#vawx A mid-July chase for the 2014 entry


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Day 13 of the “Sixteen Years of Virginia Storm Chasing” series: Once again I had several good chases from which to choose for today’s installment from the 2014 chase season. This particular account exhibits a grudging willingness to chase south of the Virginia border into northern North Carolina.

“I headed out early to get ahead of convection that was to fire ahead of a very strong July cold front. I stopped by the local TV station and picked up their summer intern who helped with navigation and social media information transmission. We located just east of Glade Hill in Franklin county to await convection along a lee trough.

When things did begin happening the action was further east than I’d expected so we pulled up stakes and blasted east on Virginia Route 40. A line of discrete storms went up ahead of us, necessitating our continuation eastward through the metropolis of Gretna. We turned southeast on the Cody Road to gain position on the northern cell.

As this cell steamed eastward we turned south on U.S. Route 501, pushing through Halifax and then eastward to keep up. As we did so we noticed a storm on radar south of us with rotation indicated. When our chosen storm began to look less promising we dove south toward South Boston to give chase to this other cell.
Continuing south out of town we caught brief glimpses of lowerings underneath this next storm until we finally found an open field. From here we switched on the live stream and snapped photos of a developing wall cloud and mesocyclone signature:meso under Virgilina storm
As this storm pushed further east and south we stayed ahead of it as best we could on rural routes, stopping just west of Virgilina for this scenic view:closeup of Virgilina storm
Turning eastbound on Virginia Route 96 – just above the North Carolina line – we passed through town and headed toward Clarksville. Just east of Virgilina we paused for another look at the southern edge of this cell as it crossed right to left in front of us:leading edge of storm E of Virgilina
As we continued eastward the rain filled in, nipping at our back bumper. To stay out of the rain – and the lowered visibility that came with it – we turned northward to get back to the U.S. Route 58 corridor. We stopped briefly at one vantage point and observed another rain-free base nearing the Clarksville vicinity with a lowering developing underneath it:lowering under Clarksville storm
When the rain obscured this feature we pulled back out onto our northward route, eventually reaching Rte 58 where we headed west toward South Boston. After filling up the chasemobile’s gas tank there we motored toward Danville with an eye toward dinner and then heading back home…but Nature had another idea.
As we rolled along one particular cell south of the North Carolina border began exhibiting signs of rotation on radar and of course we couldn’t ignore that!NC storm rotation
Diverting south toward Milton and then southwest toward Yanceyville we had tantalizing glimpses of a large lowering. Finally managing to find a rare open spot we saw this ground-scraping wall cloud a few miles north of Yanceyville:wallcloud under third storm
We live streamed from this location for a few minutes while this rotating feature came more or less right toward us. Wanting a clearer view of the underside of this very low wall cloud I pulled up stakes and wandered along several routes before giving up in frustration due to the limited sight lines. (This part of North Carolina is tough to chase in for that reason.) There was yet another cell further southwest that showed a bit of rotation but by this time we were done with stalking hard-to-see storms for the day. Dinner awaited us in Danville!”

#vawx The May 11 2013 multiple storm chase


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Day 12 of the “Sixteen Years of Virginia Storm Chasing” series: There were several candidate accounts from 2013 but this May 11th chase was the one I chose to include. It was actually a rolling reconnaissance as I returned from a family visit in northern Virginia.

“I started the chase from the Zion Crossroads interchange on I-64.  A peek at radar revealed a line of storms stretching from northeast of Richmond southwestward into central Virginia. To intercept this action I hopped on I-64 eastbound and then exited onto U.S. Route 522. Finding that 522 evaporates south of the interstate I continued via county routes down to U.S. Route 360 near Amelia Courthouse.

I stopped along Rte 360 west of the courthouse between two cells to keep an eye on both. The easternmost storm developed a wall cloud while the western storm faded:11May13 first wall cloud

Motoring east of Amelia on rural roads I caught another view of the developing wall cloud but couldn’t verify rotation on it:

11May13 second view 1st wallcloud

After sending a report to a Richmond area television station I let this cell go on its merry way eastbound. I then redirected southward toward Blackstone toward the U.S. Route 460 corridor to catch up with more storms firing to the southwest.

