#vawx Has it really been 15 years?!!

Time flies by more quickly with every change of the calendar. I suppose that’s how 15 years have flown by since the remnants of Hurricane Ivan fostered a tornado outbreak in northern Virginia on September 17 2004. Back then my chase gear consisted of a very early digital camera (2 MP!), a weather radio, and paper maps. Oh, and NO mobile data.

After reviewing the data we had access to and extrapolating from radar trends we – my son, his then-fiance (now wife) and I – motored northwest in a two car convoy up U.S. Route 17 from our home in the Fredericksburg area. Cruising the back roads of Fauquier county we finally found a spot from which we witnessed the storm approaching from the south:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Continuing on those rural roads we found an open farm field from which we called in a tornado report based on our view of the storm base, large wall cloud, and the top half of a persistent and robust funnel. (A distant tree-line obscured our view of the ground.) NWS Sterling issued a tornado warning on that storm shortly thereafter. That tornado was later rated an F3 per their damage survey.

Continuing northwest on Rte 17 we turned north on U.S. Route 29 toward Warrenton. After we diverted onto more back roads we wound up just behind the tornado, driving through parts of the damage path just as law enforcement officials were closing the side roads. We finally came out again on Rte 29 northeast of town and stopped on the shoulder with this view of the tornado less than 400 yards away:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Despite Рagain! Рnot having a clear view of the ground to tell whether the circulation was on the ground we realized it was still a tornado when we re-entered  the damage path not far north of our roadside vantage point.

Given that it was a Friday afternoon and the traffic streaming out of the DC area was rising to epic proportions we turned east on a side road, stopping literally in the damage path as the parent storm bulldozed northward. We did watch a couple other storms and saw another funnel that afternoon but we’d already encountered the strongest tornado of the outbreak.


#vawx A pleasant short-radius nonsevere chase.

It’s been a long dry spell, both in terms of rainfall and for storms. I didn’t chase yesterday’s Marginal Risk setup that fired a number of strong to severe storms across Central and Southside Virginia for a couple of reasons (hey, it was my birthday!). And after reviewing the short range models this morning I wasn’t enthused about the chances of anything worthwhile to chase this afternoon.

However amid the abundance of horizontal convective rolls obvious on radar today several storms did fire within a decent radius of home. I made a quick decision and rolled down the driveway after 3:00 pm to head east via U.S. Route 460. A complex had built over Botetourt county and was moving south-southeast across the Blue Ridge mountains toward Bedford. However given my late start it looked pretty doubtful that I could intercept it. Fortunately more cells erupted to the west.

Turning south on VA Route 122 I dove down to a known vantage point and aimed the chasemobile westward at a growing storm.

This was my initial view of that western storm. None of the cells I saw today showed much structure or had any other notable features.first look at Bedford storm

I switched on the livestream right at 4:00 pm for the local TV station and sat back to enjoy both this storm and a couple rumbling behind me. At one point I turned around and noticed a very low rainbow arcing across the horizon to the east:eastern rainbow

I also kept an eye on a tower going up literally over my head as I was a bit leery of being targeted by the first CG from a new storm. (I literally had to bend backwards a bit to aim the lens at this updraft.)overhead updraft

After listening to the thunder rumble and witnessing a few CGs I switched off the livestream after 30 minutes to head home. I was pretty certain that this activity wouldn’t intensify – and would likely not last long – given the parameters I’d seen on the morning model runs.

I was right…and I was also home for dinner!

#vawx A decided lack of chasing lately

The 2019 chase season has come to a screeching halt for me. Some of it is due to my schedule and resulting unavailability to chase but most of it is due to a lack of interesting storms. Even the past couple of “cold” fronts haven’t generated much of interest other than some colorful sunlit updrafts.

Climatologically the rest of the season is dependent on tropical remnants. Dorian won’t provide any chaseable action given its predicted track so we’ll have to see what the next few weeks brings. Meanwhile here’s a throwback to September 27th 2002 – my first chase season – when the remnants of Isidore plowed through Virginia. This low quality photo was of a massive wall cloud over rural Culpeper county.

Wall cloud try_3

Photo by Nathan White

This storm and several others went tornado-warned that afternoon and evening. We didn’t see any discernible funnels but there was a plethora of wall clouds given the low level helicity values from those tropical remnants.

I could use another productive chase or two this year. We’ll see.


