ABINGDON, Va. — The Virginia police officer who “catfished” a 15-year-old California girl online and killed three of her family members was detained for psychiatric evaluation in 2016 after threatening to kill himself and his father and experiencing relationship troubles with his then-girlfriend, according to a police report obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
The 2016 incident, which has not been previously reported, raises new questions about how Austin Lee Edwards, of North Chesterfield, became a law enforcement officer and offers new details about his life. Authorities in Virginia have said they were shocked by the California rampage and that they knew of no red flags in Edwards’ background.
The 28-year-old Edwards, a former Virginia state cop who had just been hired as a deputy for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, portrayed himself as a 17-year-old while communicating with the girl online, according to Riverside police. Last month, he drove across the country to her home in Riverside, where he killed her mother and grandparents on the day after Thanksgiving before setting fire to the house and driving away with the girl.
Police later stopped Edwards’ car in San Bernardino County, where authorities initially said he was killed in a shootout with police. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department announced last week that Edwards actually died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The girl was found alive and uninjured.
The former law enforcement officer had troubles years before the November incident.
When Edwards was 21, police arrived at his home in Abingdon, Virginia, around 3 a.m., a few hours after the 2016 Super Bowl. When they arrived, they discovered Edwards had injured his left hand, according to the report obtained by The Times through a public records request.
His father, Christopher Roy Edwards, told police he awoke to the sound of Edwards making noise in the bathroom. He said he called out to his son, who had locked himself in the bathroom. Christopher Edwards then used a screwdriver to get the door open and saw Edwards with a cut on his hand. Christopher Edwards told police he didn’t know what his son had used to harm himself but that knives and a small hatchet had been nearby.
When officers arrived, they discovered Edwards was being held down by his father, according to the report. Christopher Edwards could not be reached for comment.
Emergency medical technicians told police that Edwards had been found by his father in the bathroom with a self-inflicted injury to his left hand and that police had been called because of Edwards’ “resistance to medical aid and attempts to escape his father’s control.”
The home had a “large presence of blood inside” and Edwards continued to resist authorities, refusing to let EMTs treat his injury and continuing to try to escape his father, according to the report. Edwards was handcuffed and placed on a stretcher to be transported to Johnston Memorial Hospital. Edwards had an “apparent serious cut to his left hand” and said in front of police officers that he was going to try to kill himself the moment he was free from handcuffs and that he would also kill his father.
Christopher Edwards told authorities that he had been watching the Super Bowl with his son the night before and they had each drank two beers.
Christopher Edwards then alerted authorities for an ambulance while his son went to his bedroom and sat on the bed, holding a pocket or folding knife in his hands and repeatedly opening and closing it, according to the report. Once Christopher Edwards told his son that an ambulance was on the way, Edwards tried to leave the apartment, but was subdued by his father in the kitchen.
Police said that Christopher Edwards had bite marks on both his arms from his son but declined medical treatment. He told authorities that he didn’t know why his son harmed himself but said it could have to do with problems in his relationship with his girlfriend.
Because of the suicidal and homicidal statements that Edwards had expressed to police, an emergency custody order was issued, under which Edwards was taken into custody and transported to a hospital, where medical professionals assessed whether he met the requirements for a temporary detention order, according to the report. A TDO, which allows law enforcement to take a person into custody and transport them for mental health evaluation or care if the person is unwilling to do so, was then issued.
Emergency custody orders are issued for a variety of reasons, including when a person may harm themselves or someone else. The order can be issued voluntarily or involuntarily and can remain in effect until a temporary detention order is issued.
On July 6, 2021, Edwards entered the Virginia State Police Academy. He graduated Jan. 21 and was assigned to Henrico County, which is within the Richmond Division. Edwards resigned from the Virginia State Police on Oct. 28 and started as a patrol deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 16. Edwards had started orientation at his agency and had been assigned to the patrol division.
Edwards never disclosed the 2016 incident to the Virginia State Police, Corinne Geller, a spokesperson for the agency, said in a statement. Geller declined to comment on the emergency custody order and the temporary detention order, saying the department was barred by law from discussing confidential records. Geller said the agency is conducting a review of Edwards’ hiring process.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Officials from the two agencies said none of Edwards’ prior employers had disclosed issues about him. Geller, the state police spokesperson, said the agency conducted a “thorough background check” as part of its hiring process, which would have included a fingerprint-based criminal history examination as well as psychological testing, though it’s not immediately clear that effort would have turned up the emergency custody order or the temporary detention order. Geller also said the agency conducted a preemployment polygraph, though it’s unclear what that test might have found.
Geller said there weren’t “any indicators of concern” during Edward’s tenure and no internal or criminal investigations were opened against him.
(Logan reported from Abingdon. Lin and Toohey reported from Los Angeles.)
Archive photos: Do you remember Virginia's biggest weather events of the 1980s?
1980: January snowstorm
The 1980s weren't yet a week old when widespread and heavy snow buried almost the entire commonwealth on Jan. 4 and 5. Numerous accidents were reported, and sagging trees also caused power outages in metro Richmond.