As I motored along my son called – he was out chasing too – and advised me to target a cell heading directly for Blackstone. Sure enough that storm went severe-warned as I moved west of town to intercept it.  I was able to get close to it and leap frog in front of it several times while watching it develop a picturesque wall cloud:11May13 second wallcloud

Between the time of the above photo and the time I conducted another leap frog maneuver and snapped this next photo (8 minutes elapsed time) the wall cloud had begun a transformation into a shelf cloud as the storm became outflow dominant:11May13 shelf cloud forming

I let this cell pass by just north of me and decided to call it a day and head west for home….but Nature had something else in mind.

I packed up my camera gear but kept the radar view going, noticing a line of convection west of the Blue Ridge. I concluded it was the actual cold front pushing eastward.  When I neared Lynchburg on Rte 460 one particular updraft directly in my path looked very impressive as it also went severe-warned.

I pushed west of the city congestion and basically raced the storm to a point where I could pull off Rte 460 to watch. I witnessed the third and most impressive wall cloud of the day as it appeared above the tree line to my west.  It tightened as it approached my location with obvious rotation characteristics:

11May13 third wallcloud

After sending in a report to NWS Blacksburg I stayed at this vantage point while this feature transited eastbound perhaps a quarter mile to my south. The worst of the precipitation was south of the wall cloud so I wasn’t concerned about hail  at my location. However I did keep a wary eye on nearby lightning and stayed inside the chasemobile.

After this storm passed by I continued homeward, completely sated with storms for the day. It was a good chase!”

#vawx 2012: The first southern VA chase season


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Day 11: This was the first chase season after a physical relocation to southwestern Virginia. My chase region thus abruptly shifted south of I-64 but still generally east of the Blue Ridge mountains. I had to learn the geography and road network in a totally new area, not to mention having to pick up on local nuances that affect storms in this region.

“My son and I headed east toward Gretna the afternoon of August 5th 2012 for some family business. As we traveled we kept an eye on the sky in case anything worth chasing showed up since there was an SPC Slight risk bordering the area.  Sure enough on our way eastward a nice storm built over the Blue Ridge mountains. A small lowering underneath a rain-free base caught our eyes as we rolled into Burnt Chimney. When this small feature dissipated we shrugged and continued merrily eastward for a few minutes until I glanced over my shoulder (my son was driving) and saw a well-formed wall cloud under the same storm.  We quickly did a u-turn and found a place to pull off the road, observe, and snap photos for a while.

structure and wall cloud

Side view of a classic supercell structure

A later view of a sped up video clip shows this wall cloud was rotating. We had to scoot east to attend to our errand in Gretna so we left the storm to itself and it inconveniently died not too long after this.

After we finished our business we peeked at radar and noticed that a convective line we could see along the Blue Ridge was heading northeast. We thus boogied north on U.S. Route 29 toward Lynchburg to intercept the “Tail-End Charlie” southern cell.  After another radar inspection we cut through back roads to U.S. Route 460 west of the city but the cell we were chasing fell apart in front of us.  We stopped for a quick dinner in Bedford and kept heading west to meet more storms that were crossing the mountains.

When we reached the outskirts of Montvale I caught a quick glimpse of an interesting feature and asked my son to pull off the road.  As we rolled to a stop this is what we saw:first view

It very much looked like a mesocyclone base with a large wall cloud and possible funnel under it. However when we checked radar there was no indication of rotation under this rapidly growing cell.  Somewhat bemused we watched as this feature not only persisted but grew to look even more impressive with rotational striations visually evident.second view

fourth view

We moved a mile further east to get a better view on the other side of the hill in the foreground but by that time the entire thing had dissipated.  I did take some shaky hand-held video but neither it nor visual observation conclusively proved that this feature was rotating.  So did we see a substantial funnel under a rapidly growing storm or not?  I reserve judgement on this one.”


