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Statewide tornado drill pushed back to avoid impacting primary

Original date of March 5 would have coincided with Super Tuesday

The March 5 “Super Tuesday” presidential primaries will be hectic enough, so a tornado-preparedness event now will not be swirled into the mix.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) announced Feb. 20 it was rescheduling the Virginia statewide tornado drill, which has been slated for 9:45 a.m. on March 5, to the same time on Thursday, March 7.

VDEM officials moved the drill to ensure it would not have any impacts on the primary elections. Organizations and people who registered for the March 5 drill will not need to change their registration for the rescheduled event, officials said.

The tornado drill occurs during Severe Weather Awareness Week in the first full week of March every year. The exercise is a product of the National Weather Service and VDEM has been partnering with that agency and promoting the drill each year.

“We are encouraging individuals, organizations, businesses and schools to take the opportunity to put into action their emergency plan as it relates to tornado warnings,” said Jason Elmore, a VDEM spokesman.

There are no specific activities tied to the drill, but VDEM officials ask people around Virginia to rehearse their emergency plans.

“Safety is the No. 1 benefit,” Elmore said. “If our communities practice their safety drills during ‘blue-sky’ days, then they will be prepared in the event of actual weather emergency like a tornado.”

Fairfax County participates annually in the statewide tornado exercise, and sends relevant information to county departments and agencies and the community. The county’s Risk Management Division coordinates participation of various departments.

“Last year, we had over 2,000 employees and visitors at county facilities participate in the drill,” said Seamus Mooney, coordinator of the Fairfax County Department of Emergency Management and Security. “For the public, we amplify the state messaging of the drill via our newsletter, social media and Fairfax Alerts.”

Fairfax Alerts lets people register to receive alerts via phone call, text message and e-mail.

“The weather notifications come directly from the National Weather Service, and the user has the ability to fully tailor how they receive the alerts and what types of weather they are alerted for,” Mooney said.

Unlike some rural communities, Fairfax County does not have any outdoor tornado sirens. Such sirens, which produce attention-getting wails of up to 130 decibels, now are considered old technology, Elmore said.

“The quickest way to alert the public about weather warnings are through cellular technology,” he said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, between 1950 and 2023, Virginia had 896 tornadoes that killed 38 people, caused one indirect death, injured 946 people and caused an estimated $550.8 million worth of property damage and $2.4 million in crop damage.

During that period, the commonwealth had at least one tornado each year. 2004 had the most, with 94 twisters touching down. 1959 had the most fatalities, with 12 tornadoes killing a total of 12 people.

Virginia experienced six tornadoes in 2023, none of which resulted in fatalities. All occurred in the southern part of the state and between the hours of 2:39 and 4:48 p.m. Three touched down May 16, one each on April 30 and June 16, and the outlier was a tornado on Jan. 4.

The most powerful tornado last year struck Virginia Beach on April 30 and was rated EF3 (with winds between 158 and 206 mph) on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. This tornado was an estimated 350 feet wide and caused $20 million in property damage.

To view NOAA’s Virginia tornado history, visit For more information about the statewide tornado drill, contact To learn more about tornado preparedness, go to