I headed out to chase just after lunch yesterday – Friday Apr. 19th – with the idea of starting out in Gretna where I would meet my son and chase together. That part of the day worked out as planned but the rest of the chase was almost totally unexpected as a telephone call resulted in us becoming the official chasers for WTVR-6, the CBS affiliate in Richmond VA. I had talked to the chief meteorologist there earlier this week about the potential for storm chasing specifically for them but I did NOT expect that to happen this soon.
After picking up my son we headed east toward the best pre-storm conditions we could find and stopped at the Route 40 / Route 501 intersection to check radar. With several single cells firing ahead of the main frontal line that was crossing the Blue Ridge mountains we decided to intercept those solitary storms and continued toward Chase City. As we traveled the cell furthest east began rotating and a tornado warning was issued on it while still south of the VA/NC border. Given that situation and given Channel Six’s obvious interest in that storm we deliberated whether to attack that storm or to go after a couple of nice-looking cells that we were in perfect position to intercept. We finally decided we had at least a 50/50 chance of getting on the tornado-warned storm in time and sped eastward.
We stopped east of Chase City to snap a few photos and saw this view of the storm:
There was something inside that rain- and hail-wrapped core but we couldn’t get a clear view of what was likely a large wall cloud. Pushing further east we finally faced a choice of core-punching a tornado-warned storm or stopping to let the core move north of our path and then continuing the chase. Not in favor of door #1 we chose to stop and watch the storm steam northward.
As we sat on the edge of a farm field and observed my cell phone rang. Channel Six wanted me to do a live commentary on what we were seeing in conjunction with some of the photos my son had been sending them as I focused on driving and calculating intercept trajectories. Totally unexpected!! I think I managed to speak coherent sentences (then and in the ensuing four live interviews) but just after the interview concluded we saw lightning and every cell signal-enabled device we had went cold. Apparently that CG took out the nearest cell tower and we had to scramble eastward to find another active tower to regain both voice and data.
Continuing along the back roads we crossed several spots where an abundance of leaves and twigs were strewn across the highway, suggesting hail and strong winds had crossed there. Struggling through the city streets of South Hill we finally reached U.S. Route 1 and turned northward to reposition on this storm. Unfortunately the cell was moving at better than 40 mph and we found ourselves in a futile tail chase. We finally grew desperate enough to hop onto I-85 north and the highway speeds allowed us to catch up with the storm. (Fortunately it was tracking just west of the interstate so we didn’t have to worry about rolling through the core.) Having regained enough ground we pulled off the interstate back onto Route 1 at McKenney, stopping a couple miles north of there where I took this picture looking north:
The rain shaft was about a mile north of us and, once again, we saw glimpses of interesting features including the not-quite-a-wall cloud at the right edge of the rain. Stopping occasionally to keep just south of the rain we wound up in a church parking lot a half-mile east of the Petersburg Municipal Airport after deciding that tracking this rapidly-moving cell further north into the metro areas would be futile.
Stopping there also allowed two more storms behind this first cell to catch up with us so we conducted “static core punches” on both storms which were now outflow dominant with little rotation. After the last cell passed we swung out onto the interstate and continued north and east to grab some dinner while the main squall line passed. We didn’t quite make it to the restaurant in time and plowed through some heavy rain and artillery-quality lightning before stopping for dinner.
Wow! That was a unique chase experience!