#vawx April 27 2011 tornado outbreak


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Day #10 of “Sixteen Years of Virginia Storm Chasing”: April 2011 was a bad month for tornado damage and deaths in the U.S. The 27th promised a chance at a productive chase so I jumped on the opportunity.

“My pulse quickened as I perused the forecast model outputs the morning of April 27th. The wind shear (change in speed and direction) from the surface up to 18,000 feet was noteworthy and the forecast storm rotation potential for late afternoon was off the charts. I was firmly convinced this was a Northern Virginia chase day but I wasn’t sure how early I needed to head out until the Storm Prediction Center posted a tornado watch just after lunchtime for the entire area. That moved up my departure time a couple of hours!

Given the predicted southwest to northeast storm motion I concluded that my best bet was to intercept cells just after they crossed the Blue Ridge mountains and track them as they developed across the Piedmont. Thus my initial target was the U.S. Route 29 corridor but as I motored west on Virginia Route 3 I glimpsed a serious looking convective tower to the south. Stopping outside of Culpeper just after 4:00 p.m. I checked radar and realized the base of this tower was over Interstate 64 and heading northeast toward Lake Anna. What really caught my attention was that (a) the storm was already severe-warned and (b) the radar indicated it was rotating. Abandoning my original target I charged south down U.S. Route 522, crossing in front of the storm in hopes of gaining position on its southeastern side. I managed to do that – barely – and wound up near the north end of Lake Anna with a terrific view of the approaching cell.Under the meso 27Apr11

The rain shaft was just north of me as I sat directly under the rotating rain-free base of the main updraft. One good sign was that the wind was at my back as I faced the storm, meaning the system was sucking in low-level air and gathering strength.

After enjoying the view for almost 20 minutes I gave chase along the rural routes of the Spotsylvania / Orange county border area. I managed to keep the rotating base in view despite the ever present trees and winding roads but I struggled to keep up with the accelerating storm. Finally maneuvering my way onto Mine Road in Orange county I rambled eastward at the best possible speed but couldn’t get any closer as I witnessed this funnel due east of me at 5:30 p.m. (after coming to a quick stop in the roadway):Mine Rd funnel 27Apr11

By this time the storm was tornado-warned but the further east I traveled the worse traffic became. To avoid the congestion I dove southward on Brock Road and continued to Todds Tavern in Spotsylvania county. Pausing there to regain situational awareness I realized I couldn’t catch back up with this storm. However I noticed another cell to the west that also looked very promising. A quick peek at radar indicated rotation on this new storm as well so I reversed course. Heading northward to the Brock Road / Rte 3 junction near Wilderness I spotted a large lowering under another rain-free base.

Now firmly in the midst of the burgeoning afternoon rush hour I rolled eastward on Rte 3 to a crossover near the Chancellorsville battlefield that afforded a clear view of the feature. As the cell intensified I phoned in a wall cloud and funnel report at 6:00 p.m. to the National Weather Service Sterling office which issued a tornado warning on the storm shortly thereafter. I couldn’t see the ground under the obviously rotating funnel so I couldn’t verify a tornado but I’d be willing to bet it touched down somewhere near the Rappahannock River:

Chancellorsville funnel 27Apr11

After the funnel became rain-wrapped and disappeared across the river I trudged home amid thoughts of resting while editing photos and videos. However even more rotating storms approached after dark so I chased east of Fredericksburg but the tornado-warned cell I targeted fell apart before I could see it. If I had been adventurous enough I would have blasted northwest to chase yet another tornadic storm that roared through the Culpeper area that evening but by that time I was pretty much finished even if Nature wasn’t. April 27 2011 turned out to be the greatest tornado outbreak across the country since the infamous Super Outbreak of 1974.”

#vawx A rare non-tropical October chase marks the 2010 entry


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Day 9: The 2010 chase season marked the first year I had (limited) access to mobile WiFi data. However during this October 27th 2010 chase I didn’t have all my gear with me since it was an after-work chase.

