It had been the perfect Indian Summer, and the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year promised to be the best day of the entire season.
In Virginia, the optimism ushered in by dawn began to change as the warmth of morning gave way to intense afternoon heat accompanied by an exceptionally strong southerly wind. Concern only grew when the wind abruptly stopped.
The eerie silence caused women to leave their kitchens and men to put aside their tools so they could look toward the heavens. The sky was blue, but the heat was oppressive. Instinctively, they knew something was wrong, very wrong.
Small groups gathered at the city’s two railroad depots, hoping the telegraph would bring some news about the strange weather. Nothing.
Then it happened. Dense clouds quickly spread out from the southwest, plunging Virginia into near total darkness. Horses, dogs, cats and other animals grew restless.
People ran for shelter and with good reason. In that darkness came the tornado.
The twister first touched down at the southwest edge of town, striking the high school with a glancing blow.
The swirling cloud thundered northeast, leaving a path of near total destruction about a quarter of a mile in width.
The tornado then rose back into the sky, clearing the roof of the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern Railroad depot and several freight cars on the team track.
Then the tornado plunged back to the ground to claim its next victims. It demolished the ice house on Henderson Lake before destroying most of the stately trees along the road to Walnut Ridge Cemetery.
The swirling monster continued northeasterly, leaving a trail of uprooted trees and flattened buildings in its wake.
Within Virginia, the twister destroyed the Methodist church. Miraculously, the pipe organ was completely unharmed. The cyclone also shaved off the third floor of the Mann Hotel and ripped off the roof of the nearby livery barn. A number of trees on the Courthouse Square were destroyed and several buildings around the square were damaged.
Incredibly, no one was killed and only 12 people were injured.
The most amazing story was that of William Whitaker’s three young children. They had been in the second floor of their home when the tornado hit. The children were found unharmed in the basement under a protective pile of bedding and furniture.
The George Leonard family, who had cheated death during the May 18, 1883 tornado, again escaped injury, though their Virginia home sustained significant damage.
Shortly after the 1911 tornado passed, the temperature rapidly fell. The heavy rains soon turned to freezing rain and then snow. Indian Summer was over.