The challenge of capturing the May 2nd chase on “paper” is the split nature of the day. The first half was – shall we say – more than mildly frustrating while the second half was much more enjoyable.
I knew I was going to chase Monday afternoon and planned to start along the VA Route 40 corridor in Franklin county based on the outlook. However I didn’t allow for two factors: the CAPE (instability) was even higher than forecast and there was no cap to suppress / delay convection. Thus by the time I headed down the driveway at 1:30 pm storms were already firing and I was behind the eight ball.
Dropping south to Rocky Mount and hurrying east on Rte 40 I spied this cell on radar:
It had the classic “flying eagle” signature of a supercell thunderstorm which immediately riveted my attention on chasing it. (Also note the time stamp on the radar view…very early in the afternoon!) Unfortunately given my location – blue circle – I was not in a good position to intercept this storm as it steamed northeast. The cell north of it blocked my path eastward on Rte 40 so I dove south along rural roads in a vain attempt to catch up with the supercell.
After twisting and turning along tree-lined routes I managed to get a view of the back side of the storm and its hail shaft as it neared the town of Gretna:
By this time I’d realized I wouldn’t catch this storm but had noticed another one going up to the west during my frantic push through the countryside. So I made my way to U.S. Route 29 and turned north to catch this next storm that was headed more or less toward the Altavista / Hurt vicinity.
Diverting off 29 I sped along more back roads until I finally found a vantage point from which I could watch the oncoming cell:
At this point it was no longer impressive either visually or on radar but I stayed put for a few minutes to observe and catch my breath. I think it was here that I switched on the live stream feed for the first time.
Watching radar from this location I noticed a couple more decent looking storms over Franklin county so I made the worst decision of the day: I drove north to Altavista and crossed the hills into Bedford county north of Smith Mountain Lake. I initially thought I could intercept one of the oncoming storms near Huddleston but the trajectories were more east than north. After a quick stop for gasoline and a much needed bathroom break I finally realized I was way out of position (again!) and in an area of almost zero cellular coverage.
Reversing directions I made my way back to Route 29 as quickly as I could and dove south toward Gretna again to intercept a nice-looking cell that Kevin Myatt had been observing further west. I scrambled onto a couple of rural roads just west of town where I could see what looked like a very nice wall cloud underneath the storm. At this point I was able to take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the remainder of the chase day. This was the stormscape at the first spot I stopped to watch:
Upon reviewing the video from this location I’ve realized that the storm was becoming outflow dominant at this stage and the wall cloud was morphing into a shelf cloud as I watched.
To keep up with this action I motored thru Gretna on Rte 40 and found a vantage point a few miles east of town to observe and film some more. The outflow and shelf cloud became more obvious from this location.At 5:40 pm the local TV station let me know they wanted to use the live stream during their six pm broadcast. Since this storm and the next one behind it were traversing left to right across the field of view it was a simple matter to point the feed at the trailing storm for the broadcast:This second cell dissipated soon thereafter and I pulled up stakes to head toward Danville. While I’d been waiting for the six o’clock broadcast to finish using my feed yet another in a continuing series of severe thunderstorm warnings had popped up due to storms coming from the south.
Thus I dropped down Rte 29 to a vantage point south of Chatham. I could see lowerings under the complex east of the highway even while I watched storms approach from the southwest. I decided not to pursue the eastern activity so after the western convection fizzled a bit I turned my attention to even more action further west.
A line of storms had formed along the Blue Ridge mountains associated with the cold front that was crawling eastward. I pulled up stakes once again, heading north on Rte 29 and then west on Route 40 once again. I stopped at a clear area near the hamlet of Glade Hill to sit and watch as a shelf cloud developed and pushed toward me.
Now thoroughly relaxed (as compared to earlier that afternoon!) I reveled in the view as thunder rumbled courtesy of some distant lightning. The overall stormscape was pretty cool:
As the line slowly worked its way north and east I rolled into Rocky Mount to grab a late dinner and wait for the heavy rain to clear out before heading home. It was a split-action day that started hectic and frustrating but wound up being enjoyable.