“The Storm Prediction Center had most of Virginia in a Slight Risk but with a 5-10% tornado probability for October 27th. That is a significant level for this part of the country, especially so since the setup was non-tropical. I was hopeful that a chase would pan out even though I had an offsite meeting to attend in southern Maryland.

The morning involved driving through pouring rain to my meeting hoping that conditions would still ripen later for storms…but not until I could get out to chase them! The meeting finished mid-afternoon and I left for home amid convection firing at all points of the compass and with several weather warnings underway. Along the way I spied a lowering under a cell nearing the Chesapeake Bay but ignored it as I was focused on getting back into familiar chase territory.

Crossing the Potomac River back into Virginia I stopped at a handy WiFi hotspot to check radar which obligingly showed a vigorous convective line steaming northeast toward Fredericksburg. I quickly scrambled westward to a favorite King George county vantage point between the Rappahannock River and Virginia Route 3 to observe the oncoming line. After observing one cell as it moved off to the east without any distinguishing features I noticed another storm approaching from the southwest that exhibited an obvious lowering under a rain-free base. The NWS Sterling office had issued a tornado warning on this new storm at 4:37 pm.

I relocated a couple miles further west on Rte 3 for a closer look and was rewarded with a clear view of a rotating updraft and a wall cloud. I called in a spotter report to the National Weather Service office in Sterling at 5:00 pm before snapping this photo a couple minutes later:DSCF0138

An expanded view of this photo verified another Fredericksburg area funnel sighting:funnel view 3

The funnel soon dissipated as another wall cloud began forming on the southern edge of the updraft:  wall cloud reforming


When the rain approached my location I moved back east to observe a while longer. The new wall cloud continued developing but never dropped another funnel while I watched:DSCF0144

After this photo the cell weakened considerably and heavy rain obscured all features. I should note that lightning was very infrequent during this chase indicating that these updrafts were fairly shallow. However the low level shear was strong enough to create some late October chasing excitement!”

#vawx Two funnels, two different days, two ho-hum setups, same spot


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Day 8 of “Sixteen Days of Virginia Storm Chasing” showcases the 2009 chase season. The contrast between this year and several previous years was remarkable…I had so many productive storm intercepts that it was difficult to choose one to post. So I didn’t choose one, I chose two.

May 28th 2009: “Thunderstorms were likely this day but the Storm Prediction Center pooh-poohed the idea of severe storms in Virginia. Nonetheless when the radar started lighting up early in the afternoon I decided to invest an hour of vacation time and headed out the door for a local chase / spotting expedition. As I eased my way through the King George courthouse area I noticed several updrafts building so I aimed the chasemobile at a favorite viewing spot about 3 miles west of there. Near 3:00 pm I noticed scud rising into a lowering cloud base just east of my position so I videoed it and snapped a bunch of still photos just in case rotation made an appearance.IMG_2451

Nothing exciting happened with this storm by 3:30 so I turned the car and the cameras around to face southwest where I spied a rain-free base between two cells. As I was gazing out the left side of the windshield I suddenly noticed a vertical tube in the center of my view extending most of the way to the ground. Voila, a rope funnel!28May09 KG funnel

As I fumbled for the NWS Sterling phone number on my cellphone the funnel morphed into a wedge shape but I never was able to confirm debris underneath it to verify a tornado had happened:IMG_2458

I finally found the right number and called in a spotter report to Sterling but the met there seemed a lot less excited than I was. Apparently this storm had caught up with a retreating warm front that was over our area. The resulting shear – although not terrific – was enough to spin out at least one funnel that was very likely below the NWS Sterling radar horizon.”

August 28th 2009: “Three months ago today I was at this exact spot in King George county filming and videoing a funnel extending toward the earth. Under today’s similar less-than-hopeful expectations by the SPC I spied a strong storm on radar heading northward from the Caroline / Hanover county line. I decided to stop in this same spot to observe another rain-free base and subsequently watched this funnel descend almost in the exact spot as the one in May:


Given the fuzzy visibility courtesy of the tropical-like humidity I wasn’t certain whether this was just scud or a rotating funnel so I didn’t call it in to the Sterling NWS office. However after reviewing the photos I am convinced I saw another funnel in the same place as on May 28th. A review of radar velocities didn’t show any definitive rotation but this is most likely another case of things occurring below the NWS Sterling radar horizon.”

