#vawx A late October chase?

I’ve kept an eye on the forecast models given the number of vigorous upper level lows sweeping across the nation, but I was more than a bit surprised to see this SPC Day 3 outlook for Monday, 10/25:

Usually a Day 3 Slight Risk is nothing to sneeze at!!

Diving into this morning’s 06Z NAM and GFS I found significant disagreement (of course!) in the timing and location of this next system. The NAM seems to agree with the SPC’s shading above for a typical high shear / low CAPE (HSLC) setup while the GFS pushes everything further east. The fly in the chasing ointment is that the severe threat looks to arrive at the Blue Ridge crest very late Monday afternoon into the evening hours.

Thus I am now on alert, keeping an eye on later model runs to watch the timing and location trends. I’m not a fan of after-dark chasing nor of trundling down tree-lined roads in the hilly terrain west of the Blue Ridge. But if some discrete cells can fire before total darkness arrives, and I can position myself in a location favorable for maneuvering and seeing storms, there very well could be a late October chase!

#vawx A 10 year anniversary Wednesday

I missed posting these photos on Wednesday, Oct. 13th. However I’ve realized that was the 10 year anniversary of that event so here are some images from that day.

This was taken from a point just off Virginia Route 3 west of Fredericksburg in the Chancellorsville battlefield area. This feature to my southeast looked a bit confusing at first but it was rotating. It could have been the cell that inspired tornado reports along U.S. Route 1 north of Fredericksburg.

The second image was taken from the same location but is looking north. This wall cloud was under a storm that apparently went on to drop a tornado in the Fairfax VA area later that afternoon.

And this third photo was of yet a later storm, taken east of Fredericksburg just off Rte 3. This dangly lowering was rotating as well.

There were other storms which dropped tornados that day, especially one further west that I was headed toward when cell #1 caught my eye. One thing storm chasers quickly realize is that one can only be on one storm at a time.

Thinking back, 2011 was a heckuva chase year!

#vawx 10-4, we had a chase

I knew there would be garden variety storms around today but I made a commitment to not stray very far from home base as this evening held a couple of activities. When I heard thunder from a complex over Botetourt county I decided to give chase and headed north via I-81 to catch up with it.

After exiting the interstate this was my first view of the storm as it moved toward Buchanan:

Here I switched on the livestream video for the local TV station. My time-lapse video from this vantage point shows a lot of cloud motion but no discernible rotation.

Continuing northward on U.S. Route 11 I stopped just south of the town of Buchanan to watch and caught this rainbow view:

After watching and filming a few minutes I let this storm go as the afternoon was progressing and I needed to RTB (return to base) soon. However, on the way back south on Rte 11 I could see another cell growing over the Daleville area.

Veering in that direction on rural roads I had this initial view of the storm after finding a hilltop vantage point:

Noticing scud rising into the cloud base I switched on the time-lapse video and continued to snap photos.

About this time I could feel a breeze coming from this cell and concluded it was outflow, so this must have been a shelf cloud forming:

However, after reviewing the time-lapse I’m not so sure it was a shelf cloud. There’s enough overall rotation of the cloud base that this could well have been a wall cloud forming. Here’s a reduced resolution .gif of that time-lapse:

And a peek at the MRMS product shows a decent amount of low level rotation on this cell (my vantage point was at the black star on the US 220 label):

One hour low level rotation ending at 21Z

And interestingly enough this surface map at 2122Z shows southeasterly winds at 3 local stations, including the Roanoke airport:

Clearly something was causing the winds to back in this part of Virginia. With westerly 850 mb winds over the mountains of West Virginia it was likely a weak lee trough.

Not bad for a last minute local chase…in the first week of October!

#vawx An equinox chase

With a negatively tilting trough approaching and an occluding surface low over the Ohio valley I was convinced that Wednesday Sept. 22nd – the day of the autumnal equinox – was a go for chasing. Flooding rains the night before and that morning were a major concern for dampening (sorry!) instability. However as a strong cold front slowly crossed the Appalachians a weakening warm front pushed north of my chase area before noon. Sunshine and dew points in the 70s heralded the arrival of the warm sector.

This was the SPC’s Day 1 convective outlook:

The convective allowing models all suggested a squall line developing along the cold front itself, which looked to cross the Blue Ridge crest around 5:00 pm. Since I was interested in discrete cells ahead of the front I rolled down the driveway early in the afternoon. Radar indicated line segments going up along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge, plus there were some small reflectivity returns crossing the NC/VA state line and scooting northward. Knowing that I’d have to wait for better target definition I paused for a while at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

When a couple of cells nearing the Smith Mountain Lake vicinity began to take shape I motored east via VA Route 24 to intercept. After maneuvering along back roads in Bedford county I found an open vantage point from which to observe and switched on the livestream video for the local TV station. This was the overall view of the first storm, looking southeast:

As the updraft continued to punch upward I noticed a lowering underneath it. It was definitely a wall cloud, but could this have been a funnel as well?