#vawx An OK Friday chase that didn’t meet expectations

Friday August 23rd featured a cold front sagging south across the Old Dominion. Several of the short range models indicated robust convection and some decent updraft helicity (i.e. storm rotation enhancement) would be present. It was enough to convince the Storm Prediction Center to issue a Slight Risk for severe weather along and east of U.S. Route 29 followed up by a Severe Thunderstorm Watch.

I headed east toward Lynchburg after 1;00 p.m. Friday, looking to intercept storms near the surface front which was progged to settle near the U.S. Route 460 corridor by late afternoon. As I motored along I noticed significant updrafts ahead of me so I continued to Appomattox where I stopped and took this initial photo of cells east of town:first look at storms E of Appomattox

I kept an eye on these and may have spied a very brief funnel dangling under what looked like an RFD cut. By the time I snapped this photo the “funnel” had dissipated somewhat:possible funnel E of Appomattox?

This was the radar view at the time:

Not sure this was robust enough to report I shrugged my shoulders, let that eastern activity go, and turned my attention to the convective line crossing the Blue Ridge, heralding the approach of the front.

To obtain a better view of things I drove north on VA Route 24 through the Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park and turned west on a rural route. Finally locating a decent vantage point I snapped this photo of an oncoming multi-layer shelf cloud:multi-layer shelf cloud nearing Appomattox

Before the precipitation arrived I dropped south through Appomattox onto more rural roads as the complex received a severe thunderstorm warning. It didn’t look very impressive on radar but the shelf cloud was certainly ominous when I was able to briefly stop and take some more photos:Shelf cloud close approach S of Appomattox

After this I egressed along several very picturesque rural roads with plenty of open farm fields. But since the precipitation was on my heels I didn’t pause much or for very long until I maneuvered my way to the Red House vicinity. I stopped in the parking lot of a country church with a nice view to the north as the local TV station used my livestream during their broadcast. This was my view of the land- and cloudscape from there:chaotic sky looking N from Red House

A sped up video clip (posted on the Virginia Storm Chasing FB page) shows the chaotic motion of the clouds at various levels, associated with the shear along the front itself. There was even some anticyclonic rotation in the cloud base at the top of the above photo.

The outflow was very evident here with gusts of 25 kts or so. Outflow!

By this time the entire complex had weakened and the severe warning had expired. I was able to navigate my way (mostly) rain-free southwest to the hamlet of Gladys on U.S. Route 301. There I turned south, rolling through Brookneal and then zipping west on VA Route 40 to get ahead of more cells building along the front.

Nearing Gretna I realized I wasn’t going to beat the rain into town so I side-stepped southward to stop and photograph a cell to the west:storm S of Gretna

This stop was at the entrance to a long farmstead driveway. While I was outside the chasemobile snapping photos I waved to the owner mowing the grass who very soon was pelted by rain from another storm bearing down from the north. Climbing back into the saddle to avoid being drenched I then motored toward home, content to let the relatively anemic looking cells trundle further south. (A couple of them did become severe-warned later along and south of the U.S. Route 58 corridor.)

When I reached the Roanoke valley the chaotic sky conditions were still evident. While waiting for traffic to clear so I could turn left I took this photo of funky scud looking east:funky scud looking E from Hollins

As it turned out Friday’S storms – both visually and on radar –¬† looked anemic compared to Thursday August 22nd. The side-by-side comparison of storm reports and the Day 1 outlook don’t jive very well:Fri SPC reports and Day1

This is even more evident compared with the same graphic for Thursday, 8/22:Thurs SPC rpts and Day1

Friday wasn’t quite a bust but it certainly wasn’t as active as a lot of folks – include me – were expecting.

#vawx Outflow boundary and lee trough action

With a short=wave trough gradually digging southward today was already on the chase calendar given the available moisture and instability. When yet another MCS crossed the Appalachians overnight into the late morning hours another factor entered the equation. Thus I rolled down the driveway just after 1:00 p.m. since an outflow boundary (OFB) from the MCS had already fired storms to the west.

I motored south first along U.S. Route 220 to Wirtz to evaluate the situation. The OFB was still west of me but another convective line was going up to the south and east along a lee trough. NWS Blacksburg had already issued a huge severe thunderstorm warning polygon that covered parts of both areas:IMG_1502

After dithering a bit I decided to continue south to Rocky Mount where I turned east on Virginia Route 40, not pausing until I reached Glade Hill. I perched at a vantage point and turned west to watch the OFB convection approach.Outflow boundary storm

These cells developed nicely as did the ones along the lee trough south and east of me, creating some personal angst as to which action to target:

I finally decided to stay with the OFB-derived convection. Just before leap-frogging east to stay ahead of the precipitation I caught sight of a developing shelf cloud under the western cell:beginnings of shelf cloud

I scooted east via Rte 40 to a Union Hall vicinity vantage point where I had this view to the west:Union Hall view

The rain-free base on the left had a bit of anti-cyclonic rotation but nothing exciting happened. Even the slight lowering near the rain shaft in the image above soon dissipated. While I was stopped there the outflow boundary arrived with surface winds of ~25 kts cooling things down.