As of 2021, the storm is listed as Richmond's seventh-biggest snowfall on record at 14.9 inches. Williamsburg reported nearly 18 inches.
Caption from Jan. 6, 1980: GRTC Riders Cheered 'Samaritan' With Shovel - He Helped Move Bus on Semmes Avenue
1980: February snow and cold
The second of 1980's three major snowstorms hit the Tidewater region hardest on Feb. 6 and 7. At the time, the 7- to 15-inch totals in Hampton Roads were considered the heaviest so far in the century. Thousands of motorists got stranded.
Amounts were lighter in central and western sections of Virginia, but a parade of winter storms continued throughout that month. Most nights were well below freezing, with lows down to 11 degrees in the Richmond area.
Caption from Feb. 3, 1980: People young and old got out their ice skates and headed for the ice on Staples Mill pond yesterday after recent below-freezing weather turned the pond into a skaters' paradise.
1980: March blizzard
Capping off a season of major snowstorms, the blizzard of March 1-2, 1980 was widely regarded as the worst of the bunch. High winds combined with heavy snow totally shut down everyday life in the region. Several people died in central and eastern Virginia due to traffic accidents, exposure and heart attacks.
Norfolk officially reported 13.7 inches, surpassing the storm just one month earlier. There, it was the biggest accumulation since 1892 and until 1989. Richmond had 13 inches, and it's still the ninth-heaviest in the local record books.
Winter wasn't done yet: a nasty mix of ice and snow struck central and western parts of Virginia in mid-March.
1980: April hailstorms
April 1980 brought severe weather, driving rain and even some tornadoes to the commonwealth - dashing any hopes of quiet weather after a relentless winter.
On April 27, golf ball-sized hail pounded eastern Hanover County and left behind millions of dollars in damage to cars, crops, roofs and windows. No one was injured, but according to the National Weather Service two or three pet dogs in that area were killed by the storm. Richmond experienced a brief tornado that afternoon, but it left behind no damage since it hit an open field.
Hampton Roads also had a tornado and costly hailstorm earlier in that month.
Caption from April 28, 1980: Cindee Moore Holds Some of the Hail That Fell - Cars Were 'Dimpled' in Storm at Mechanicsville
1980: July derecho
The June 2012 derecho popularized the term, but it was not the first storm of its kind to strike our area. A similar event on July 5, 1980 left behind considerable wind damage in Virginia.
The line of storms began in Iowa the day before, then blasted across the Ohio Valley and West Virginia.
Winds of up to 81 mph capsized boats on the Chesapeake Bay and James River, flipped planes in Charlottesville, and left power outages and wrecked trees throughout the state. A concert at Richmond's City Stadium was called off because of high wind and rain.
Caption from July 6, 1980: A limb smashed a car's windshield at Franklin and Belvidere streets.
1980: Long, scorching summer
Highs reached the 100s at several times in the summer and early fall of 1980. By most measures, the heat wasn't as brutal as it was in 1977. But it was the first time since 1954 that Richmond experienced 100-degree heat as late as September.
The 100-degree daily record set at Richmond International Airport on Sept. 2, 1980 lasted until 2014.
From late July to mid-August, Richmond also had its longest streak (up to that time) of highs at or above 90 degrees: 17 days. That record duration was surpassed in 1993, 1995 and 2020.
Caption from Sept. 3, 1980: Pedestrians Couldn't Ignore Temperatures in Richmond
1980: Drought takes hold
After a snowy winter, wet spring and stormy summer, dry conditions began to dominate Virginia in the second half of 1980.
Caption from Sept. 8, 1980:
While it may sound good in a bar, to a fisherman, dry and on the rocks can be an occupational hazard. Hershul England, a long-time James River fisherman, pounded the rocks yesterday looking for water and a good place to sink a line in the south channel of the river near Belle Island. During normal flow, the rocks would be covered by rushing waters. But England said yesterday that the river was the lowest he has seen it since a drought in 1966.
1980: December's icy chaos
The rain was light and the low pressure was weak, but temperatures were just cold enough to turn roads and sidewalks across Virginia into an ice rink on the morning of Dec. 23, 1980.
Hundreds of accidents tied up the pre-Christmas highways, while hospitals treated "an unusual amount" of injuries due to falls. Even tow trucks had trouble navigating.
Wintry mix snarled roads again on Dec. 27-28.
Caption from Dec. 24, 1980:
Wrecker Begins to Clear Jahnke Road of Auto Litter
Accidents in Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield Totaled About 740
1981: Driest winter worsens drought
A major drought that formed in late 1980 was most pronounced in early 1981, but its effects lingered through that year. Much of Virginia was classified in 'severe' drought conditions in January and February with low stream flows reported well into the spring.
This was Virginia's driest January and driest December-to-February (climatological winter) on record.
Caption from Jan. 18, 1981:
Usually Water-Covered, Charlottesville Reservoir Beach Illustrates Widespread Drought
1981: January cold
Virginia experienced frigid temperatures during the first half of January 1981, with lows as cold as 2 degrees in Richmond, 2 below in Ashland and 9 below in Wytheville. This was unusual given the lack of snow cover. Three deaths due to exposure were reported by the NWS.