#vawx A May 2008 tornadic intercept


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For the seventh posting of “Sixteen Years of Virginia Storm Chasing” I’ve chosen a tornado intercept on May 8th 2008. Other than darkness defeating my handheld digital photos everything went well that day.

“The forecast models showed signs of tornadic promise the afternoon of May 8th with all the necessary ingredients: strong instability, lots of wind shear, lift, and plenty of moisture. My son, daughter-in-law, and I left home at 5:45 p.m. to squeeze through rush hour traffic and aimed the chasemobile toward Thornburg. After pausing there to recheck current conditions and radar we continued southwestward down Virginia Route 208, stopping once to inspect an otherwise nondescript convective tower that exhibited strong signs of both speed and directional shear.rotating tower

This piqued our interest considerably as it was confirmation that any serious updraft could easily rotate and drop a funnel. We continued down Rte 208 to Ware’s Crossroad and then made our way through Mineral to the town of Louisa where we stopped to update our situational awareness. As my laptop was negotiating with a pay-for-access WiFi hotspot my son’s tiny cellphone screen revealed a storm quickly exploding further south. Thus we nixed the detailed internet check and charged down to Interstate 64.

Jogging west to the Zion Crossroads exit we turned south on U.S. Route 15. When we neared the village of Palmyra just after 8 pm we glimpsed a rain free base adjacent to a torrential rain shaft, spurring my internal severe weather antenna into high twitch mode. Sure enough as we crested a hill a large rotating wall cloud popped into view. We hurriedly parked south of town and scrambled out of the vehicle to track it.digital still of funnel

As we trained various film equipment on the storm a stovepipe funnel dropped from the wall cloud and may have actually touched down as a tornado. However we couldn’t verify a touch down because of the ever present Virginia tree line that obscured our view. As darkness fell my handheld digital photos proved too blurry so I relied on a handheld video camera and the resulting single frame captures. This is one such frame capture of the funnel lit up by a nearby lightning strike.vidcap_cg_funnel (2)

After the rainshaft obscured both funnel and wall cloud (and began drenching us) we relocated north of town to re-intercept the storm. Here we observed at least one touch down in failing daylight, meaning we had bagged another definite tornado.vidcap_torn4 (2)

Somewhat confused as to which National Weather Service forecast office to inform – we were at the seam between all 3 Virginia offices – I finally reported our sightings to the Wakefield office which promptly issued a tornado warning for the Palmyra area.

As we watched the wall cloud retrograded to the southwest and faded while a new cell approached from the south, intensifying rapidly as evidenced by fierce and increasingly frequent lightning. Now enveloped in full darkness we chose discretion over valor and scooted north a few miles to see if the almost continuous lightning would help us spy more rotation. But by that time heavy rain had obscured all discernible features under the storm’s base.

Thus we rolled northward up U.S. Route 15 amid lightning flashing at all corners of the compass and arrived in Fredericksburg at 10:30 pm. We didn’t realize at the time this tornadic supercell had trailed us northward. It dropped an EF2 tornado in southern Stafford county a half hour later, damaging homes and rendering several dozen people temporarily homeless. It was a hugely successful chase but our enthusiasm was tempered by the damage inflicted on our nearby neighbors.”

#vawx An August 2007 chase from an otherwise unremarkable season


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Day 6 of “Sixteen Years of Virginia Storm Chasing”: The 2007 chase season proved to be almost as frustrating as 2005 had been. The “almost” part comes from having seen a few decent storms but without many interesting views or photos. After poring through my chase accounts I decided this August 16th 2007 chase was one of the more interesting.

