By Joe Beck
Virginia residents can be grateful this part of the country is much less vulnerable to the kind of devastating tornadoes that wreaked havoc in Oklahoma, but the state is not completely immune.
The National Weather Service confirmed two tornadoes hit the Northern Shenandoah Valley as recently as the night of April 28, 2011.
One of them uprooted and snapped off trees as it traveled from northeast of Strasburg to the west side of Middletown between 3:45 a.m. and 3:49 a.m. The other traveled more than 30 miles from Rockingham into Shenandoah County between 2:12 a.m. and 2:41 a.m.
"The tornado touched down near Fulks Run along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and created nearly continuous damage on its 33 mile northeast path," according to Weather Service records.
The tornado ripped roofs from barns and homes, wrecked a mobile home and tossed a half-ton piece of industrial equipment 200 yards before lifting off just west of Woodstock, the Weather Service reported.
Flying debris injured an 82-year-old woman and another woman, 26, received minor injuries when she fell while escaping, the Weather Service said.
"It's not impossible," Frederick County Fire Chief Dennis Linaburg said of the odds of tornadoes appearing in the area. "Certainly some of the storms around here have produced small tornadoes."
Linaburg said two tornadoes confirmed in southwest Virginia in recent years led Frederick County to establish a Web page that allows residents to sign up for electronic weather alerts by telephone voice message, text message or email. Those with landline home telephones are already included in the database.
Those wishing to sign up can do so by visiting http://tiny.cc/ldggxw.
Sign up for emergency notifications in Shenandoah County at http://tiny.cc/higgxw.
Sign up notifications in Warren County at http://tiny.cc/hkggxw.
Linaburg said the best precaution people can take is keeping up with National Weather Service watches and warnings when they see threatening clouds forming.
"Technology has come a long way in predicting those storms, and it gives everybody a little bit of warning to be prepared," Linaburg said.
The Red Cross has an extensive tornado safety checklist in PDF format at http://tiny.cc/ufggxw.
Amy Whittaker, regional director of public affairs at the Red Cross, said the agency also has a new application available for iPhone and DROID users that contains tips for safety before, during and after disasters, National Weather Service maps and information, shelter locations and an "I'm safe" notification button for social media accounts.
Whittaker said the Red Cross sent 130 volunteers from western Virginia to the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy last year, and some volunteers may be needed for Oklahoma in a few days.
"Nobody's going down there deploying now, but we are still recruiting volunteers just to have them on standby, so if there's a need, we can send them on their way," Whittaker said.
Linaburg said his office has not received any requests to send help to Oklahoma, but he has been riveted by news accounts of the tragedy.
"Our hearts and prayers certainly go out to those folks out there who have suffered such a loss," Linaburg said. "It's devastating, the magnitude of Mother Nature and what she can do."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org