#vawx A mid-July bust partly due to an MCS

Today held some promise of chaseable cells per several short term forecast models. This afternoon’s potential action didn’t look as ballistic as modeled evening convection did (supported by an upper air disturbance) but the latter looked to come through well after my bedtime.

The SPC had laid on a Marginal Risk across areas west of U.S. Route 29 in Virginia:

VA_swody1 Sunday

Unfortunately a Mesoscale Convective System (MCS) had pushed across eastern Kentucky and Tennessee overnight, leaving behind a high cloud layer over much of southwest Virginia which inhibited insolation and reduced the already meager instability.

Thus I watched a mostly empty radar during the early afternoon, finally deciding to roll down the driveway after stepping outside and seeing a robust updraft crossing just north of the Roanoke valley. The cell – I hesitate to use the term “storm” – headed almost due east and I wound up pausing near the hamlet of Montvale to watch as it steamed by north of me:

It didn’t look like it would develop any further so I continued east to the town of Bedford to take a peek at some other growing updrafts. After a quick stop there I dropped south on VA Route 122 a few miles and then diverted east onto a rural Bedford county road to observe. This was the most robust updraft I could see anywhere around:

I sat here for a few minutes with a vulture circling overhead(!) before conducting a rolling reconnaissance further south and east, winding up at a favored vantage point in eastern Bedford county. From here it was painfully obvious that nothing much was going to happen this afternoon so I pointed the chasemobile toward home.

Stopping at Staunton River High School to dismantle and pack away the chase gear I noticed the surface winds were now northwesterly vs. the southerly breezes I’d left behind. Also the clouds west of me looked pretty ragged but peeking back east I saw this:cold front convection

I had obviously crossed a boundary and the northwesterly downslope winds were drying out the atmosphere. For a brief moment I was tempted to swap directions and await further developments but the setup just didn’t feel good enough. I wound up being right since only weak radar echoes showed up later in the afternoon.

An MCS-related bust is no stranger to anyone who’s chased much…but it’s still aggravating!

#vawx A last-minute decision and a gorgeous rain/hailbow

I had earlier texted the chief meteorologist at the local TV station that I wouldn’t be chasing Friday since we had family visiting. However that didn’t keep us from deciding at the last minute to roll down the driveway for a fairly local intercept. A line of storms expanded overhead after dinner as an upper air disturbance pushed across the mountains, finally tempting me, my son, and my oldest grandson to head out for a look.

My son snapped this photo through the windshield as we motored north on U.S. Route 11 through Troutville.

wallcloud with RFD cut

Photo by Nathan White

It shows an apparent wall cloud with an RFD cut getting ready to cross the road ahead of us. The radar velocity view showed some broad rotation near here at this time, with the storm having become severe-warned.

Before we reached a spot to pull off Rte 11 and observe we’d caught up with the back edge of the precipitation. We noted leaves and twigs down on the side road we took which suggested hail had swept through the area along with obviously heavy rain. These are the first radar views I captured after we came to a stop:

There was plentiful scud indicating the swirling low level wind directions looking both northeast

northeastern look from Elem sch

and southwest:SW view from Elem schThis photo also shows the rain-free storm base which moved directly overhead our position with striations indicating some rotation. (We kept a close eye on it in case it decided to intensify but nothing untoward occurred.)

After sitting here a few minutes we pulled back out onto northbound Rte 11, catching back up with the precipitation just as we spotted perhaps the brightest double rainbow I’ve ever personally witnessed:bright rainbow arc

We were close enough that my iPhone lens couldn’t capture both ends of the bow but my son’s (newer) iPhone had a wide-angle lens which did:Nathan's wide angle photo

(Photo by Nathan White)

As we sat at this location the back edge of the precipitation became more defined and we realized we were seeing a sunlit hail shaft. Thus this photo depicts a double hailbow as the lowering sun’s rays were split into component colors by the hail:double rainbow arc and hail shaft

While marveling at the scene we let the storms slide north and east away from us before we finally turned back toward home. Oh, and my oldest grandson? He just might be the third generation storm chaser in the family!

#vawx Chasing the “outer band” of a possible tropical system

In all fairness I thought today’s chase was a 50/50 roll of the dice to see anything of note. An upper level low – which may become the sixth named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season – was crossing Georgia into the Carolinas:two_atl_2d0

The “outer band” of convection around the low looked like it would graze southern Virginia this afternoon. Instability was decent but the shear values at all levels of the atmosphere were pitiful. Still, several runs of a couple short range models (HRRR and 3 km NAMNEST) consistently showed a decent cell or two in the Martinsville VA area near 5 o’clock. The 12Z WRF models weren’t quite as optimistic but I rolled the dice and headed south just after 3:00 pm.

