Even tho’ thunderstorms may happen tomorrow (I’ll be watching!) the active chase season here in the Mid-Atlantic is still a few weeks off. To ease my personal bout with SDS (supercell deprivation syndrome) here’s the text of an article I posted to an online forum newsletter a while back:

“Chasing Tropical Remnants

Let me make one thing perfectly clear at the outset…I am not a hurricane chaser! I leave that to the hardy souls that see an eyewall as a “fun” place to visit. However I do view remnants of tropical systems as excellent late summer / early fall opportunities to catch Virginia tornadoes, sort of a bridge between spring chasing and the return of cold frontal passages that provide a fall minichase season here in the Mid-Atlantic. The late August and September peak in tropical storm frequency provides a decent chance that one or more of these moisture- and vorticity-laden systems will aim its dying remains at our area. If the right-front quadrant of a decaying tropical low pressure center is aimed anywhere near our area during daylight hours my chasing instincts go on full alert.

Our first encounter with such conditions came during late September 2002 when the remnants of Isidore were forecast to blast through the Virginia Piedmont. The Storm Prediction Center indicated a 5% tornado probability for the region, which is as good as it gets around here. My son and I headed west into brilliant early fall sunshine that we hoped would destabilize the soupy air (dewpoints were well over 700 F). Intercepting a line of very low-topped convection we watched as wall clouds popped out all around us and decided to chase the biggest one. We never saw a funnel from it, so we broke off that storm when we heard a tornado warning on a cell a few miles to our east. We saw rotation on that storm but no funnels, and we were amazed that we saw no lightning nor heard any thunder. The updraft strengths were apparently not strong enough for charge separation but the rotation was certainly evident. We did see a couple of funnels snake out of a compact rotating cloud that couldn’t have been more than 10,000 feet high, but we didn’t call them in because we figured the local forecast office would have asked us what we were smoking!

Our only 2003 tropical encounter was with Tropical Storm Isabel. Unfortunately the Mid-Atlantic experienced this system as a full-fledged storm, with sustained winds well over 50 mph which ripped up thousands of trees by their roots and left us without power for more than four days (and we were some of the lucky ones). Chasing this was out of the question, and we had to wait until the 2004 tropical season for our next chance. My son and I decided to intercept the remnants of Gaston as it was to pivot over Richmond and head toward the Chesapeake Bay. We positioned ourselves northeast of the city and waited for things to happen. Mother Nature didn’t want to play, however, and Gaston stalled over Richmond and dumped incredible amounts of rain in a few hours. As we listened to the reports over the radio we wisely decided to head home and avoid the widespread flooding.

The next 2004 opportunity was from the remnants of Frances, which spawned a mini-outbreak of tornadoes across the Virginia Piedmont. My son saw one and called it in to the local forecast office, but I was actually in Hawaii at the time (on business, mind you!!) and missed the whole thing. I took my revenge on Nature a couple of weeks later, though, as the remnants of Ivan spun out a full-fledged tornado outbreak for us to witness. When a dry slot worked into the area to provide some sun to fuel convection my son, his fiancee (now his wife), and I headed west to intercept a couple of likely-looking cells we identified on radar. Upon seeing the features below I called in a wall cloud report to the local forecast office who promptly issued the first tornado warning of the day. This storm produced an F3 about the time this photo was taken, but the everpresent treeline prevented us from seeing the tornado itself:

We followed this storm into Warrenton, VA where we crossed the damage path and caught up with the tornado itself, but the typically horrendous traffic in the area forced us to break off the chase. We corepunched another tornado-warned storm a few miles to the southwest of Warrenton and saw a substantial funnel (never confirmed a touchdown) a couple of hundred yards from us:

As in our previous tropical chases we experienced no lightning, thunder, or even hail as the updrafts lacked the strength to produce these features that usually accompany tornadic storms.”

Hey, if you can’t change the weather you can always chase it!

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