Given the three H’s (heat, haze, and humidity) of a typical Virginia dog day afternoon I really didn’t feel much like chasing when conditions ripened on August 16th. I’d had a very draining week at work and was not in the mood to hop behind the wheel and engage the trying summer afternoon traffic conditions. However when supercells come calling in Virginia I usually take notice and that’s exactly what the forecast indicated. One Storm Prediction Center parameter worth noting is the “supercell composite”, which – as its name indicates – is a collection of several environmental quantities that together provide a numerical indication of supercell potential. A composite value of one is decent for Virginia and that afternoon the index value was a mind-numbing twelve for the area that several growing storms were entering!

Faced with such potential for convective mayhem I couldn’t resist the temptation to troll for storms so I called my son and found that he had been in bed sick all day. After I relayed to him the existing supercell composite value he quickly healed enough to leap out of bed and chase with me. We elbowed our way through rush hour traffic southwestward into rural Orange county to get ahead of a now-exploding complex. We had dallied too long and our initial intercept location was nixed when the strongest cell made an abrupt right turn (a characteristic of supercells) and accelerated. This resulted in the storm being south of us and steaming rapidly toward the southeast. We were thus in a tail chase of a monster with cloud tops over 50,000 feet. Moreover we were hearing a steady stream of spotter reports of 70+ mph winds and two-inch hail just a handful of miles from us.

We managed to parallel the northern edge of the storm by streaking southeastward via U.S. Route 522 into the town of Mineral where we stopped briefly to inspect a lowering that may have been a dissipating wall cloud.

Aug 16 2007 storm

We had two options at this point: continue paralleling the beast on its northern side or dive through the core to reach the southern edge where the main action was. Since I don’t willingly core punch cells containing 70 mph winds and large hail amid limited visibility on narrow country roads I chose the first option. Barreling down Rte 522 we diverted onto US. Route 33 and found this vantage point in the small ‘burg of Montpelier:IMG_0555

We huddled under a convenient metal car shelter in a hardware store parking lot when the storm struck with heavy rain and vivid lightning. We emailed in a situation report to a Richmond TV meteorologist regarding the fury of the storm several miles to our south and he confirmed our observations, noting that large hail was falling not far from us.

With the approach of nightfall and with the storm engulfing metropolitan Richmond we pulled off the chase and grabbed a quick dinner before trudging home, still tired (and sick in my son’s case) but gratified we had made the effort.”

#vawx A May 2006 close encounter with a Virginia tornado


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Day 5 of “Sixteen Years of Virginia Storm Chasing”: This was my first experience with getting a bit too close to a tornado. Poor visibility in the wilds of Spotsylvania county definitely hindered our family chase attempt.

“On May 11th 2006 most of Virginia east of the Blue Ridge mountains was under a tornado watch so I was primed to storm chase. However during a morning eye doctor appointment one of my pupils had been dilated and I couldn’t focus well enough to drive. Thus I prevailed upon my daughter – just home from college – to drive the two of us to meet my son in Thornburg. We rendezvoused with him just before 4:30 p.m. and crammed into his vehicle, checking radar and surface conditions via decent cell coverage near the interstate (I-95).

As we examined the radar view our weather radio stirred to life with a tornado warning issued for Louisa county to our southwest. Extrapolating the storm’s trajectory we picked an intercept point in the heavily forested wilds of southern Spotsylvania county and streaked southwestward. Finding a rare open spot in a field near the hamlet of Paytes we paused to visually scope out the storm heading toward us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARealizing we were too far west we quickly backtracked to Pamunkey Road, a northeast-leading rural route. As we flashed past a very brief break in the trees I spied a large funnel just to our south, ratcheting up the excitement level inside the vehicle several notches.

After blindly leap-frogging ahead a few miles along the densely wooded road we stopped at the intersection of Pamunkey and Catharpin Roads to take stock of our position with respect to the storm’s movement. The next navigation decision, mind you, was a direct result of my still-dilated pupil and resultant fuzzy vision: I misread the road sign and directed my son to turn left (the wrong direction) onto Catharpin Road. When copious amounts of leaves and large tree branches began showering down around us my son and I both simultaneously realized that we were directly in the tornado’s path! He quickly executed a white-knuckled U-turn and we motored back in the proper direction. All three of us heaved sighs of relief as we headed northeastward once again as leaves floated down out of the sky all around us: debris!!!