Richmond observed eight nights below 10 degrees during the winter of 1981. That was not as unusual when we had a cooler climate, and has not occurred since then.
Caption from Jan. 11, 1981:
The ice on Fountain Lake in Byrd Park is finally more than 3 inches thick, allowing skaters a chance to glide where paddle boats were peddled this summer.
1981: Icy rivers
January's cold weather froze the Potomac River, which tied up navigation. A 150-by-75-foot, 1,100-ton iceberg in the Rappahannock threatened to smash the Highway 360 bridge, but a well-timed thaw came to the rescue.
Caption from Jan. 18, 1981:
Lt. Cmdr. Duane Preston Blasts Ice From Buoy With Shotgun
(The Coast Guard cutter Madrona tended to the ice-jammed Potomac River near Quantico)
1981: Wild February cold front
Mid-February 1981 saw an unusual sequence of extreme weather.
A sharp cold front spawned a rare midwinter tornado in the Bellwood area of Chesterfield County on Feb. 11. Winds howled at 50 to 60 mph statewide.
Highs plummeted from the 60s ahead of that front to 30s the next day, with lows in the teens.
Then, a very strong high pressure system set Richmond's all-time high reading of 1051 millibars on Feb. 13.
Caption from Feb. 12, 1981:
Roof blown off nearby building is draped over Reynolds Reclamation Plant
Besides causing structural damage, storm knocked out power lines to plant and halted operations there
1981: June thunderstorms
In 1981, Virginia welcomed the rain from June's storms. But metro Richmond had a rather violent one on June 17, which toppled numerous trees, coated yards with golf ball-sized hail and blocked streets with floodwater.
Caption from June 18, 1981:
Bicyclists look at tree damage on W. Thomas Rice property on Riverside Drive
High wind, officially described as small tornado, swept across James River and cut across Rice property
1981: Tropical Storm Bret
Lots of tropical storms affect Virginia, but very few ever make direct landfall on the Eastern Shore.
On July 1, 1981, Tropical Storm Bret did just that, because it moved due west out of the Atlantic. But Bret was small and got weaker as it neared land, so no serious damage was reported at the coast. After crossing the Chesapeake Bay, Bret brought beneficial rains to inland areas and dissipated near Shenandoah National Park.
1981: James River runs low
After a year of drought, the sixth-lowest ebb on record at Richmond's Westham gauge (as of 2021) occurred on Sept. 30, 1981 – 3.12 feet. It has not gone any lower in the 40 years since, according to NWS data. The all-time low was 2 feet on Sept. 22, 1966.
Caption from Oct. 12, 1981:
More rocks than usual are exposed as James River is at lowest level in 11 years
Taken from Richmond's Boulevard Bridge looking east
1982: Arctic January
Two major outbreaks of cold, Arctic air swept across Virginia in mid-January 1982.
Richmond had lows down to 4 degrees during both cold waves, and a high of just 16 at one point. Most areas to the west dropped well below zero. Waves of snow and sleet easily stuck. Plumbers and auto mechanics were busy with repairs. In Lynchburg, fire hydrants froze.
Put together, the cold weather claimed five lives across Virginia and a conservative estimate of 34 injuries.
Staff photo taken Jan. 12, 1982
1982: January ice storm
A thick, troublesome glaze of sleet and freezing rain coated central Virginia for several days in mid-to-late January 1982.
Caption from Jan. 25, 1982:
Ice Capades – Richmond style
Shovel in hand, a resident in the 1800 block Porter St. tries to transform the icy landscape by his yard into a sidewalk again... With warmer temperatures predicted by the end of the week, maybe everyone will be able to retire their snow shovels for a while.
1982: April winds
High winds blasted Virginia three times during the first week of April 1982 as cold fronts and lows swept the region. At times, gusts up to 70 mph were strong enough to cause major building damage and shove trucks off of highways. The wind created unusual problems for southeastern Virginia by fanning wildfires and kicking up dust to the point of zero visibility.
Caption from April 7, 1982:
Victim of the winds
Yesterday's fierce winds, which reached more than 70 mph in some areas, caused thousands of dollars in property damage across the state. This barn, on state Route 42 in western Augusta County, was one of the victims. The winds also were blamed in one death and three injuries, and caused thousands of power outages.
1982: Only one tornado
Only one tornado was confirmed in the entire state during 1982: a relatively weak one hit Newport News on June 1. In the 1980s, Virginia averaged six tornadoes per year. No year since then has had so few, but counts have also increased simply due to better radar surveillance and more thorough reporting.
Caption from Aug. 2, 1982:
Meteorologist Dan Elliott scans radar screen at Volens weather station in Halifax County.
1982: August storm
On Aug. 17, 1982, thunderstorm winds ripped a 300-foot section of the roof of a motel in Mint Springs, near Staunton. The rooms were mostly unoccupied, but four people were injured. A block of concrete debris landed in the crib of an infant who avoided serious harm.