When this precipitation neared I decided to move east and then dive south on rural roads to stay ahead of the southern section of the line. As I rolled along on Rte 40 I noticed some low hanging scud ahead of me so when I reached the metropolis of Penhook I paused to photo the leading edge of the OFB as it created an interesting cloud formation over Smith Mountain:leading edge of OFB over Smith Mtn

Diving south from Penhook on rural roads I began to notice the southern edge of the OFB convection was fading both visually and on radar, an indication that the boundary was losing its “ooomph”. Thus when I reached a road intersection with a view I stopped to check out the situation and decided to switch to a pursuit of the lee trough activity.

Motoring more east than south I stopped in the Museville vicinity to snap this shot of a hail shaft at the rear of a cell near Chatham:Hail shaft under storm near Chatham

I intended to travel north and east toward Gretna to catch up with a very active part of the line there but was thwarted by a rural route that turned out to be gravel. Quickly re-routing I instead headed east to U.S. Route 29 (on paved rural roads!), crossing that busy thoroughfare and continuing east to the hamlet of Sheva. I stopped there and decided that pursuing the line further east was fruitless since all I could see was heavy rain ahead of me.

Still, I wasn’t ready to give up yet so I compromised and motored northeast along Chalk Level Road toward VA Route 40 so I could keep an eye on things. Near Chalk Level itself I stopped to admire two different sights. One was this delightful little barn on the side of the road that Kevin Myatt (via social media) promptly dubbed the “Chia barn”:Living Barn

At the same stopping point I had this view of Kelvin-Helmholtz waves in a low level scud cloud layer to the east:KH waves east of Chalk Level

When I reached Rte 40 I finally abandoned this fully developed squall line and turned west, winding up in Rocky Mount for dinner not long after 5:00 p.m. ‘Twas an early end to a satisfying chase.

Tomorrow looks even better with a surface front possibly providing enough low level shear to make things interesting.

#vawx A local “chase” of slow-moving storms

Multiple storms were popping up and falling apart in a very low shear environment on Tuesday 8/20, sending outflow boundaries ping-ponging around the countryside to fire more storms. I thus decided the furthest I would stray from home was a local hilltop vantage point. When a series of severe warnings was issued just south of Roanoke I ventured out to said spot:

This was the overall view I had to the south with a rain-free base between two storms:first overall look at lowering

And underneath the rain-free base between the southern and southeastern cells I noticed this lowering:closeup of first lowering

I kept an eye on it but the feature soon dissipated, leaving me to wonder whether it was either a still-born shelf or wall cloud.

After watching and waiting for a bit longer I noticed another lowering in roughly the same spot:closeup of second lowering

This appeared to be scud slowly rising into the rain-free base, which seemed to herald a nascent wall cloud forming under the updraft. However this feature also lazily dissipated in the sluggish environment.

I observed for a while, noting several CG strikes under the southern cell. Finally tiring of the very slow moving action I gave up. This was my last overall view before I decided to pull up stakes and head back home:overall view of eastern storm

This seemed to be a developing shelf cloud but it never really clicked.

Thursday (8/22) and Friday (8/23) look a bit more energetic with an upper level shortwave and a surface cold front entering the picture.

#vawx Ready for a decent late summer chase opportunity

The past several weeks have provided disappointing storm views. I attribute it to (a) bad luck (missed a couple of good chase days due to conflicting schedules) and (b) way too much humidity in the air. Per the latter factor many of the storms I’ve observed lately resemble tropical downpours albeit accompanied by hail and plenty of lightning. The high humidity leads to a lack of both storm structure and visibility.

With little chance of decent storms during this torrid weekend I’ve been looking back over past August 17th intercepts. This one is from 2016 with a very nice shelf cloud over a Pittsylvania county tobacco field. (I’ve not seen many shelf clouds with this summer’s storms.)Aug 17 2016 shelf cloud near Rondo

This August 17th 2017 chase didn’t produce any decent storms due to a strong cap but the sunset views were pretty.Aug 17 2017 sunset valley view

Now I’m watching and waiting for the next chase opportunity.