After a pit stop just off U.S, Route 220 in Martinsville to refuel the chasemobile and visit the “gentleman’s facilities” I pulled into a fast food parking lot. There I switched on the livestream and aimed the camera south at a cell showing precipitation while I pondered my options. With storms pivoting northwest around the low center I had limited choices of vantage points given that direction was taking the convection toward the mountains. Thus I decided to move west on U.S. Route 58 to a vantage point to keep tabs on the cell I’d been watching as it ramped up a bit.

Another cell to the southwest of this one was looking more vigorous as well so I decided to continue west on Rte 58 to keep an eye on it. When I reached the exit for the Blue Ridge Airport I realized I could watch both storms from that vicinity so I redirected to an open spot near there and switched on the livestream.

From here I had a view of both southern and eastern cells:

It quickly became obvious that the precipitation from the eastern storm had my location in its sights. The rural roads leading north and west toward the foothills would have allowed me to scoot out of the way but at the cost of visibility since trees and terrain blocked views. So after verifying via radar parameters that I didn’t have to worry about large hail I decided to perform a “static core punch” and get a free car wash in the process.

Just before the rain arrived I was out of the vehicle snapping photos and trying to set up a time-lapse video when a CG struck nearby, forcing me to dive back inside the vehicle (I should have known better!). When the precipitation began CGs hammered down around me, with one hitting even closer per this radar capture with a lightning symbol superimposed almost directly on top of my spotter dot:


After most of the rain had passed by I pulled back onto Rte 58 eastbound and turned north on Rte 220 to intercept yet another cell. I did catch up with it near Oak Level but given the lack of side roads with open vantage points I didn’t see anything but more rain.

Following a brief jaunt into the hinterlands I reemerged onto Rte 220 and motored homeward as the “outer band” continued northwest across the Blue Ridge mountains. My 50/50 chance had paid off.

#vawx Let’s start the second half of 2020 with a bust

UPDATE 7/2: Yep, there was a cap yesterday thanks to a mid-level dry air intrusion. Yesterday morning’s RAP run indicated this would be the case west of the U.S. Route 15 corridor but did I listen? Noooooo….

1Jul RNK sounding


Today was a bust. Let’s get that straight right up front. Overall I wasn’t enamored with today’s setup in my chase area, with the SPC outlook for a Marginal Risk much further east.VA_swody1

However I was hoping that the upper level disturbance providing robust convection along and east of U.S. Route 15 would extend its favor a bit further west. Not to be…but I went out anyway.

Diving down on U.S. Route 220 I spied a line of updrafts south of me that looked like it could have been the nearby dissipating frontal boundary. I made it south of the line before getting truly wet and stopped just south of Martinsville to take a peek. This was the initial view of that cell:initial cell N of Martinsville

After perusing the back roads in that area I hopped back on Rte 220 and continued east onto U.S. Route 58, punching through the precipitation core without finding any hail. I dropped south onto a back road at Axton and found a known vantage point just north of the state line. This was the radar depiction and image of the eastern cell:

But that was about it. All the nearby updrafts failed to break an obvious cap and faded as it drifted south into the Tarheel state. Thus I had little else to look at…in the sky. Other things caught my attention:


Meanwhile the storms to the east were rumbling on their merry way:IMG_3148

At this point I made my way home in time for dinner, having busted on the first of July.

And to rub it in further here’s the radar view a few hours later:IMG_3151

#vawx A business opportunity begging to be explored

Here we are at the close of the first half of 2020 and the storm prospects for my general chase region look to be few and far between…still. The jet stream is now far enough north that deep layer shear is negligible. Thus any “exciting” stuff would have to come from a combination of super-CAPE and low level shear from outflow boundaries and/or swirling winds just east of the mountains.

But that’s not the main thrust of this post. I’ve listened to a bunch of weather podcasts over the past few years, hearing a lot about field research campaigns like VORTEX 2, RELAMPAGO, TORUS, and others. One thread that weaves throughout each effort is the learning curve associated with the massive logistics effort required to set up and sustain them. Coordinating daily requirements for housing and feeding dozens of researchers, fueling and maintaining multiple vehicles and expensive equipment, and handling the myriad of other details is definitely NOT in the coursework for principal investigators (PIs). It all seems to be learned on the fly and is a main cost driver of such efforts.

Here’s my thought: this is a perfect opportunity for someone with logistics experience to set up a business and bid on providing that knowhow to these field efforts. Helping PIs minimize overhead costs for such things when they submit research proposals to government organizations (such as the National Science Foundation) would go a long way toward obtaining funding approval. Convincing evaluators that a given proposal has a good handle on how to minimize costs required to sustain a field campaign would likely result in a higher percentage of acceptance vs. rejection.

I’m past the point in my career path of wanting to set up and run such a company but I’d be willing to bet there are a lot of folks – especially former military logisticians – with weather interests who could do an awesome job of this. I might even be willing to play a part in it!