Here’s a time-lapse of that view:

This was the radar reflectivity and velocity view at the time, with no obvious low level rotation showing:

The wall cloud faded as the cell marched northward but another storm behind it also looked interesting, with hints of rotation in the base:

I jumped out on VA Route 122 northward to stay ahead of this activity but the first storm pushed heavy precipitation across my route forward. A few minutes later the TV station wanted to use the livestream on their 4:00 p.m. broadcast, so I puttered to another vantage point where I stopped for a while. This was my view to the west as the squall line began to form over the Blue Ridge:

While pausing here I could easily feel and see the available shear. Surface winds were gusty out of the southeast while cloud level winds (~850 mb) were out of due south. It was obvious the pressure gradient had increased, which likely meant the cold front was coming closer.

Within the next half-hour the line had definitely congealed and I could see a few interesting lowerings under it. So I went north on Rte 122 to Bedford and sped west via U.S. Route 460 to get closer. This was the radar view when I finally stopped at the best vantage point I could find:

And this was my view:

I retreated back east to Bedford and dove back south on Rte 122 to the spot where I’d stopped for the TV station to use the livestream. At this point a shelf cloud was beginning to take shape over the Blue Ridge:

Noticing via radar a couple of discrete cells to my south that were just barely ahead of the front I took off in that direction, pushing west on Rte 24 to take a look. There was some indicated rotation in them and I glimpsed a couple of lowerings as I drove, but the precipitation cores were so intense that my view of them was blurred. I stopped for a while to observe and then realized the front had swept through, with a wind shift and an abrupt temperature drop. That was it for the equinox chase!

#vawx A last-minute short range chase

There was still enough of a cap east of the Blue Ridge today to forestall convection over the Piedmont so I made no plans to chase there. But with the convective allowing models showing storms firing west of the I-81 corridor in an SPC Marginal Risk area I kept an eye on radar this afternoon. After dinner things looked active enough that I grabbed my chase gear and headed out.

Rolling north up U.S. Route 220 past Daleville I switched on the livestream before reaching Fincastle. Watching the action with the MK 1 eyeball I continued north of town in an attempt to intercept a lowering. But the further I went up Rte 220 the less I was able to see. I even strayed off the main road onto an eastward rural route to search for a vantage point, but wound up doing a U-turn and went back to 220 where I turned south.

I finally pulled off the divided highway at a point where I could see the lowering / leading edge of a cell near Eagle Rock:

This was the radar view at the time, showing the northern section of the line dissipating:

Thus I didn’t remain at this point long and dove further south back to Fincastle to check out the more active southern portion. There I pushed west of town via another rural route and found a nice vantage point overlooking the approaching system.

A small amount of rotation showed on radar and a time-lapse loop verified it under a part of the rain-free base. However I didn’t see any lowerings.

This was my final view of the storm before I called off the chase:

For a last-minute fairly local September chase…I’ll take it!

#vawx The Storm-Killer strikes again

Keeping with the 2021 chase season theme today featured yet another frustrating sojourn. It started with a degree of optimism given a SPC Day 1 Marginal outlook, a cold front pressing into a warm moist airmass, and a supposedly well-defined lee trough:

However…early morning convection developed over North Carolina and pushed northeast into Southside Virginia, pretty much squashing the day’s setup by turning over the atmosphere and blanketing the Piedmont with leftover clouds. Once the convective allowing models (CAMs) digested that lump of coal the only afternoon action they spit out was storms going up over the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge before fizzling out.

Given that reality I bit on a line segment which went up just east of Roanoke before noon (that kind of convection timing is rarely a good thing). Zipping east to Bedford via U.S. Route 460 I dropped south on VA Route 122 just as the rain began to cross that highway. Maneuvering east onto VA Route 24 and then north on VA Route 43 back toward Bedford I kept up with the convection, but it visibly faded as I drove along. I never even snapped a photo of that complex as it wasn’t worth it.

Finally giving up on storm #1 I stopped to review radar and noticed a couple of severe-warned discrete storms crossing I-77 in North Carolina and heading for the Virginia border west of Martinsville. Looking more closely I realized the leading cell was tornado-warned, so I did a U-turn and made my way south through the Smith Mountain Lake vicinity and eventually onto U.S. Route 220. Motoring along at best highway speeds my intention was to turn west at Martinsville onto U.S. Route 58 to intercept the storm.

But, alas, that convection also weakened before I could get to it. By the time I’d passed through the hamlet of Horse Pasture the radar reflectivity had significantly waned and the updraft was visibly shrinking. Storm #2 was effectively dead (no photos of it either), but then more convection to my north – which I’d bypassed on my quick trip down Rte 220 – garnered its own severe thunderstorm warning. So I dutifully executed another U-turn and rolled back north in an attempt to catch up with it.