Caption from Aug. 19, 1982:
Cars caught under damaged roof sections were extricated yesterday as cleanup began
1982: October nor'easter
1982 was one of the quietest Atlantic hurricane seasons in modern records. But a strong nor'easter-like coastal low, which coincided with high tides, caused extensive erosion and seawall damage in Hampton Roads on Oct. 24 and 25. Peak gusts were around 75 mph.
1983: February snowstorm
A major winter storm on Feb. 10-11, 1983 dumped upwards of 8 inches of snow across most of Virginia, and as much as 32 inches in spots near Luray and Woodstock.
A freighter capsized off Chincoteague during the storm, with 33 fatalities. In addition to travel disruption, the heavy snow also collapsed sheds, barns and outbuildings.
For some areas it was the heaviest snow in several decades, and it's still the heaviest storm on record for a few locales in the Shenandoah Valley.
Richmond's total of 17.7 inches ranked this as the third-biggest snowfall on record behind 1940 and 1922.
1983: Extremely dry summer
Virginia's second-driest summer on record reignited drought conditions. The statewide precipitation average from June through August was just 7.72 inches, a little over half of normal. The driest summer was in 1930.
In August, Richmond set daily record highs of 102 degrees – twice.
Original caption from Aug. 15, 1983:
Dr. Hill Carter Sr. looks over the dry bottom of a pond in Hanover County during the summer drought.
1983: Tropical Storm Dean
Only four storms formed in the 1983 hurricane season, but one took aim squarely at Virginia: Tropical Storm Dean on Sept. 30.
Like Bret two years earlier, it did not cause significant damage in the commonwealth despite making a direct hit. Winds were around 45 mph at landfall, beach erosion was minor and inland rainfall was light.
1983: August storms
Violent storms broke the hot and dry August weather, sweeping the state from west to east on both Aug. 22 and 23. Several people were injured by falling trees and lightning. Hail and wind wrecked crops throughout Southside.
Costly storms also struck on Aug. 11, when winds damaged or destroyed dozens of mobile homes in Clifton Forge and a factory in Bristol.
Original caption from Aug. 23, 1983:
Volkswagen smashed by tree on Stuart Ave.
1983: September swelter
The summer of 1983 brought the hottest high temperatures to the state (on average) since the 1950s. The sweltering weather persisted into early September, when highs reached 100 degrees in Richmond on Sept. 11.
To this day, that remains the latest date for an official triple-digit reading in Richmond.
Sept. 8, 1983
Kids out of school early gathered on the rocks along the James River
1983: October tornado outbreak
Oct. 13, 1983 saw seven tornadoes strike Virginia, affecting portions of Prince Edward, Nottoway, Amelia, Goochland, Louisa, Charlotte, Fauquier, Orange and Fairfax counties, plus Falls Church. The strongest and most damaging ones hit the Lake of the Woods and Falls Church areas, but there were no deaths and only minor injuries reported.
Downburst winds also caused considerable damage in the middle tier of the state.
Original caption from Oct. 14, 1983:
Arden K. Stauffer inspects damage to his home at Lake of the Woods development at Locust Grove in Orange County after a tornado apparently touched down last night.
1983: Coldest Christmas
Temperatures took a severe plunge in late December, bringing the coldest Christmas on record for most of Virginia.
On Dec. 25, 1983, Richmond woke up to a low of just 3 degrees and only hit a high of 14 – remarkably cold for having no snow on the ground. In the mountains, highs were in the single digits with lows as cold as 20 below zero.
To the north and west of Richmond, freezing rain on the 21st and 22nd caused thousands of accidents and outages.
Five deaths in Virginia were attributed to the cold outbreak, and nearly 150 others nationwide.
Since then, Richmond has recorded only one colder high temperature: 12 degrees on Jan. 19, 1994.
Original caption from Dec. 28, 1983:
Ice streamed down the side of the Hotel John Marshall yesterday from burst water pipes in an upper floor. Broken waterlines at Thalhimers' downtown store interrupted sales in a number of departments. Both firms reported only minor damage from the water.
1984: A wet year
In a reversal from the year before, rain was abundant in the first part of 1984. Virginia had the wettest January-to-May on record up to that point, though it was later surpassed in 1998 and 2003.
The result was flooding. One mid-February rainstorm in particular dumped 5 to 6 inches of rain along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
While not especially severe, the flooding of the James River in Richmond was the highest since 1979, while the Potomac reached heights not seen since 1972.
Flooded James River in Richmond taken Feb. 15, 1984
1984: March coastal storm
An intense low pressure system brought snow, rain, coastal flooding and severe winds to Virginia in late March 1984. The same system caused a deadly tornado outbreak in North Carolina.
Most of the damage in Virginia was related to tidal flooding along the lower Chesapeake Bay, which was described as the worst in over 20 years. Several hundred homes were inundated on the Eastern Shore, and nearly 75% of Tangier Island was flooded.
Inland areas either saw flooding rains or heavy snow.
