties and cities in the state, and 1.8 million people were left without power. Storm surges from Isabel peaked at around 9 feet in Richmond at the James River, and places such as Sherando, Virginia experienced 20.2 inches of rainfall. The National Weather Service attributes 10 deaths directly to the storm, and another 26 as indirectly related. Damage to the state of Virginia totaled $1.85 million [2].

The coast of Virginia experienced wind gusts from 50 mph to 70 mph, while storm surges reached unofficial estimates of almost 11 feet and heavy waves resulted in beach erosion and overwash [3, 4, 5]. The historic Harrison’s Pier in the Ocean View area of Norfolk was completely destroyed, and the 15th Street fishing pier in Virginia Beach was significantly damaged [6]. Northern Virginia experienced storm damage as well; in Fairfax County, the storm surge washed out 160 homes and 60 condominiums, with 2000 units reporting flood damage [7]. Flooding and downed trees destroyed two houses and damaged 192 homes in Arlington County [8].

Photo taken September 18, 2003, courtesy of The Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, shows storm-surge flooding from Hurricane Isabel at Gloucester Point on the York River.

However, the storm had effects on much more of Virginia than the coast. Storm surges along the James River wreaked havoc on homes in Claremont, Burwells Bay, and Henrico County, where a resident drowned after crashing into a flooded creek [9]. A motorist on Interstate 95 in Richmond died when he hydroplaned and crashed his car [10]. Monetary damage in the central region totaled about $3 million [11]. Intense rainfall in Augusta County, combined with wind gusts of around 60 mph, resulted in downed trees and power lines [12]. Rainfall led to both river flooding and flash flooding; four emergency spillways to dams flooded [13]. Water flowing down the Black Creek washed out the bridge, along with other sections of asphalt along State Route 608, and the South River at Waynesboro destroyed four bridges [14]. Emergency management personnel evacuated about 300 people from rapid flooding, 21 by boat [15]. The photo to the left, taken September 18, 2003, courtesy of The Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, shows storm-surge flooding from Hurricane Isabel at Gloucester Point on the York River.

Though there was some warning before Hurricane Isabel struck Virginia, it is impossible to predict the exact path, strength, and nature of natural hazards. Coastal homeowners often think they are adequately prepared, and inland homeowners assume that hurricanes will have little or no effect on their property. However, natural hazards are volatile and unpredictable. With the information provided in this manual, homeowners can equip themselves to face natural disasters confidently with knowledge and preparation.

Top 10 Myths About Natural Hazards Preparedness

“A natural hazard won’t affect me.”

Scientists agree that it is not a matter of if the next major coastal storm will occur, but when. Over the past 10 years, the Norfolk area has experienced 26 instances of coastal flood, flash flood, flood, high surf, storm surge/tide, high wind, tropical depression/storm, or hurricane [16]. From the small time period from January 2014 to January 2016, Norfolk experienced a coast flood, a flash flood, and a tropical storm. Hurricane Joaquin, predicted to reach Virginia in October of 2015, luckily resulted only in heavy rainfall in the region, though it wreaked havoc in the Bahamas. In that instance, coastal Virginia was fortunate, yet these near misses are rare; chances are that you will experience impacts from a major natural hazard event in your lifetime.

5 Things You Can Do to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

Compile an evacuation kit

If your evacuation plans include using a public shelter for a coastal storm or flood, you will need an evacuation kit that contains clothing, medications, personal hygiene products, and other items such as bedding for five to seven days. Water and food are provided at shelters, but if a special diet is required, you should bring these foods with you. The kit should already be assembled and checked before hurricane season. If the kit will be used during evacuation for other hazards, three days of supplies may suffice. Don’t forget to plan for your pet and prepare a pet evacuation kit. Visit Learn More for more information about preparing evacuation kits.

  1. The CWS Response (PDF). Church World Service, 2003). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 3, 2007. Accessed February 2007.
  2. Virginia Hurricane History. National Weather Service, 2006. Accessed March 2013.
  3. Preliminary Post-Storm Report on Hurricane Isabel. Wakefield, Virginia National Weather Service, 2003. Accessed February 2007.
  4. Landscape Modifications by Hurricane Isabel on Fisherman Island in Virginia (PDF). T.R. Allen and G.F. Oertel, 2005, Chesapeake Research Consortium. Accessed February 2007.
  5. Hurricane Isabel Tropical Cyclone Report. Jack Beven and Hugh Cobb, 2003, National Hurricane Center. Accessed February 2007.
  6. Preliminary Post-Storm Report on Hurricane Isabel. Wakefield, Virginia National Weather Service, 2003. Accessed February 2007.
  7. Event Report for Virginia. National Climatic Data Center, 2003. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Accessed February 2007.
  8. Event Report for Virginia. National Climatic Data Center, 2003. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Accessed February 2007.
  9. Hurricane Isabel Service Assessment (PDF). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2004. Accessed February 2007.
  10. 1.4 million in dark after Isabel hits. Peter Bacque and A.J. Hostetler, 2003, Richmond Times-Dispatch. Accessed March 2007.
  11. Event Report for Southwest Virginia. National Climatic Data Center, 2003. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Accessed February 2007.
  12. Event Report for Shenandoah Valley (2). National Climatic Data Center, 2003. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Accessed March 2007.
  13. Event Report for Shenandoah Valley. National Climatic Data Center, 2003. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Accessed March 2007.
  14. Event Report for Shenandoah Valley. National Climatic Data Center, 2003. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Accessed March 2007.
  15. Event Report for Shenandoah Valley. National Climatic Data Center, 2003. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Accessed March 2007.
  16. Storm Events Database. National Centers for Environmental Information, 2016, NOAA. Accessed July 2016.
  17. Hurricane Gaston rainfall summary. David Roth, 2004, Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Accessed May 2008.
  18. Hurricane Gaston Tropical Cyclone Report (PDF). James L. Franklin, Daniel P. Brown and Colin McAdie, 2004, National Hurricane Center. Accessed April 2008.
  19. August 30, 2004 event reports. Storm Prediction Center, 2004, NOAA. Accessed May 2008.
  20. Tropical Storm Gaston Event Report. National Climatic Data Center, 2004. Accessed May 2008.
  21. States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card. Climate Central and ICF International. Accessed July 2016.
  22. Inland Flooding Does Pose Threat to Area During Hurricane Season. Aubrey Urbanowicz, 2013, WHSV. Accessed July 2016.
  23. Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York: Building Performance Observations, Recommendations, and 0Technical Guidance. Mitigation Assessment Team, 2013, FEMA. Accessed July 2016.
  24. Virginia Society of Professional Engineers (2016). Accessed July 2016.
  25. Homeowners Insurance: Consumer’s Guide. State Corporation Commission Bureau of Insurance, 2011, Commonwealth of Virginia. Accessed July 2016.