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Camille 50 Years Later: Nelson County's nightmare downpour left behind clues in buckets and barrels

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Camille rainfall in Va.

Map of Camille's rainfall contours (labeled, in white) atop Virginia's topography and county boundaries.

Rockfish observer

Original notes of the weather observer in Rockfish, Va. in Nelson County, one of the few cooperative observers in the disaster area. The monthly log shows the rain starting after 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 19 and ending before 5 a.m. the following morning, with a total of 12.89 inches during the storm at that location. Additional notes state: "Flood waters higher than oldest resident could remember."

RTD 27 inches

The announcement of a 27-inch total in Nelson County made front page news on Aug. 28, 1969. A 31-inch amount was reported by the Weather Bureau and USGS the following month, but retracted in 1970. Though the origin story of the higher 31-inch total (or totals) is subject to some uncertainty, it is based on reliable eyewitness accounts.

CAMILLE ANNIVERSARY_BB64

Buck Johnston, whose father is said to have measured 31 inches of rain in a 55-gallon barrel after Camille’s rain, stands near his former home near Hat Creek, northeast of Roseland in Nelson County.

Precipitable water

Computer model reconstruction of the atmosphere over North America on the morning of Aug. 20, 1969. The colors indicate the amount of moisture through the entire depth of the atmosphere, relative to normal. The bright red streak over Virginia represents the anomalously moist air associated with Camille.

Heavy rain areas during tropical systems

Map from a 2005 study by the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, showing areas along the Blue Ridge that typically see the heaviest upslope rain when tropical systems pass through the region.

Aug. 20 weather map

Surface weather map from the morning of Aug. 20, 1969, showing the remnants of Camille exiting eastern Virginia and high pressure over the Great Lakes shoving a cold front offshore.

Camille track map

Map of Hurricane Camille's path between Aug. 14 and Aug. 22, 1969. It made landfall west of Gulfport, Miss. late on Aug. 17, then crossed Virginia on the morning of Aug. 20.

Airflow into Camille

Computer model reconstruction of the air masses that flowed into Virginia on the night of Aug. 19, 1969. The red line shows that the near-surface air originated over the warmer-than-normal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. The blue and green line show the paths taken by the air aloft, which loosely followed the path of Camille itself up from the Gulf of Mexico. The combination of low-level moisture and upper-level moisture meant the atmosphere was saturated over Nelson County.

Virginia rainfall

Zoomed-in view of Camille's heavy but narrow rainfall contours over Virginia.

Light orange: 1 inch or more. Orange: 3 inches. Red: 5 inches. Dark red: 7 inches. Purple: 10 inches. Blues: 15 to 27 inches.

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Check Richmond.com/weather for John Boyer’s videos and forecast updates. Contact him at JBoyer@timesdispatch.com.

Meteorologist

John Boyer is the first staff meteorologist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the RTD newsroom in November 2016. Boyer earned his degree in meteorology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

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John Boyer

John Boyer, the RTD's staff meteorologist

John Boyer is the first staff meteorologist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the RTD newsroom in November 2016 after covering severe weather on television in Tulsa, Okla.

As a native of the Roanoke area, the region’s heavy snowstorms started his fascination with Virginia’s changing weather.

Boyer earned his degree in meteorology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He is a member of the American Meteorological Society and earned their Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal in 2012.

Look for his stories in the RTD and on Richmond.com, along with videos and forecast updates for major weather events in our area.

Email him your story ideas and weather tips.

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