Most people connect the phrase “tornado outbreak” with the Great Plains but one recent exception to that still boggles the mind. Today marks the fourth anniversary of the historic Apr 27 2011 tornado outbreak over the southeastern U.S. This National Weather Service article describes the incredible devastation – including hundreds of injuries and deaths – just in the state of Alabama.
Here in Virginia the Sterling NWS office verified 19 tornadoes in their county warning area (CWA) that day and overnight into the next morning. I chased the afternoon of the 27th in this CWA, intercepting my first storm near Lake Anna close to the border of southern Spotsylvania and eastern Orange counties. I watched as that storm organized before following it along the winding tree-lined roads in that part of the world.
I did see a substantial funnel in northern Spotsylvania underneath a wall cloud as the storm rolled along east of me. When I realized that continuing to follow this cell would plunge me into the afternoon rush hour traffic I pulled off it and stopped in Todds Tavern to regain situational awareness. A quick peek at radar showed another rotating storm coming up from the southwest so I turned back westward.
Maneuvering along back roads and then onto VA Route 3 west of Fredericksburg I stopped in the median near the Chancellorsville Civil War battlefield. Videoing and snapping photos I witnessed this funnel to my northwest which I reported at 6 pm to the Sterling office:
Shortly after my report a tornado warning was issued on this storm.
Following this cell was impossible given that it was crossing the Rappahannock River at this point and I wasn’t near a bridge that would allow me to continue the chase. So when the funnel became rain-wrapped I called it and headed home. More storms roared through the Sterlng CWA after dark but I wasn’t interested in a night chase.