Turning off Rte 220 south of Rocky Mount onto a previously unexplored back road I found a vantage point from which to observe storm #3:

This was the radar view at the time, with the complex having already shrunk considerably from its maximum size:

Continuing along rural roads I kept an eye on this activity but it, too, visibly dissipated as it moved away from the nurturing slopes of the Blue Ridge mountains. By the time I reached Glade Hill on VA Route 40 this was all that was left (the severe warning had long since been dropped):

So the “Storm-Killer” was at it again today. My frustration level with the 2021 storm season has risen to new heights, with very few decent results for the amount of effort exerted. And the clock is ticking – loudly – on this year’s chasing.

#vawx The “not-so-great” 2021 chase of Ida’s remnants

Typically chasing tropical remnants is a welcome break from the shelf clouds and slow-moving cells of late summer. When the post-landfall forecast track of Ida’s center fell west of much of Virginia I had visions of a decent chase, all the more so when the models indicated outer bands passing through the region Wednesday afternoon.

However, Mother Nature weighed in with a couple of curve balls, speeding up the timing of things. Tuesday evening brought rotating cells through the area, with tornado warnings (and a couple of confirmed tornadoes). One storm rolled through Blacksburg and the campus of Virginia Tech just after dinner. For several reasons – one being unprepared – I didn’t chase these cells:

Another tornado warning was issued on a cell just east of Roanoke a while later. Since I don’t chase after dark this one also went unchased:

We were under a Tornado Watch through 3:00 a.m. Wednesday so I can’t say I slept well, keeping one ear tuned to any alerts blaring from my weather radio. I even set my alarm earlier than usual on Wednesday since the numerical models insisted that morning convection with rotation was likely. Through somewhat bleary eyes I peered at satellite images, surface maps, and CAMs to gain some perspective on what might actually transpire Wednesday.

What I saw wasn’t exactly encouraging. The bulk of Ida’s shear was forecast to be well north and east of my usual chase area, but the cold front trailing behind the center promised to fire some “storms” (a euphemism which truly didn’t apply to much of the action) later in the afternoon. Thus I settled in for a wait of several hours…but Nature again waved a red flag in front of me. Right at noon a soggy convective line with an interesting velocity signature plowed across the Roanoke valley:

Telling my wife that I was heading to a local vantage point for a quick look I jumped in the chasemobile and proceeded to not return until almost 7:00 p.m. Said action looked interesting visually and hinted at some rotation:

When I finally checked the time-lapse rotation was indeed evident:

Given that the eastern edge of this activity was headed toward Bedford I abandoned my plans for a quick local peek and rolled in eastward via U.S. Route 460. Seeing nothing there but steady rain and low overcast I dropped south via VA Route 43 and pushed over to Pittsylvania county at Altavista. There I sped south on U.S. Route 29 to Gretna, where I paused to reevaluate my options. A mildly interesting cell – storm #2 – was aiming at Brookneal so I drove east on VA Route 40 to find a vantage point from which to observe.

This was the best view I could get of the rear of this storm amid the dripping rain and high dew points as it moved away from me:

Underwhelmed at what I’d seen to this point I resolved to head south to the Danville area to await the aforementioned cold front convection. Instead of pushing back west to Rte 29 I instead rolled south via rural roads. I came across this interesting sight a few miles east of the Dry Fork area in Pittsylvania county:

Storm #3 didn’t look impressive at all on radar but it certainly caught my attention. However, as I stopped and observed it became obvious that this view was due to my perspective of a ragged base as it drifted directly toward me. There was no rotation nor any lowering despite what my “Spidey-chaser sense” had first told me.

Sighing in frustration I continued on to Danville, hopping onto the Rte 29 expressway and scooting around to the North Carolina Visitor’s Center just south of the state line. I had thoughts of intercepting some action which was dropping south into North Carolina but the vectors had the business end of things heading for very difficult chase terrain. So I paused to gather my thoughts and consider options.

Convection was firing to the west, apparently from the approach of the cold front. This was the radar view of a cell – storm #4 – which I decided to intercept:

It, too, had a faint rotation signature so I hopped back on the expressway and zoomed around the west side of Danville for a quick peek.

Frustrated by the ever-present tree line and intrigued by what looked like an inflow feature to the north of the storm, I cast around for another viewpoint. Finally settling alongside an open field near the hamlet of Vandola I had this limited view of the base:

I could see bits of scud forming underneath the left side with continued hints of an inflow feature on the right, but I never got a clearer view. When this cell began weakening both visually and on radar I abandoned it and motored west on U.S. Route 58 toward more convection nearing Martinsville.

This was the radar view at 5:00 p.m.:

Again, there was nothing impressive but this was my last chance for an intercept. Thus I rolled down a few rural roads in an attempt to find a clear view before settling for this vantage point of storm #5 near Axton that I’d used on an earlier 2021 chase:

And that was it, with nothing exciting in view or likely to occur. I called off the chase at this point to head back to the barn, arriving as previously mentioned at 7:00 p.m. after two hurried fast food meals on the road. It was another stake in the heart of a personally disappointing 2021 chase season.