Original caption from March 30, 1984:
The James River overflows its banks today along Riverside Drive, east of the Huguenot Bridge. The river was expected to crest 6 to 7 feet above flood stage at City Locks.
1984: May tornadoes in the Tri-Cities
A decade before the infamous 1993 outbreak, another swarm of tornadoes took aim at the Tri-Cities on May 8, 1984.
Damage paths were confirmed in Petersburg, Hopewell, Charles City County and the Matoaca area of Chesterfield County.
The Petersburg and Hopewell tornadoes were both rated F3, and damaged a number of sturdy, large buildings like hospitals and chemical plants. Only 15 injuries were reported and no deaths.
Residents of Colonial Heights and Dinwiddie County spotted funnel clouds, but much of the damage in those areas was from high straight-line winds. Storms also swept Tidewater.
May 9, 1984: In Petersburg, two flattened Lincolns sit on South Street where the wall of a building fell
1984: May tornadoes in the Tri-Cities
Caption from May 9, 1984: Trees and utility poles litter Market and Wythe streets and block traffic in Petersburg
1984: Hot weather at odd times
The summer of 1984 was rather cool in the middle, but bracketed by record heat in early June and early September.
Rainfall slowed down substantially after a wet start to the year, so 1984 finished with near-normal precipitation.
After an uncharacteristic late September cold snap, Virginia then had its warmest October since 1941. Bizarrely, temperatures steadily rose throughout the month, and approached 90 degrees (and set more records) by the 20th.
Original caption from June 12, 1984:
The level of the James River has dropped recently because of the hot, dry weather
1985: All-time low in January
Bitter cold blasted into Virginia on Jan. 20, 1985, shattering both records and utility lines.
Mountain Lake Biological Station in Giles County recorded a low of 30 below zero on Jan. 21, which set the all-time record low anywhere in Virginia. It edged out the 29 below in Monterey on Feb. 10, 1899. Mountain Lake had a high of 10 below zero, which was also the state's coldest high on record.
Every part of the commonwealth except for the Eastern Shore was below zero that morning.
Richmond plummeted to 6 below zero, with a wind chill of 27 below (using the current calculation). There hasn't been a colder reading here since.
The cold wave was accompanied by a few to several inches of snow over most of Virginia.
Ironically, Virginia enjoyed 70s on New Year's Day.
Photo taken Jan. 10, 1985:
Traffic was backed up for about two miles following an accident on I-95. There were no serious injuries.
1985: June storms
Severe storms left their mark in June 1985. June 5 was a particularly active day for wind, hail and lightning. Gusts blew out windows at Kings Dominion, while lightning killed 22 cattle in Lunenburg.
Photo taken June 5, 1985:
A live wire, hit by lightning, burns a tree at Brook Road near Overbrook Road in Richmond.
1985: July flash flood
Nearly 3 inches of rain swamped Interstate 95 and the Downtown Expressway in Richmond on July 13, 1985.
Photo taken July 13, 1985:
Five-foot-deep water closed a low area on Interstate 95 by the Belvidere toll plaza
1985: July tornadoes / Tropical Storm Bob
Tornadoes spawned by Tropical Storm Bob left damage in Hanover, Goochland, Albemarle and Greene counties on July 25, 1985.
Photo taken July 26, 1985
Toppled tree smashed into Glenn Simmons' home in Mechanicsville
1985: August floods / Danny
After striking Louisiana, the remnants of Hurricane Danny dumped 3 to 7 inches of rain across a broad swath of Virginia on Aug. 17-18, 1985. Flash floods left cratered and eroded roads.
Danny dumped 5.58 inches of rain at Richmond International Airport, which was the rainiest day there since 1955 (Connie) and until 2004 (Gaston).
Photo taken Aug. 18, 1985:
Flooding on the 5900 block of Midlothian Turnpike
1985: Hurricane Gloria
Menacing Hurricane Gloria raced up the Eastern Seaboard on Sept. 27, 1985 but avoided a direct hit on Virginia.
The eye passed over Hatteras Island while it was a Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds. It came ashore again later that day on Long Island, N.Y. Thousands evacuated low-lying Tidewater neighborhoods ahead of the storm, but damage was less than feared. Still, up to 8 inches of rain soaked Tidewater and Gloria's waves claimed a fishing pier in Virginia Beach.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel recorded sustained winds of 94 mph with a gust to 104 mph.
Sept. 27, 1985:
Al Wible listens to news in Norfolk's full Granby High gym
1985: November flood
Virginia's biggest weather disaster of the 1980s was the major flooding in early November 1985.
The remnants of a Gulf hurricane named Juan, followed by a moisture-rich upper low, soaked Virginia’s mountains with 4 to 12 inches of rain over several days. One station in Nelson County had nearly 20 inches of rain. Floods rapidly escalated in Roanoke on Nov. 4, where some of the greatest devastation and loss of life occurred. On Nov. 5 – the day of the gubernatorial election – the James River surged to record levels in Lynchburg.
As Richmond braced for floodwaters to arrive, the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula dealt with 5 to 8 feet of inundation and 60 mph winds from a coastal low. For some, it was the most severe coastal flooding in a generation.