#vawx Not much to show for a faded opportunity

2020 has provided a series of chasing disappointments here in the Old Dominion, with several setups looking good initially before fading away. Today’s setup once again looked progressively worse as “go time” approached. Here was the SPC Day 2 outlook which built on a shortwave vort and windspeed max crossing southern Virginia today.VA_swody2 for Sunday

And here was today’s mid-day SPC Day 1 update based on the upper level support having vanished and with morning convection and cloud cover provided by a decayed MCS:VA_swody1 Sunday midday update

Short range convective allowing models hinted at a few discrete cells firing west of the U.S. Route 220 corridor so my initial target was the Blue Ridge airport west of Martinsville. Because of the disparity between original expectations and reality I waited a while this afternoon to see what radar would look like before heading out.

I sat at my target location for quite a while, even shutting off the chasemobile’s engine while awaiting things to happen. Eventually a cell south of me began taking shape with even an indistinct lowering showing up in the fuzzy dust-laden air:lowering under NC cell

As time went on it became obvious that nothing was going to fire in Virginia so I targeted this slow-moving convection, diving south along rural roads toward the North Carolina line. I finally found a cemetery vantage point before crossing the state line and switched on the livestream while watching this:

It wasn’t anything to crow about but it was a rain-free base. As this storm moved east I continued down the road into northern North Carolina (NOT my favorite chase territory given the lack of a logical road grid and almost zero vantage points). While barely keeping the “storm” in sight I gradually made my way to another cemetery (notice a trend here?) where I pulled off and restarted the livestream:

It was at this location that I was introduced to a dense swarm of very friendly gnats.

When I finally gave up on the fading convection I motored back north toward home base while occasionally creating havoc among the dozens of hitch-hiking gnats via periodic swatting when it was possible to do so without endangering myself or other drivers. Now, excuse me while I find the window cleaner and clean today’s residue off the inside of the side window and windshield…


#vawx A detour surprise

UPDATE 6/27: I decided to include this graphic showing two hours of low level rotation of this hook echo storm complete with the 3 vantage points I used to observe it.two hr Low level rotation


After poring over the short range convective allowing models the past 24 hours I’d decided to chase today. SPC had most of Virginia in a Marginal Risk for severe weather in its morning update:

VA_swody1 Tuesday morning update

A cold front was pressing in from the west with an advance weak shortwave scheduled to cross the mountains and enter the Virginia Piedmont during the early afternoon. Across Southside that upper air support looked sufficient to get things going but convection didn’t appear to be sustainable much past 5:00 p.m. or east of the U.S. Route 29 corridor. Mid-level lapse rates looked pretty anemic as well.

Thus my initial target was west of Martinsville as models indicated more robust action down that way near 4:00 p.m. But as I left home at 1:15 I noticed a couple of discrete cells firing east of the Blue Ridge mountains, one of which was slowly approaching U.S. Route 220 in the Rocky Mount vicinity. During a reconnaissance pause in the Wirtz area I eyeballed that storm but it didn’t look like much. However the radar reflectivity shortly thereafter indicated a much different situation:IMG_3016

That, friends, is a hook echo…on a non-warned storm…amid an environment that didn’t indicate anything like this would happen.

My plans to keep motoring south went out the window and I quickly diverted to a rural road from which I could see the wall cloud under the base of this storm approaching over a nearby ridge line:Early view of wallcloud

I quickly got all the cameras rolling – including a time-lapse – and switched on the livestream as the radar hook echo became even more prominent:

The wall cloud looked like it was lining out a bit as the rain approached my position:Lining out

However after I retreated a couple miles east to another vantage point the circulation tightened back up again both on radar:

…and visually:cyclng back up

I couldn’t remain here long as the precipitation shaft steadily marched toward my location so I pulled up stakes and pushed further east to the base of the nearest ridge line. I knew from experience the road network and visibility was limited north and east of here so I chose to sit still and let the storm barely squeak by just to my north:

close approach

Here’s the radar view from that position:

Once the leading edge of the precipitation passed by I did a brief “core punch” to see if I could find any hail but for naught.

I waved goodbye to that storm and turned back south to continue to my original target but I had to stop and acknowledge that this “little storm that could” wasn’t giving up easily. It was still trying to cycle into another wall cloud phase as I left it behind.

last view still trying

The trip to the Martinsville vicinity was anticlimactic as the convection morphed into a giant blob with little or no lightning. This was as good as it got:The southern mess

Oh, and by the way that first storm never did receive any kind of warning altho’ NWS Blacksburg was paying close attention. Other than the obvious rotation (video clips to be posted over on the Virginia Storm Chasing FB page) neither the winds nor possible hail were anywhere near severe levels.

Sometimes the detours pay off!