The Great Flood of 1995 in Madison county and Green county of north-central Virginia
was a 500-year flood. A huge thunderstorm stalled over the mountains for several
days and caused record-high flows along most of the Rapidan River. However the upper
Rapidan was spared; most of the flood torrent came down from a new gulch carved into Fork
Mountain. (See the photo below.)
The road to Rapidan Camp reopened on July 13. I took these photos July
12-16. Some portions of the valley, particularly those near Criglersville, suffered
massive damage with many fields destroyed, livestock lost, and bridges washed out.
The road into town was rebuilt within a few months, stronger than before. The
upper Rapidan was assaulted 14 months later by Hurricane Fran.
The damage in these photos is not at all representative of the entire valley--floods in
general tend to cause extreme destruction in low-lying areas and places near creeks and
rivers, but leave other land basically untouched. The Washington Post included a
large article on the Great Flood's aftermath in its June 12, 1996 Horizon section.
Before the flood, this had been the paved stretch of road at the bottom of the
mountain. The pavement turned into a riverbed, and nearly all of the road's paved
length had to be rebuilt. The process took several months--the road was rebuilt,
first with dirt and temporary culverts and bridges, and more recently with pavement and
permanent bridges. You can see the temporary gravel rebuilt road on the left. It's
amazing that the little creek on the right caused all this damage!
This is the gulch carved by huge volumes of water flowing off Fork Mountain and into at
the Rapidan River about 1.5 miles below our camp. This photo looks up a very steep slope
as the gulch dug its way down.
The splintery remains of a 2-foot diameter tree in the gulch. This tree was apparently
riding the surging current downstream when it ran into the vertical tree in the center of
the photo, and exploded around it. Among the debris at the washout where the gulch ended
at the Rapidan were dozens of trees stripped of their bark, and hundreds of rocks, some as
large as minivans.
A stand of struggling trees in the same gulch. For scale, note the person (Josh Engel)
standing in the "L" formed by the dead trees.
To show the depth and width of the gulch several minutes' hike away from the river, Chris
Cook and Josh Engel arranged a duel atop a formerly-healthy tree which bridged the gulch
at about the level the ground had been at before the flood, as Susanne Brunhart looks on
from a safe spot.
This retouched photo shows a spontaneous dam that formed in the Rapidan River about
1/2-mile below camp, diverting the flow of the river. There were many dams like
this, although most were on smaller side-flows of the river. Six years later, the
river still follows the channel carved around this.
All photos at the Rapidan Website are copyrighted by Tom
Jones, and may not be used any further than routine WorldWide Web browsing without