Richmond's Westham gauge hit 24.77 feet on Nov. 7, 1985, its third-highest mark in modern times behind Agnes and Camille. There hasn't been a major flood there (over 22 feet) in the 35 years since.
In Virginia, 3,500 homes were destroyed and 18,000 people were evacuated, according to NWS reports. The floods claimed 22 lives and cost $1.9 billion (in 2020 dollars).
Nov. 6, 1985
Spectators watch the rising James River from a railroad bridge in Richmond
1985: November flood
Virginia experienced its wettest November in 1985, as evidenced by the massive flooding, but it was also the warmest November on record for the state. It's the only instance of two coinciding monthly superlatives (on a statewide level) in data going back to 1895.
Richmond's first freeze of fall held off until Dec. 2, the latest on record.
Photo taken Nov. 7, 1985:
The James River creeps onto the 14th Street Bridge during the worst flooding since Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972.
1985: November flood
Photo taken Nov. 7, 1985:
Boats were necessary to navigate North 19th Street in Richmond
1985: November flood
Photo taken Nov. 7, 1985:
Richmond's bridges act as benchmarks for the major flooding on the James River
1985: November flood
Photo taken Nov. 7, 1985:
James M. Miller, owner of the Spur gasoline station at 1615 E. Broad St., measures the amount of fuel in an underground tank as floodwaters close in.
1985: November flood
Photo taken Nov. 7, 1985:
Floodwaters surround Main Street Station in Richmond
1985: November flood
Photo taken Nov. 8, 1985:
The James River covered the 17th Street Farmers Market
1985: November flood
Photo taken Nov. 14, 1985:
A crushed car at the Salem Village Mobile Home Park demonstrated the terrifying force of the floodwaters in the Roanoke area.
1986: Virginia's driest spring
After the flood year of 1985, it was back to drought in 1986.
Precipitation across Virginia averaged 6.35 inches between March and May, well short of the typical 11. It remains the state's driest spring on record.
1986: Summer drought
June was a record-dry month for Virginia, then July and August gradually turned wetter. But rains came too late for farmers and their crops. Across the drought-stricken South, it was a $4 billion agricultural disaster (adjusted to 2021).
Photo taken July 11, 1986
Tomatoes blackened by blossom rot from drought in Hanover County. Only half of the crop was expected to go to market.
1986: Hurricane Charley
Hurricane Charley swiped eastern Virginia on Aug. 17, 1986 after coming ashore in North Carolina.
Charley wasn't as powerful as Gloria had been a year earlier, but still caused considerable disruption: 110,000 without power and 250 trees down across Hampton Roads, flooding in Fort Monroe and a damaged pier in Norfolk.
1986: October tornadoes
Four tornadoes and severe thunderstorm winds ripped through southeastern Virginia on the morning of Oct. 14, 1986, leaving damage in Brunswick, Charles City, Surry, James City, Sussex, Prince George and Dinwiddie counties.
Hopewell was hit by a tornado for the second time in three years, though 1984 was worse in terms of damage and injuries.
Photo taken Oct. 15, 1986
In Sussex County, Laura Toombs and her brother, Thomas Eastwood, look at what remains of the bedroom he was sleeping in when an oak tree destroyed that portion of the house.
1987: January snowstorms
January 1987 was a dream for snow-lovers – and a nightmare for the winter-weary.
The first of two big snowstorms blanketed the commonwealth (except for Hampton Roads) on Jan. 22. The heaviest generally fell between Lynchburg and Fredericksburg, but Richmond was shut down by 7.4 inches of snow.
Photo taken Jan. 23, 1987: Passers-by help motorist at 7th and Grace streets
1987: January snowstorms
Before the first snowstorm could even melt off, another piled high on Jan. 25-26, 1987. Once again, the middle tier of Virginia had the most, but Tidewater got in on more of the accumulations. Richmond picked up 8.4 inches.
The combined totals of 20 to 30 inches across the central Piedmont between Lynchburg and Fredericksburg made it the snowiest week of the past 60 years for that region.
Photo taken Jan. 22, 1987:
Snow falls at 3rd and Broad streets
1987: February wind
High winds kicked up following a cold front on Feb. 8, 1987. Gusts up to 65 mph were strong enough to blow trailers off highways and collapse buildings under construction in Henrico County, resulting in three injuries.
The system also brought snow to both the mountains and Eastern Shore, which created whiteout blizzard conditions due to the wind.
Photo taken Feb. 9, 1987:
The town house that collapsed was between other units in the Shannon Green development near West Broad Street and Parham roads in Henrico County.
1987: Snowy, icy February
Wintry weather hammered Virginia again on Feb. 16-17, 1987. Sleet and freezing rain followed by heavy snow hit central areas, while ice and wind were the main problem for southeastern Virginia.
Another heavy wintry mix cut power to a quarter-million homes in Northern Virginia on Feb. 22, then heavy snow buried the southwest on Feb. 27.
