I had no expectation of a chase today (Saturday 3/18), only four days after the snow/sleet bust here in Virginia. However when I noticed SPC had a chunk of the Old Dominion under a General Thunderstorm risk I checked the short term models. ALL of them (HRRR, RAP, 3 and 4 km NAM, and three different WRF models) showed storms firing over the Piedmont this afternoon. A couple of cells even showed decent updraft helicity.
Checking the surface observations revealed Td’s in the 40s, pretty low for storms to form. Thus CAPE was only a few hundred j/kg but both low-level and bulk shear were robust. A short wave – Alberta Clipper – was forecast to provide uplift and when I checked 700 mb temperatures I knew why. Coupled with the available surface based CAPE those upper level temperatures of -7 to -9 screamed of early spring storms that would produce small hail. Just after I’d decided to go chasing the SPC upgraded much of Virginia’s Piedmont to a Marginal Risk. (It was nice to know the pros agreed with what I was seeing!)
I motored to Gretna ahead of the first line of showers and wound up slipping just east of town to watch it approach. As it did I experienced the rush of lightning/thunder couplets that I’d been missing all winter. In addition some pea-sized hail (1/4″) rattled off the chasemobile which I promptly reported to the NWS.
When the rain set in I moved east along VA Route 40 and then dropped southeast via the Cody Road. I stopped a few times amid the steadily developing rain to watch the system approach. This was a neat shot of the leading edge at one stop:
As the complex continued to grow the northern end took aim at Brookneal and intensified. Instead of plowing thru steadily worsening rain (and hail) I turned south on U.S. Route 501 to head toward the end of the line. I stopped and waited just north of Halifax and had more small hail rattle off the vehicle before continuing south thru town where a third round of stones made its presence known.
I had noticed on radar a trailing cell heading east across the Danville area so I turned southwest on VA Route 360 to catch a glimpse. When I did find an open vantage point I noticed a very likely – and visible – hail shaft coming out of that cell:
At this point I decided to let the action continue east without me but I did stop a bit later to catch this structure shot of that “Tail End Charlie” storm:
And after I grabbed some dinner near Blairs I motored toward home, stopping along the way to snap this sunset photo:
Overall it was a pretty decent surprise chase today. I hadn’t seen an early spring hailfall for a few years so this filled that need.