When we neared the metropolis of Todd’s Tavern we pulled into a gravel parking lot overlooking a large open field to the northwest, confident that we were well out of harm’s way. My son and I clambered out to stretch our legs and regain visual situational awareness (no cell coverage so no peeks at radar). When I observed freshly shredded leaves still wafting down around us I wasn’t convinced we were ahead of the tornado since a storm was grumbling north of us. I thought our unplanned detour had allowed the tornadic cell to get ahead of us.

Just as I uttered this thought out loud my attention suddenly riveted on the rain curtains over the open field…they had begun to rotate very rapidly left-to-right. I yelled something akin to “THERE IT IS, LET’S GET OUT OF HERE NOW!!” and snapped a couple of blurry photos during my headlong dive back into the vehicle. The tornado had materialized 150 yards away over the open field!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With no time to ensure we were outside the damage path we sprayed gravel all over the parking lot while retreating rapidly eastward. After regaining a modicum of calm and dignity I called in a tornado report to the Sterling National Weather Service (NWS) forecast office and we reversed direction to resume the chase. We never caught back up with the tornado in the highly wooded terrain but we had definitely seen it!

The NWS office sent out a storm survey crew the next day and proclaimed the tornado an F0 based upon light tree damage just south of Todd’s Tavern.


 Turns out that if we had stayed in that parking lot we would have remained safely out of its path. My only regret is that the three of us didn’t stick around to watch it cross the field.

#vawx April 2 2005 provides a highlight to an otherwise “abysmal” chase year


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Day 4 of the “Sixteen Years of Virginia Storm Chasing” tour: The 2005 Virginia chase season proved to be an “abysmal failure” (to quote myself). Overall dry conditions and just plain bad chasing luck resulted in not seeing much noteworthy convective action that year. Thus this early season chase was a bit of a highlight.

“April chasing opened with a bang on the second day of the month when the Storm Prediction Center outlooked eastern Virginia for a Slight risk of severe storms and a 5% tornado probability, a significant figure of merit for the Mid-Atlantic. The first action of the day focused on a warm front lifting northward as I chased east of Fredericksburg during the late morning, catching only a glimpse of a small shelf cloud. After lunch I rendezvoused with my son in Thornburg where we parked his car and consolidated our gear into mine. From there we rolled west and then south on Virginia Route 208 underneath a low overcast. We hoped that an approaching upper level pool of cold air would provide the impetus for some strong updrafts.

We covered only 5 miles of this two lane highway before breaking into brilliant sunshine. We immediately glimpsed hard-knuckled convection boiling up to the south in response to the aforementioned cold pool. Our interception course led us across Lake Anna into Louisa county and somewhere south of the metropolis of Mineral we gloried in our first pea-sized hailfall of the day. Continuing east and south to stay with the most active cells we enthusiastically enjoyed three more hailfalls. One of these occurred while the sun shone and thus enabled the following cool photo (by Nathan White):nathan_hailpic1

In an attempt to keep up with a short convective line we looped through the town of Louisa while tracking a feature that appeared at first to be a ragged wall cloud but was really a shelf cloud from another storm’s outflow. Not having mobile internet and thus sans radar access we miscalculated the line’s movement, thinking it was headed due north when it was quickly steaming northeastward. As a result we wound up out of position to catch up with a very interesting lowering at the back of the Tail-End Charlie (southernmost cell). However we were afforded a great view of the overall storm structure and witnessed multiple rainbows while thoroughly enjoying ourselves.


Photo by Nathan White

The 5% tornado probability didn’t verify for us as we saw no funnels and heard no tornado reports but we really didn’t care. This early April chase proved to be one of the bright spots of an otherwise abysmal 2005 Virginia chase season. Serendipities come when they come!”