Photo taken Feb. 17, 1987:
Randy Alley, 8, 'surfs' as brother Stewart Alley, 6, watches.
1987: April snowstorm
One of the heaviest snows on record for the Cumberland Mountains of far southwest Virginia actually came during springtime.
Areas north and west of Roanoke saw several inches accumulate between April 2-5, 1987, while nearly 3 feet slammed the region between Grundy and Norton. Even Richmond got a trace of flakes.
1987: April floods
The heavy snow melted, then came the heavy rains. April 1987 brought the second-biggest James River flood of the 1980s (and sixth-biggest of all time) to Richmond, though it did not surpass Election Day 1985.
The Westham gauge crested at 21.91 feet on April 18.
Issues were widespread, with flooding on the Roanoke, Dan, South, Shenandoah, Mayo and Maury rivers. Augusta County was particularly hard-hit. Three fatalities were reported in Virginia along with six injuries.
Photo taken April 18, 1987:
Looking north across floodwaters from the Maury Street exit on Interstate 95
1987: Wettest April on record
Virginia averaged nearly 7 inches of rain in April 1987, nearly twice the usual amount. That made it the state's wettest April on record. The highest monthly total came from Glasgow in Rockbridge County with 13.74 inches.
After the major mid-April floods, there was more heavy rain and inundation on the 23rd through 25th.
Photo taken April 18, 1987:
Water inundated a public parking lot in Shockoe Bottom at the Farmers' Market
1987: September floods
An unnamed tropical depression came up from South Carolina, met with a cold front and resulted in another bout of flash flooding and river flooding across Virginia in early-to-mid September, 1987. As much as 10 inches of rain fell in the foothills, with several inches widespread across the mountains.
The western Piedmont counties reported the most damage and closures.
Photo taken Sept. 8, 1987:
Young pedestrians wade through floodwater along Market Street in Scottsville
1987: Surprise November snow
1987 bookended that unusually heavy and late spring snow in April with one of the earliest autumn snowstorms in November.
Veterans Day 1987 was especially memorable due to a surprise snowfall in central and northern Virginia, arriving just two days after temperatures well into the 70s. Traffic jams stranded commuters and schoolchildren. Some suburbs of Washington had upwards of 1 foot on Nov. 11, 1987. Richmond had nearly 5 inches.
Snow weighs down a tree following an unusually early storm on Nov. 11, 1987
1988: January snow
There was tough competition for a snowstorm to stand out in the wintry 1980s. The Jan. 7-8, 1988 event is probably best remembered across the Deep South, but delivered widespread several-inch totals across Virginia.
Photo taken Jan. 8, 1988:
Workers clear heavy snow at 2nd and Grace streets
1988: Summer drought
Dry conditions gradually worsened by the summer of 1988. Though it was not as severe as the 1980-81 and 1986 droughts, yields for tobacco, barley and field corn were significantly down in Virginia.
July and August were persistently hot, though peak readings were not exceptionally high as was the case earlier in the decade.
Much of the U.S. experienced a hot and dry summer in 1988. Drought conditions were even worse through the Midwest and Northern Plains.
Photo taken July 1, 1988
Hay trucked to Charlotte Court House for shipment to Ohio by Albert L. Jackson (left) and David Moore, member of the board of supervisors. Ohio farmers had sent assistance to Virginia's farmers two years earlier.
1988: July storms
The rain was welcome, the wind was not.
A severe but localized storm on July 9, 1988 knocked down 300 trees in northern sections of Richmond and cut power to 77,500 homes. The damage estimates ran into the millions.
Spotty reports of thunderstorm wind damage were common in Virginia throughout that month.
Photo taken July 12, 1988:
Mike Barry cutting a tree knocked over by a storm at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
1988: Coldest October
No one born after October 1988 has experienced a record-cold month for Virginia. That was the last time the statewide average hit a low monthly extreme.
Since then, monthly heat records fell for March (2012), December (2015), February and April (2017), May (2018) and July (1993, 2012 and 2020) as the climate continues to warm.
The commonwealth's coolest October saw Richmond's growing season end early on Oct. 14, 1988 with a daily record low of 27 degrees.
1988: November tornadoes
Seven tornadoes struck North Carolina and Virginia before dawn on Nov. 28, 1988. An F4 tornado killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes in the Raleigh area.
The same thunderstorm cells continued spawning tornadoes in southeastern Virginia. Parts of Brunswick, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties saw damage, but only one injury was reported.
Photo taken Nov. 29, 1988:
The tornado that roared through northern Brunswick County blew this tractor-trailer off its wheels on Interstate 85.
1989: February snowstorms
Back-to-back snowstorms hit Virginia in February 1989. In an uncommon twist, the heaviest fell in the far eastern and southern sections.
The first system brought up to 18 inches near the North Carolina border and nearly 8 inches in Richmond by Feb. 17-18.
The second storm blasted Hampton Roads with high wind on Feb. 23-24, leading to blizzard conditions, coastal flooding, drifts and power outages.
At 15.4 inches, that surpassed the 1980 totals to go down as the second-largest snowstorm in Norfolk history. Much of Tidewater had 2 feet of snow in a little over one week's time.
Photo taken Feb. 18, 1989
Traffic on Huguenot Road near the Chesterfield Towne Center had to wait while the plow train worked. The state's cleanup effort included 3,500 trucks and 4,500 people.
1989: Wild spring weather
May 1989 hurled a bewildering mix of weather extremes at Virginia.
Severe thunderstorms roared across the state on multiple days throughout the first week of the month, hitting central and southern sections particularly hard.
Vicious winds smashed trees into nearly 100 Chesterfield homes, and Richmond International Airport clocked a 79 mph gust. Two tornadoes touched down in Louisa County, and another two in Northumberland County.
Flash flooding was considerable and widespread, which then ran off into river flooding.
Then, Southwest Virginia saw an unusually late snowfall on May 7 and 8, perhaps the most widespread recent example for the month. Roughly 3 inches fell around Grayson County and Wise. Most areas west of the Blue Ridge saw at least a trace.
Photo taken May 2, 1989:
A worker leaned from his boat to clear debris from the water at Deltaville Marina after a storm blew the roofs off several boathouses in the area. The wind's path crossed the Piankatank and Rappahannock rivers.
1989: June tornadoes and storms
Metro Richmond was wrecked by four days of severe storms in mid-June 1989. Much of it was due to straight-line winds, but there were two notable tornadoes as well.
On June 16, 1989, a tornado rated F1 downed hundreds of trees between The Country Club of Virginia and Willow Lawn, but no one was hurt.
Another F1 tornado also hit the Midlothian area on June 13.
Photo taken June 16, 1989:
Cars had to be routed around the intersection of River Road and Cary Street, where trees toppled onto the pavement. Winds estimated at more than 60 mph swept through the Richmond area, downing trees and knocking out power to about 45,000 homes.
1989: Hurricane Hugo
Hurricane Hugo blasted southwestern Virginia on Sept. 22, 1989, after a devastating landfall in South Carolina and destructive trek through the Charlotte area.
Gusts up to 81 mph downed trees onto roads, cars and homes, killing six people and leaving $60 million in damage. Grayson and Carroll counties were hit the hardest.
One day after Hugo struck the state, a powerful cold front swept through on Sept. 23, 1989. At the State Fair of Virginia, 14 people were injured when high winds toppled a large balloon into the crowd. In Tidewater, dozens of boaters were rescued from capsized vessels.
Photo taken Sept. 25, 1989:
Martin Astrop, Donna Carpenter (center) and Edith Lanier, helping to load a van at Experience Inc. with relief supplies, were among the many Richmond area residents, firms and agencies pitching in to help the thousands of victims of Hurricane Hugo.
1989: October floods / Jerry
The remnants of Hurricane Jerry brought localized but heavy rain to Dickenson and Buchanan counties on Oct. 17, 1989. The flash flooding damaged or destroyed many homes and businesses, which displaced 30 families and cost millions in losses.
1989: November wind
Nov. 15-16, 1989 saw a large and deadly severe weather outbreak in the southern and eastern United States.
The line of storms brought numerous instances of wind damage throughout Virginia, and one tornado in Amelia County.
Just four days later, another cold front kicked up high winds that brought more outages, structural damage and brush fires.
1989: White Thanksgiving
The most recent white Thanksgiving in central Virginia came with the added misery of icy roads and power outages.
Freezing rain and sleet limited Richmond’s snow accumulation to about 1 inch on Nov. 23, 1989, but 4- to 6-inch totals landed on the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia.
Ice-coated tree limbs fell onto power lines from the Richmond metro area to Southside and forced thousands of families to spend the holiday without electricity.
Ice coated the trees and snow covered the ground at Bethany Place Baptist Church in Chesterfield County on Nov. 23, 1989.
1989: Second-coldest December
The chill in December 1989 wasn't as severe as the cold waves in 1982, 1983 or 1985. But it was persistent, which drove the monthly average down to rival the state's all-time coldest December in 1917.
In Richmond, that December had nine days with a high at or below freezing. That was the highest such count since 1945, and the last time we had so many cold days during the month.
Photo taken Dec. 12, 1989:
Thomas Jefferson High School students (from left) Terri Jackson, Martha Childress and Jennifer Smith walk beneath snow-covered trees near West Grace Street and Commonwealth Avenue
1989: December snow
The 1980s went out the way they came in: with lots of snow.
Rather than falling from one blockbuster storm, a parade of smaller systems kept snow on the ground – and some roads – for three to four weeks in metro Richmond. The monthly total at RIC airport was close to 10 inches.
Photo taken Dec. 13, 1989:
A car navigates a snowy curve near Koger Center Boulevard
1989: White Christmas
Much of the Commonwealth had snow lingering on the ground by Dec. 25, 1989. Technically, Richmond had a trace at the airport, which is slightly too low to qualify. But Ashland still had several inches of snow cover.
With a few exceptions, it was the first white Christmas around the region since 1981.
Photo taken Dec. 8, 1989:
Statues at James Center hold down the form amid snow